By the end of last season, Rip Hamilton frequently morphed into Kieth Bogans, starting the first and third periods then playing sparingly after that. Hamilton is expected to start again this season, but the battle for who gets the minutes at SG could be intense.
The Bulls have solid depth at guard while Derrick Rose is sidelines and will be overloaded at the position when he returns. Presently, Hamilton, Belinelli, and Butler will vie for shooting guard minutes. When Derrick Rose returns, Kirk Hinrich will join the fray and see action at shooting guard as well.
Rip Hamilton is the early favorite to take the minutes
Rip Hamilton will be given every opportunity to win the lion's share of the minutes. Most coaches prefer to go with veteran's and Thibodeau is no exception. Hamilton's also the most likely to grouse and mope if his minutes are cut and already lead a revolt against his head coach in Detroit over playing time.
If the Bulls reduce his role too much, it's not out of the question that they lose him completely. Rip can be a great teammate, but we've already seen the darker side of him even if he was stuck in a lousy situation of not playing for a lousy team. For as long as he's healthy, I think it's fair to assume that Rip pulls down 20 minutes a night and retains the starting role.
The news around Hamilton so far is positive. He's talking about how healthy he is, not playing a compressed schedule, and getting back to form. However, it's been four years since Hamilton had a reasonably healthy season (72 games played) and a decade since he played all 82. Let's not buy into the hype that he'll be much of a cornerstone this season either.
I put the over/under on games played for Rip at 55 games.
Marco Belinelli has potential
At 26 years of age, Marco Belinelli is entering the best years of his career. He still has room to grow as a player, can put the ball on the floor, shoot, and brings a much needed aggressive scoring mentality to the table. His defense has historically been called into question, but Thibodeau raises all boats on the defensive side of the ball.
I expect Belinelli to perform well above the expectations that are typically set for a guy on a one year two million dollar deal. That said, those expectations are typically set very, very low. That said, I won't be surprised if Belinelli outplays Hamilton while coming off the bench starting a grass roots movement by fans to see his role increase.
He'll need to prove all the skills he's flashed can be put together into a consistent game, but he possesses many of the tools needed to play as a starting shooting guard and his skill set would fit more naturally around a healthy Derrick Rose than Rip Hamilton's would.
Jimmy Butler impressed in summer league
Jimmy Butler told me at media day that the biggest thing he improved upon was his confidence taking the jumper. He worked plenty on the jump shot this summer, but noted that last year he was often scared to use it during games. He still intends to attack the basket quick and hard to draw fouls, but hopes to help space the floor a bit more as well.
He'll initially make his money as Luol Deng's backup, a role which historically would grant a guy about 30 seconds of playing time per night (I kid). If he plays well, he'll likely see 12-15 minutes a night at SF, but he could challenge to gain more playing time at SG when the Bulls want to go with more of a defensive front.
He's likely the Bulls defensive ace at the position which means there will be some minutes for him there regardless of what Hamilton and Belinelli are doing on offense. The Bulls will throw out looks with Butler/Deng on the floor if they really want to shut down the perimeter.
How many minutes this happens will likely come down to how much Butler can bring to the table on offense.
Kirk Hinrich lurks in the shadows
When the glorious day of Derrick Rose's return comes, Kirk Hinrich's minutes aren't likely to drop to 10 a night. He's going to be thrown in at shooting guard as well and likely receive a minimum of 10 minutes a night at what then becomes a very crowded position.
Hinrich may push Butler out of the SG role all together, because his fit at the position may be the defensive sub with more shooting skill. This might be the best way to keep locker room piece as it would still give Butler 12-15 minutes as backup SF and leave SG as a three man rotation instead of a four man one.
That said, it all comes down to who proves it on the court.
The Bulls potentially having a four man minute crunch at the position at year's end shows why teams need star power rather than depth. Throwing more average or guys with potential at the problem doesn't do much to solve it if no one gets enough minutes to find a rhythm and prove themselves.
It also has a high risk of sowing locker room discontent as someone will always feel they deserved to play over a guy ahead of them. Given that Hamilton and Hinrich have both struggled with significant injury problems, it's possible that things get worked out without much of a log jam due to health concerns, but Thibodeau will have to tread carefully if the roster stays healthy.