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Rookies Murphy, Snell still looking to prove worth as Bulls lose to Nuggets

Nuggets 97, Bulls 87: Final boxscore, stats
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Updated: November 22, 2013 12:30AM



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

Now, they possibly could have just the next five games to show they immediately belong in the Bulls rotation.

Enjoy the uphill climb, rooks.

“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.’’

And progress that wouldn’t be advanced in the 97-87 loss to the Nuggets.

Thanks to a third quarter in which the Bulls offense sputtered for just 14 points, Denver (5-6) pulled away in the second half, starting the annual Circus Trip off on a bad note.

The Bulls (6-4) were led by 19 points from Derrick Rose, but the 2011 MVP had only four points in the second half, shooting 2-for-8 in the final 24 minutes of the game.

They were also playing without Jimmy Butler, who will be out at least the next week with turf toe. That’s why there was seemingly minutes for Snell and Murphy to grab.

Snell, who was selected 20th overall in the first round, entered the game with the Nuggets playing in five games, but only averaging 2.3 minutes. Murphy, selected in the second round [49th overall], has appeared in just two games. They both got a minute of mop-up in the loss.

In training camp, they were both admittedly overwhelmed. Now, it’s just trying to fit in. Not easy in the Thibodeau system. Ask Butler, who saw just 8.5 minutes a game as a rookie. Heck, ask veteran Marco Belinelli, who admittedly saw very little time the first month last season because he was trying to play catch-up to the demands Thibodeau asks 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 even earn that trust. Butler really got his big shot last season when injuries to Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich allowed Butler 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 three.

“[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.

“All Tony and I can do is keep working, keep grinding and improve,’’ Murphy said.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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