COMMENTARY | Although his Italian accent remains thick, it is not hard to understand Marco Belinelli when he is on the basketball court.
"Marco is just a ballplayer,'' Chicago Bulls teammate Nate Robinson said. "He just plays. However it comes, he can shoot, he can dribble, he can pass, he can do it all. For me, it is just fun to watch him play free and happy and with no worries."
Due to a plantar fascia injury to Rip Hamilton, Belinelli has been moved into the Chicago Bulls starting lineup, and his performance in that time has been noteworthy. He has scored in double digits in eight of nine starts, and has led the team in scoring three times in that stretch.
Since Rose appeared on the NBA scene, the Bulls have been looking for a guard to play with him, someone who could draw attention away from Rose, get his own shots, take on an opposing defender on his own, and make good passes when he does have the attention of the other team.
Belinelli can do all that.
"I think he could play very well with Derrick,'' said Bill Wennington, the former Bulls center and current radio broadcaster for the team. "He moves very well without the basketball, and he doesn't just shoot three-pointers. He dribbles the ball very well, and can drive to the basket to score."
That's exactly what he did on Dec. 15, when he made the game-winning basket against Brooklyn. when Joakim Noah set a beautiful screen for him out on the left wing and he drove for a "wide-op en'' layup to give the Bulls the lead for good in the game's final seconds.
Belinelli came to the U.S. from Italy in 2007 as a mere youngster, and could not break into the Golden State lineup. He got 23 starts his second year with Golden State, moved on to Toronto, where he was back on the bench, but when he got traded to New Orleans for the 2010-11 season, things began to look up. He was a starter that first season in the Big Easy, and while playing with Chris Paul he averaged 10 points per game and shot 41 percent from 3-point range. His numbers went up last season when he became a more important part of the offense with Paul gone to Los Angeles.
Acquired by the Bulls as a free agent for this season, he struggled early as a bench contributor, having trouble finding his shot in the short time he was on the floor. But he has flourished as a starter, and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has been as effusive as he can be about Belinelli's contributions.
During the summer, Rose said he would enjoy the opportunity to play with Belinelli when the time comes and Rose is healthy again.
Belinelli turns just 27 years old in March. He is, for all intents, a contemporary of Rose's. Hamilton is old in basketball terms, and is struggling to come back from his injury -- he isn't even running on the foot yet.
So it may not come up anytime soon, but when Hamilton is ready to play, the question is whether he will be inserted back into the starting lineup.
Although Belinelli has been effective, the question is whether Thibodeau would "punish'' Hamilton for getting injured. At the same time, there are a lot of questions about how Hamilton would accept being a bench player, both physically and emotionally.
For now, the question does not exist, and the Bulls are enjoying Belinelli's abilities and joy in playing. They are 6-3 with him as a starter, and only two of those wins were against teams with losing records.
When the time comes, all eyes will be on Thibodeau to see what he does with the shooting guard spot. And when Rose comes back, all eyes will watch to see how he and Belinelli play together.
Kent McDill has covered the Bulls for three different companies: for United Press International from 1985-88, for the Daily Herald newspaper in Arlington Heights, Ill., from 1988-99 and currently for NBA.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title "100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die'' published by Triumph Books.