Nothing has come easy for Marco Belinelli this season.
The sixth-year shooting guard was brought to the team in hopes of filling the void left by Kyle Korver.
He struggled initially, while trying to grasp Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau’s system as well as adhere to the defensive principles the fiery coach puts on all his players.
“The first couple of weeks I didn’t play well,” observed Belinelli. “Maybe I wasn’t ready to play for a big team like Chicago on offense and defense for a good coach. At the end of the day, I just try to work hard every time and be ready to play.”
The work is what’s gotten him to the point he is in now. Well, work and injuries to Richard Hamilton, which boosted his playing time and confidence along the way.
“I feel like it’s all about confidence and reps,” Jimmy Butler said. “His confidence is out of the roof right now and he’s playing extremely well when it is. So we want to keep it up there, whether he’s starting or coming off the bench. I think he’s going to continue to be mighty aggressive. Do what Marco does, attack the rim, hit the open J or hit that open guy, I feel like he’s a big part of his team.
I feel like everybody can fit into [Thibodeau’s] system as long as you play extremely hard and play for one another. That’s what Thibs [preaches] to everyone. Are you playing hard, being unselfish, rebounding and of course, defense? I feel like you buy into that, you can make it here.”
Once hesitant to shoot wide open jumpers on kick outs, Belinelli has been the primary ball handler late in games with Kirk Hinrich battling injuries and Nate Robinson playing major minutes straight.
He’s running the pick and roll, being aggressive in driving the ball to the rim and not second guessing himself as was the case the first weeks of the season.
His corner three-pointer off a Butler offensive rebound with five seconds remaining against the Utah Jazz proved to be the game-winner – his third of the season. This one came after two opportunities to tie it in the final seconds didn’t fall for Belinelli.
“I didn’t think much on the last shot from the corner,” he said. “I was just ready to shoot the ball.
“I think the last two shots that I took in the last couple of minutes – I missed that shot, but I’m not scared [to take it]. I took the shot, wasn’t going in and at the end of the game, Jimmy got a good rebound and I was ready to shoot the ball from the corner.”
The strides he’s made this season illustrates Butler’s earlier points even further. And with Hamilton appearing no closer to returning – Thibodeau said it’s unlikely Hamilton will join them on their three-game trip – and the Bulls continuing to grind their way to find ways to win, Belinelli is almost assured to be with the ball in his hands in the game's deciding moments.
Unlike earlier this season, he won’t think twice in what he wants to do.
“With time, he’s gotten a lot more comfortable,” Thibodeau said. “I think he’s gotten to know his teammates well. He knows our system well. Marco’s been a very good player in this league for a while, now. The way he approaches things, he’s very serious, puts a lot of time in and I think when you have those attributes, it’s proof.