Entering last night’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Chicago Bulls were hoping to have a big game from Marco Belinelli. That’s what they got – Belinelli scored a career-high 23 points in 40 minutes of action and seemed to finally breakout of his shell.
In a game in which teammate Luol Deng said “he played great,” Belinelli seemed to find comfort on the floor and get into a rhythm that was often disrupted by a low dose of minutes. But this game served more than just a highlight reel for Belinelli; it also served as a statement game. The statement that he made was that he could prosper when given significant minutes. If he continues to play like this in Rip Hamilton’s absence, we may see something we haven’t seen before: a battle for the starting guard spot.
Although the Cavaliers are not the best team, it was still the perfect game for Belinelli to breakout of his recent slump. Offering more words of encouragement, Deng said that, “We knew Marco could play; it’s just he’s been struggling a little bit finding his rhythm, and hopefully this will help him. It will help find his rhythm.” Deng was not the only player who praised Belinelli’s play however, both Joakim Noah and coach Tom Thibodeau expressed how pleased they were in what they saw from the veteran shooting guard.
So what was the turning point? Why did Belinelli break out of the cage during last night’s game as opposed to any other game? The answer is simple; minutes. As Coach Thibodeau said, “Extended minutes, that’s about the biggest difference. I thought he played hard, he scored different ways… and I thought his teammates were searching him out, too, which is playing smart.”
So what does this mean moving forward? Well with Hamilton out indefinitely with a torn plantar fascia in his left foot, it only means that Belinelli should expect to see a significant increase in playing time, and should expect to have the ball coming his way more often.
With extended minutes and an extended role, his confidence will continuously increase the more he plays. When Hamilton does return, his confidence in his ability to play should be high enough that when he comes off the bench, he should be able to play aggressive and smart basketball. Belinelli has an opportunity to show his teammates and his coaches that all the hard work he exhibits in practice has paid off, and last night he did just that.
With a spot in the starting lineup for at least a few weeks, I expect Belinelli to play with the confidence he did last night for many nights to come.