Not only did the Bulls know what they were looking for in the 2013 NBA Draft (shooting, of course), they knew which players they wanted.
Observers speculated about the team selecting a variety of prospects, but the tight-lipped organization zeroed in on New Mexico swingman Tony Snell in the first round and Florida jump-shooting big man Erik Murphy in the second round Thursday night.
It remains to be seen whether either player contributes as a rookie—in Murphy’s case, he has to first make the team—or if they have long-term value, but Bulls management was pleased about their haul.
“Tony Snell’s a guy we had our eye on really all year long and we saw him early in the process. We scouted him a number of times. John [Paxson, the Bulls’ executive vice president] and myself were out at the Mountain West conference tournament and saw him play out there, and then we had him in. I think he was in the first workout that we had, right after the pre-draft camp and he’s a guy that we targeted probably back in October, November. Saw him practice early in the year—our West Coast scout, Dave Bollwinkel—and what was attractive about Tony and what we liked about him was, first of all, he can shoot the basketball, but we think he has terrific tools,” Bulls general manager Gar Forman explained.
“He’s got great length. He’s 6-7 ½, he’s got a seven-foot wingspan, he’s a very good athlete and we think he’s a skilled basketball player with a lot of potential to get better. Like I mentioned, he shoots the ball. He shot almost 40 percent from the three. He can handle the basketball. In college, he would play in pick-and-roll situations. All our background tells us that he’s a terrific worker and a very good kid, so we’re really happy to get Tony.
“In the second round to get Erik Murphy, again, it’s something you’ve heard Tom [Thibodeau, the team’s head coach] talk about, you’ve heard me talk about, is improving our ability to shoot the basketball,” he continued. “Erik Murphy is a stretch four that was a 45-percent three-point shooter and we think has a chance down the road to possibly help us because of his ability to stretch the floor and shoot the basketball.”
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Thibodeau concurred: “I think we addressed a need. Gar and our staff worked extremely hard all year watching these guys, as he mentioned. Both guys shoot the ball extremely well. We feel that Snell has a big upside and feel the same way about Erik Murphy, so we’re thrilled that we have the opportunity to add them to our team.
“There’s certain things that we look for in a player and he’s got good length, he’s an athletic wing, he can shoot the ball and obviously, we prioritize that and we think he can grow,” he added about the Los Angeles native, who attended high school and won a state championship with San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard, an emerging star in the league. “From everything that we’ve seen and what we’ve been told, he’s a great worker and that’s a perfect fit. When a guy comes in and he does that, he’ll improve. In the first year, he’ll be learning the league, but he’ll have opportunities.”
The Bulls are expected to sign a veteran wing in free agency, whether that’s Marco Belinelli or another shooter, but at the moment, Snell is the primary backup to both All-Star small forward Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler, who is set to be the starting shooting guard.
Forman was cautiously optimistic about the athletic swingman’s chances to be a rotation player next season under Thibodeau, who has earned a reputation for putting rookies through a developmental year to thoroughly learn the system before playing significant minutes.
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“That’s to be determined and that’s going to be up to him, what he comes in and puts into it. But we do think he’s a talented kid that will have a chance to come in and earn any playing time that he gets. But in looking at Tony and again, we studied him quite a bit, we think he has a chance to possibly contribute this year. He’ll have to earn that on the floor, like all our players do, but long-term, we think there’s a great upside to Tony and think he’s got a real chance because of his makeup, because of his tools and because of his ability to shoot the basketball,” said the former New Mexico State assistant coach.
“I think he’s got a chance to guard multiple positions because of his length and his foot-speed, and again, he’s going to have to learn our defensive philosophy and how we like to guard and those type of things, but when we watched him, his length and athleticism was a real plus and the other thing I really liked about Tony, and our staff did when we watched him play is he was locked in and he was in a stance, and it was important to him. Defensively, he played in a good program, played for a good coach and I think those things will all benefit him.
“Just the combination of his length and his athleticism and his ability to shoot it. The other thing that stood out was he’s got a nice handle also and when we watched New Mexico throughout the year, there were times when he would push the ball in transition or he would initiate offense and play the point some for them. I certainly don’t think he’s a point guard, but I think he can be a secondary handler as he goes forward.”
Thibodeau offered his party line when asked if either player would have the chance to be in the rotation next season.
“Well, for any rookie, the first part is coming in and learning how to be a pro, learning the pro game, learning our system and learning how to work and you’re just trying to get them to concentrate on steady improvement each and every day. Put everything you have into each and every day, improve, get out there, do your job, know what your job is,” said the coach, who will have an opportunity to evaluate the draft picks in game competition during the NBA’s July summer league in Las Vegas before beginning his duties as a USA Basketball assistant coach, where he will observe backup big man Taj Gibson’s play during the program’s Select Team mini-camp. “Immediately, you have a responsibility to the team and we’ll see where it goes from there, but we like the makeup of these guys. We think they’re a good fit for us.”
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As for Murphy, All-Star center Joakim Noah’s fellow Gator, like last year’s first-round pick, point guard Marquis Teague, didn’t work out for the Bulls, but Forman still felt comfortable picking him, particularly due to the belief that the stretch power forward brings a new dimension to the team.
“[Murphy’s] agent felt he would go higher than that spot, so he didn’t come in, but with that said, that’s just a piece of the puzzle. We’ve scouted him for several years now, we do our background work, he’s at the combine, we get the athletic testing, the medical information, so he was a guy that throughout the year, we scouted quite a bit,” he said. “We’re always going to take what we think is the best player available, but with that said, we’ll tier guys and if we have two or three guys that we feel are of similar talent, then we may look at position and look to fill a need, and that’s one of the things that we were talking about, the staff were talking about, as the second round gets rolling pretty good with two minutes in between picks. But if he was going to be available, we really liked his ability to shoot the basketball.
“Somebody that can shoot and be a stretch four is something that can really be a plus for us.”
Thibodeau seemed to already be envisioning how Murphy can fit on the Bulls..
“I think in today’s NBA, you can never have enough shooting and we’ve used Lu as our stretch four,” he said. “This gives us an opportunity to also stay big and have the stretch four, so I think it’s a good weapon to have.”
Although there were a lot of rumors about the Bulls moving up in the draft or making a trade Thursday—from dealing Deng to move into the lottery to acquiring power forward Thomas Robinson, a top-five pick last year, from Houston—the team opted to stand pat.
“Well, you always investigate. That’s our job and we looked at different opportunities, whether it was moving up, whether it was moving back, whether there were different trade possibilities and got a sense throughout the league and whether there were any opportunities for us to improve,” Forman revealed. “But at the end of the day, there was nothing there that we felt was attractive enough to go ahead with and again, Snell was a guy that we targeted for quite a while and when he was there, we were really happy to pick him with that 20th spot.”