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Bulls’ rookies Murphy, Snell might get their shots

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Updated: December 23, 2013 3:02PM



DENVER — Tony Snell and Erik Murphy have spent the last seven weeks trying to justify their existence on an NBA roster.

Now, they possibly have the next five games after Thursday night’s 97-87 loss to the Denver Nuggets to show that they belong in the Bulls’ rotation.

“The first step is learning the NBA game and preparing themselves to play in an NBA game,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said of his two rookies. “As I said all along, they have the first step down in terms of how they approach it and their attitude. They’re still a work in progress.’’

The turf toe injury to Jimmy Butler leaves the Bulls a bit short-handed for at least the rest of the current six-game road trip, especially at the wing, and there are minutes to be had.

Snell, who was selected 20th overall, played 1:15 and hit his only field goal attempt for two points in the Bulls’ loss to the Nuggets. Murphy, who was selected 49th overall, played 1:16 and failed to score.

In training camp, they were both admittedly overwhelmed. Now they’re just trying to fit in. That’s not an easy task to accomplish in the Thibodeau system. Ask Butler, who played just 8.5 minutes a game as a rookie. Heck, ask veteran Marco Belinelli, who saw very little playing time the first month of last season because he was trying to meet Thibodeau’s demands on the defensive side of the ball.

“The system is different, and you’ve got to learn the system, but also you have to gain Thibs’ trust,’’ Murphy said. “You’re a new guy, a new face in this organization, and you’ve got to make it so that Thibs has trust in you to go in there and perform. Jimmy his rookie year, Marquis [Teague] his rookie year, Belinelli last year, they were new faces and they had to come in and work, prove that Thibs can trust them.’’

The double-edged sword in this equation is showing enough in practice that Thibodeau gives a player minutes to earn that trust. Butler got his big shot last season when injuries to Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich allowed him to excel as a starter.

Now with Butler down, Snell and Murphy may be given that same opportunity, especially Snell, who is a more natural wing.

“[Snell] has to be ready,’’ Thibodeau said. “He has to continue to develop and show he’s capable of making shots. He has to be able to handle the defense. I like the way he’s approaching things. I like the way he works.’’

Even if Thibodeau opts to stick with players like Mike James and Teague over the next week, Murphy and Snell know not to take it personally.

“I’ve made the adjustments to this system and to the NBA game,’’ Murphy said. “I went through the preseason, felt like I did OK in the preseason, and now the regular season is another jump. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better up to this point, but even with that it’s still a slow process, coming in and making that transition.

‘‘All Tony and I can do is keep working, keep grinding and ­improve.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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