Murphy looking to stretch the floor for Chicago

Bulls rookie forward Erik Murphy discusses playing the role of a stretch four and preparing for training camp as the 2013-14 NBA season approaches

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In his first public remarks about Erik Murphy on the night of the 2013 NBA Draft, Bulls General Manager Gar Forman wasted little time in using a label that could stick with the team’s second round pick throughout his career: stretch four.

Murphy’s size and ability to score from the perimeter are what made him an enticing option for the Bulls, who added two other shooters this offseason with the first round selection of Tony Snell and the signing of free agent forward Mike Dunleavy, Jr. later in the summer.

Erik Murphy in the air during a photo shoot with the NBA
"As a rookie, you never know what your role is going to be until the season comes," said Murphy. "I’ll accept any role I get. That’s part of the deal."
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)

In the case of Murphy, though, it helps to better understand what an NBA stretch four is supposed to do. So who better to ask than Murphy himself?

“It’s a big guy who can stretch the floor and spread out the defense,” Murphy explained following a workout at the Berto Center last week. “You have to be capable of shooting the ball and making plays away from the basket.

“Obviously, Derrick is a great point guard and he will use all the space he can get,” Murphy continued. “So if you have a big guy who can spread the floor and space out the defense, it’s a big plus for a player like him.”

At 6-10, 230-pounds, Murphy has the size – especially as he adds weight and strength – to play in the post like a traditional power forward. If and when he makes his mark on the game, however, it will likely be on the perimeter with his distinguishing ability to hit the three-pointer.

Typically opposing team’s power forwards will defend Murphy, thus if he’s a threat from the outside, it forces his defender towards the three-point line and away from the basket, opening up the lane to enhance what a creative playmaker like Rose can do. An effective stretch four may also benefit someone like Bulls center Joakim Noah, providing more room to operate and giving him a greater chance to be offensively effective.

Dirk Nowitzki at 7-0, 245-pounds is the epitome of the stretch four in today’s game, while Ryan Anderson at 6-10, 240-pounds likely offers a better comparison to Murphy. Just as both of those players can shoot, they also have to be able to hold their own in the low post, a fact not lost on Murphy.

Erik Murphy puts up a shot while playing for Florida
"In high school, I shot from the perimeter a little bit just because I could," said Murphy. "But I’ve always been comfortable playing down low as well."
(Tom Pennington/Getty Images Sport)

“I’ve always been comfortable playing down low as well,” said Murphy. “I may not be the strongest or biggest guy physically, but I’m not afraid from playing in the post. I embrace it and feel I’ve got some good skills playing down there. And that comes into play being a stretch four too, being a player that’s not one-dimensional. You’ve got to be a big guy who other teams are forced to respect around the basket, but he can also stretch the floor.

“I understand how to play and pick up things pretty quickly,” added Murphy, who will get his chance to prove it when the Bulls open training camp at the end of September.

This offseason has been a busy one for the Rhode Island native, who took his first break after NBA Summer League (Murphy averaged 11.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 26.2 minutes as Chicago went 4-1) in Las Vegas concluded on July 19 by going back to Gainesville to catch up with his old teammates and coaches at the University of Florida.

After that, Murphy returned to Chicago to resume workouts at the Berto Center, a place he’s visited with great regularity aside from a few days in New York for the league’s rookie transition program.

Murphy’s sessions usually start by 10 or 11 in the morning and begin on the court, where he’ll work with one of the Bulls assistant coaches. His primary focus, of course, remains on his outside shot. But he mixes in a host of other drills – shot fakes followed by one dribble and pull up jumpers, mid-post work, face up looks in the post, shots on the move coming off screens, and pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop techniques – before moving into the weight room.

And though he’s made a lot of progress over the years, Murphy admits there is no way he would be at this level had he simply relied on his height and natural ability.

“When I was really young, I was awful,” remarked Murphy. “I stated playing AAU at the age of 13 with a local Rhode Island team and I was the last guy off the bench. I never played. It was around that age that I started working hard and taking the game seriously.”

Tony Snell and Erik Murphy stand together during a photo shoot
Along with fellow draftee Tony Snell, Erik Murphy has spent the bulk of his summer at the Berto Center preparing for the 2013-14 NBA season.
(Nick Laham/Getty Images Sport)

Murphy’s father, Jay, who starred at Boston College and played for the Clippers and Bullets in the 1980s, as well as overseas in France and Italy, played a huge role in his son’s development.

“My Dad helped instill a good work ethic in me, though he never put any pressure on me,” said Murphy, whose younger brother Alex is a sophomore for the Duke Blue Devils. “He showed me what hard work is all about, but he never made me play basketball. It was all me.”

As Murphy continues to put his time in at the gym and gets acclimated to new surroundings, training camp will present another set of new challenges.

“I know it’s going to be hard, but I’m excited for when that time comes,” said Murphy. “Summer league gives you a small taste of what to expect, but obviously it’s not the same level. A lot of the guys out there are capable of playing in this league, so you play against some good competition and everyone is playing hard because they want to make a team.

“As a rookie, you never know what your role is going to be until the season comes,” added Murphy. “I’ll accept any role I get. That’s part of the deal. But just coming in and doing what I can for the team to win, whether that’s cheering loudest on the bench or being ready if my name is called, is OK by me.”

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