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Marcus Georges-Hunt earned the chance to be in Timberwolves' rotation

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Marcus Georges-Hunt (13) warms up before the game against the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Nov. 17, 2017. Jerome Miron / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — If anyone knows what it takes to earn a spot in Tom Thibodeau's rotation, it's Jimmy Butler. As a rookie in Chicago during Thibodeau's second year with the Bulls, Butler played just 8.5 minutes a game.

By his third season, he was playing 38 minutes a game. So how did Butler do it? How did he earn his coach's trust and go from rarely playing to rarely coming off the court?

"Basically, it comes down to two things," Butler said. "No. 1, always stay prepared, continue to work on your game. Be who you are on and off the floor, because everyone is always watching. No. 2, as bad as it is and as bad as it sounds, injuries happen in this league, so somebody gets sick, whatever it's going to be, your time is going to come. Now, are you going to be prepared for it?"

That part is all on the player, Butler said. Once the opportunity arises, you have to take advantage.

"You show I can hoop with the best of them, too, then you get to play some defense and you sneak in a jump shot every once in awhile, like I did," Butler said. "And before you know it, you're playing 48 minutes."

While no one is expecting Marcus Georges-Hunt to play every minute, or even rise to an All-NBA level like Butler, he did take advantage of his opportunity Thursday night, Dec. 14. In 17 minutes, Georges-Hunt scored five points. The Wolves outscored the Kings by seven points when he was on the floor.

"I just try to be an all-around player," Georges-Hunt said. "Whichever way I can help the team, whether it's defense, knocking down shots, or whatever, I just try to do the best I can."

The defense is what Thibodeau was most intrigued by. He put Georges-Hunt on the floor to cover Sacramento's Buddy Hield, and Georges-Hunt did the job. Georges-Hunt said his mindset was not to let his man, or the Kings, score.

Usually, Thibodeau said, defense is how players like Georges-Hunt can "scratch" their way into the rotation. It's proven to be a hard rotation to crack in Minnesota, as Thibodeau has stuck with eight guys for two weeks following the injury to Nemanja Bjelica and Shabazz Muhammad's demotion from role player to bench sitter.

"Sometimes you have to star within your role, and I think (Georges-Hunt) did that," Jamal Crawford said. "He stayed in character, he didn't try to do too much. I think he knows he's out there for defense first, and everything else follows, and he stayed right in there and he had a lot of success."

Thursday marked the first time Georges-Hunt, a 23-year-old wing in his second NBA season, played more than five minutes all season and the first time he played more than two minutes since Nov. 8. That can be a difficult situation to walk into and perform, yet he did. The key, Georges-Hunt said, is to "attack each day like a professional." Without any knowledge that Thursday would be the night he was getting into the game, Georges-Hunt still scoured the scouting report and knew how he'd want to defend Hield if called on.

"You just have to always be ready to play," Georges-Hunt said. "You never know when your name is going to be called and you have to go out there and give it all you've got with whatever time is given."

After the game, Georges-Hunt was one of the last players to leave the locker room. Why? He had to get his post-game lift in, first. He does it after every contest, whether he plays or not.

"Marcus is one of the first ones in and one of the last ones to leave," Butler said.

Crawford said that hard work translates to good performances in practices, and was pleased it showed up in a game, as well. That work ethic is precisely what Thibodeau is looking for.

"All those things (Thibodeau) looks into, especially coming into the gym late at night, maybe 11 or 12 at night," Taj Gibson said. "There's always a video camera there, he's always watching, he's always looking to see who's in the gym and who really puts that work into the game."

Beyond that, Butler said Georges-Hunt has done wonders just being a positive influence on the team. He said the young wing has been "phenomenal," whether he's been playing or not, always smiling and laughing. "He's fun to be around."

"Truth be told, I'm always telling him to be ready, because his time is definitely coming," Butler said. "I think he showed what he's capable of out there, making shots, guarding, and that's what we need. Coach sees him working incredibly hard, so I think he's made his mark. I think he's going to be in this league for a long time."

But will he stay in the rotation for long? Thibodeau said Georges-Hunt will be a "situational" player.

"But I think the more opportunities he gets and he does well, you can always use a player like that," Thibodeau said. "The thing that I like about him is whether they're short minutes, extended minutes, I've watched what he's done every day, he's kept himself ready. So when the opportunity came, he was ready for it. You've got to continue to do it."

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