Throughout the 2013-14 season, we saw glimpses of Tony Snell’s potential. His rookie season consisted of sporadic playing time (22 games with five or less minutes played, 10 games with 35 or more minutes played) and inconsistent shooting performances. However, the part of his game that stayed consistent, and is arguably what the Chicago Bulls wanted from Snell in his rookie year, was his defensive ability. Snell’s Defensive Rating (estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions) of 104 was the fourth best rating among rookies who played in 50 or more games this season.
Snell was drafted with the 20th selection in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Bulls. His diverse skill set and dynamite on-ball defense made him a perfect pick for the Bulls. During his time at the University of New Mexico, Snell held opponents to a scoring percentage of 18.8 percent when isolated against him.
With the Bulls this season, Snell saw action in 77 games, including seven starts. Although he shot a lower percentage from the field than expected (.384), his contributions off the bench were key to some of the success of the team this season.
Having a season under his belt, it seems that Snell is rounding out to be a similar player as fellow Bulls wingman Jimmy Butler. Both are lock down wing defenders who can hit open jump shots. When comparing the two player’s rookie seasons, their per 36 minute statistics in points, rebounds and assists are almost identical. Given how the Bulls have developed Butler’s game on both ends of the court, I expect the same sort of progression from Snell over the next two seasons.
However, depending on the decisions made this offseason by the Bulls front office, Snell could be thrown into a bigger role sooner than expected. For example, if Carmelo Anthony signs with the Bulls, it may be financially impossible to sign Butler to extension after next season. Knowing that, Snell may be tasked with replacing Butler’s productivity on both ends of the court, whether that be this coming season or the next.
Ultimately, Snell is in the perfect system for him to further develop his game and flourish with coach Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls. I expect him to put in the work this summer, and come back for the upcoming season miles ahead of where he ended this season. Depending on the team’s offseason decisions, Snell could potentially be a starter alongside Butler at some point next season. Imagine a starting line up of Snell, Butler, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose. That’s a matchup nightmare for nearly every offense in the NBA.
Neither Snell or Butler will be able to replace the void left by the departure of Luol Deng in the Bulls rotation; at least not in the coming year. But Snell’s diverse skill set, all be it still quite raw, makes him a player to keep an eye on next season. If he can earn Thibodeau’s trust on the court and prove he is worthy of consistent playing time, Snell could explode in his second season in the league.