San Antonio Spurs' Marco Belinelli, despite playing in 360 NBA games over six seasons, is a postseason novice.
Cory Joseph, 21, has appeared in two more playoff games than the 27-year-old Belinelli (18). That isn't entirely Belinelli's fault -- the 2010-11 New Orleans Hornets and 2012-13 Chicago Bulls, respectively, weren't exactly equipped to make deep postseason runs.
Belinelli, a middling first-round pick, has carved out a valuable niche in the NBA as a pliable secondary ball handler. He juggles the responsibility well; he assisted on 12.9 percent of Chicago's possessions last year, while also knocking down 35.7 percent of his 3-pointers.
Belinelli inherited an understated role in the Bulls' 23rd ranked offense -- injuries to Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton cleared significant time on coach Tom Thibodeau's minutes ledger. Belinelli's acclimation to Thibodeau's labor intensive defensive scheme wasn't smooth, but he made immediate strides on offense, where he and Nate Robinson compensated for Chicago's depleted backcourt with occasionally brilliant off the bounce creativity.
San Antonio's offense is a different animal. It may take Belinelli a few months to master the idiosyncrasies -- when to slide behind the defense, where to stand on the perimeter to grant Tony Parker (or Manu Ginobili) ample space, and where the defense will invariably breakdown, so he can capitalize. But he can still translate a few things to San Antonio.
Via Italian site Leo Sport:
"It's no use denying it, this year points to the victory of the ring, the NBA title," Belinelli said. "In 2012 I played at a high level and I had the possibility to grow a lot, training alongside the Bulls roster has allowed me to learn things that I hope will help me next year with San Antonio."
For one, he benefited a ton from playing alongside Luol Deng and Taj Gibson, two plus defenders at their respective positions. The triad outscored opponents by 9.6 points per 100 possessions last season, per NBA.com, the largest margin on the team. San Antonio has their fair share of defensive stalwarts, too, and Belinelli already showed he can thrive in lineups that effectively hide his defensive limitations, allowing him to fill in the offensive gaps.