“That really helped me a lot,” he said of Ginobili’s ability to speak Italian. “It helped me to learn how to play in the system, how to understand the system on offense, on defense. How to understand what Pop wanted from the players.
“Everything for me, after about two months, was easy. The system on offense is not difficult. We just try to move the ball all the time, try to play together like crazy. We really love to move the ball. And on defense, just play hard, play hard.”
Belinelli, who first played with Ginobili as a teenager in Italy 13 years ago, has returned the favor by giving the Spurs’ second unit another versatile, instinctive player. His presence has helped Ginobili bounce back from a shaky regular season last year with renewed life.
And Ginobili’s game isn’t the only thing that has come back. His Italian has, too.
“I was starting to lose it,” Ginobili said with a chuckle. “The fact that he’s new in the system, that he needed to figure things out, I can help him with that and meanwhile I practice my Italian. Even though under pressure a few times I have been very confusing with the Spanish and English, because with Tiago (Splitter) I speak Spanish. And I said some things that I still can’t understand. But it’s been great to have somebody that I know for so long.”
It’s been quite a two-year span for Belinelli from an education standpoint. He has played for Popovich and Thibodeau, widely regarded as two of the league’s very best coaches, in that time and watched his game take off because of it.
“Amazing. They are different, but at the same time, they are the best coaches in the league,” Belinelli said. “For me, Thibodeau was great and everybody knows that Pop is the best coach in the league.”