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Bulls’ Marco Belinelli has come long way since start of season

Marco Belinelli shoots winning three-pointer Friday over Jazz’s Mo Williams. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Marco Belinelli shoots the winning three-pointer Friday over the Jazz’s Mo Williams. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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TODAY

BULLS AT LAKERS

The facts: 2:30 p.m., Ch. 7,
1000-AM.

Updated: April 11, 2013 7:07AM



It remains to be seen whether Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau can parlay an MVP-caliber player such as Derrick Rose into an NBA title, but it already has been established that he gets more than most out of supporting-cast members.

It’s no coincidence that Nate Robinson — one of the oddest fits of any player in the NBA as a defensively challenged 5-9 shooting guard — won the only conference player of the week award of his career this season. That’s Thibodeau at his best.

But as Robinson’s impact has yo-yoed throughout the season, another Thibodeau project, shooting guard Marco Belinelli, is thriving. He is doing more and playing a bigger role with extended playing time as he becomes more comfortable in Thibodeau’s offensive and defensive systems.

On paper, the 6-5 Belinelli was signed to fill the Kyle Korver role as a three-point shooter who ‘‘spaces the floor.’’ But he’s turning into much more than that as his confidence grows and Thibodeau’s confidence in him grows.

Belinelli hasn’t been the three-point shooter Korver was. He’s making 37 percent of his three-point attempts this season; Korver made 44 percent last season.

‘‘Different strengths,’’ Thibodeau said, preferring to abstain when asked if he’s getting more out of Belinelli than he did from Korver. ‘‘Different strengths.’’

He’s right. More accurately, though, Belinelli has more strengths. He has handled the point at times in Kirk Hinrich’s absence. He attacks the basket. He scores off the pick-and-roll. He makes big shots. (The three-pointer he made with 5.9 seconds left Friday to beat the Utah Jazz 89-88 was his third game-winner of the season.)

Most of all, Belinelli is a niche player who can do more than one thing at a time. In his last three games, Belinelli had 20 points and five assists in 45 minutes against the Indiana Pacers, 21 points and seven assists in 41 minutes against the San Antonio Spurs and 22 points and three assists in 43 minutes against the Jazz. Belinelli averaged 1.3 assists in five seasons before joining the Bulls. He’s averaging 4.8 assists in his last four games.

‘‘He’s confident,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘At the beginning of the year, it was more catch-and-shoot. Now it’s pick-and-roll, playmaking. His team defense has vastly improved. Still working on his individual defense. But he comes in every day with a great attitude and approach. He puts everything he has into each day, and I think that’s why he improves.’’

Belinelli said his confidence has come from Thibodeau’s confidence in him.

‘‘They’ve got a lot of confidence in me, so I just try to go on the court and play hard,’’ said Belinelli, who was averaging 9.4 points before the recent three-game spree. ‘‘I love playing for this team. When you play a lot of minutes and win the game, you’re happy. I just need to keep going, play hard and win as many games as we can.’’

If Belinelli continues to improve, Thibodeau will have some interesting options should Rose return. Belinelli’s impact might increase exponentially with a point guard such as Rose on the floor.

NOTES: Coach Tom Thibodeau said guard Richard Hamilton (back) won’t make the three-game West Coast trip, but guard Kirk Hinrich (right foot) and forward Taj Gibson (sprained left knee) are ‘‘day-to-day’’ and might play Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers.

† Guard Derrick Rose’s return doesn’t appear imminent. Asked if Rose will be a game-time decision when he returns or if the Bulls will announce his return in advance, Thibodeau said: ‘‘We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. We just want him to keep working. There is no timetable.’’



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