Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has one of those good kind of problems right now.
With the return of shooting guard Rip Hamilton to the lineup after missing nearly a month with a torn left plantar fascia, the Bulls suddenly have a crowded wing rotation, after reserves Marco Belinelli and Jimmy Butler both emerged as reliable options during the veterans absence, not to mention the fact that league minutes-per-game leader Luol Deng rarely leaves the court.
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Saturday night, it worked out for Thibodeau, as Belinelli led the Bulls in scoring while Hamilton worked his way back into the lineup and with Deng, coming off a sprained right ankle suffered in the teams Christmas Day loss to Houston, having an off night, Butler picked up the slack down the stretch by bringing his typical energy and timely shot-making ability.
But Belinelli, who was consistently solid in Hamiltons absence, was the story Saturday, as he seamlessly adjusted to coming off the bench again.
Marco was terrific. Hes been playing well for a long time now. Big shots, big plays, said Thibodeau, who noted that he wasnt sure yet about whether Belinelli would remain a backup, adding that Were going to go back and forth with that.
I think its his confidence. When youre new to a team, I think he was trying to fit in, trying to learn the system, but hes already proven to be a good player in this league, so you knew it was a matter of time, the coach continued. Once he had a better understanding of his teammates and his teammates had a better understanding of him, hes very good. He can score a lot of different ways. He can score in catch-and-shoot, he can score in pick-and-rolls, he can score in transition, he can make plays, so well try and use him a lot of different ways, but I think hes a lot more comfortable. So therefore, hes a lot more aggressive.
Belinelli himself added: I think just aggressiveness. I came on the court in the first quarter and I tried to bring to the team a little bit of energy on defense and offense, and I think tonight was good.
I think it was more important to get confidence in my shots, the shooting guard, who indicated he didnt care whether he started or came off the bench, as long as he got ample playing time, went on to say about his improved play since struggling early in the season. He was a little bit nervous, not too much confidence in myselfwhen you play a lot, when youve got some plays for you like pick-and-rolls, floppy down when you can create something for your teammates and you win the game, you feel good, so right now my confidence is okay.
Hamilton was supportive of Belinelli afterwards, suggesting that as a shooting-guard tandem, the duo could be an effective two-man platoon.
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Im going to put pressure on him to continue to play that way because we need him. We need every guy on this team, he explained. I always say when youre going to a team and youre doing a scouting report, and you say, All right, this is the guy thats starting and this is the guy thats coming off the bench, and you know youve got to put out a whole lot of effort against the guy thats starting and the guy thats coming off the bench, sometimes you can relax. I dont want that to be with us. When we go out and play, the guy thats guarding us, thats out on the floor, has to worry about both of us.
I think with him, everything has to do with confidence. It was opportunity for him to have to look over his shoulder, not knowing when hes going to come out. It was an opportunity where he was thrown out there and it was like, Okay, youre going to play. Regardless of if you make mistakes or you do well, youre going to play because we need you.
As far as Deng, the All-Star small forward said his ankle felt good afterwards and didnt take offense at the fact that Butler, his understudy, finished the game in his stead.
I really didnt mind. It happens, he said. Jimmy came in and did a good job.
Thibodeau added: It was just the way the game was going. I thought Jimmy gave us some energy and right now, were playing low energy, so I thought that energy was something we needed. His defense was very good and I thought Lu played well. Its just the way that group was going, we just rode it out.
Butler understands that he could be the odd man out on certain nights, now that Hamilton is back and Belinelli will take up the majority of the remaining shooting-guard minutes, leaving him with Dengs leftovers, of which there arent many on a regular basis.
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But the Marquette product is determined to stay consistent and at least on Saturday, he felt Good, knowing you can give Lu a break, for one. Hell, he plays damn near 48 minutes every night, so I know hes happy about it over there, soaking in his ice bath, but it feels good to go out there and play, and have him coach me up from the sideline.
One night I could see this many minutes, the next night, this many minutes. It all depends on how hes feeling and how things are going within the game, he continued. It definitely is, but I feel like my name will get called eventually. I know that. Well, I cant say I know that for a fact, but Im hoping it does and when it does, go out there, play hard, make a few shots and guard.