Being a rookie under Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t the easiest thing to do. The first season is usually marred by being planted on the bench, only seeing action if the game is out of reach. In a sense, Thibs has created a “redshirt” system for his rookies, where they spend their first season learning the offense and getting a grasp of his sophisticated defensive schemes. Jimmy Butler is a prime example of one such player and he’s benefited greatly.
The 2013-2014 season began with first round selection Tony Snell having a firm seat on the end of the bench, learning and gaining experience behind tenured wings such as Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng and Mike Dunleavy Jr. But, when a plethora of injuries mounted for the Bulls, it put Thibs in a position where he had to play the rookie Snell. Through gradually increased playing time (due to injuries and roster changes) Snell has garnered Thibs’ trust, which isn’t always the simplest task (ex. Marquis Teague) and has found himself as a regular in the Bulls rotation. This season thus far, Snell has appeared in 49 of Chicago’s 55 games and has started in 11 of those games, averaging 19.3 minutes per game.
Snell’s per game averages of 5.7 PPG, 2 RPG, 38.9% from the field and 33% from deep aren’t aesthetically pleasing, but they don’t tell the whole story of what he’s shown this year. Snell’s offensive rating of 93 points per 100 possessions, ranks him eighth among rookies having played at least 45 games, averaging at least 18 minutes per game this season, per NBA.com. While that number doesn’t jump out, his role in the Bulls’ offense isn’t as big as the players ranked ahead of him.
The biggest attraction to Tony Snell was his keen shooting ability, but rather it’s been his passing ability and ball handling that’s gained the most praise for the first year player. Among rookies, those having played in at least 45 games and averaging 18 minutes, Snell ranks third in assist to turnover ratio at 1.36, per NBA.com. Below is compilation of clips featuring Snell’s ball handling and passing ability.
As you can see, when handling the ball Snell is extremely calm and under control. Very rarely will you see him force the issue on offense, which can be contributed to his high basketball IQ. Off the bounce, when the defense starts to collapse as he penetrates, seen in the clips, he finds the open man, whether it be them cutting to the basket or spotting up. What’s been particularly impressive is Snell’s ball handling and passing ability out of the pick-and-roll. He’s patient coming off the screen, assessing the situation, either hitting the roll man popping out to 15 feet, or throwing a bounce pass to the screener rolling to the rim. In an area where rookies tend to struggle with decision making, it’s one where Snell excels at.
On the other end, though not a defensive stopper quite yet, Snell quickly picked up on Thibodeau’s schemes and has the tools to become a premier player on that end. Using the same filter’s for the previous statistics among rookies, Snell ranks first in defense, only allowing 99.2 points per 100 possessions. Again, below is a compilation of clips of Snell’s isolation, spot up, pick-and-roll and off the ball defense.
One of Snell’s greatest assets is his length, which allows him to recover and contest jump shots. And as seen in the clips above, Snell is very good at recovering to his man spotting up or coming off a screen with his tremendous length. Snell fits in perfectly with the prototype defender that Thibodeau loves, long, athletic wings, i.e. Buter and Deng.
Thibodeau’s pick-and-roll defense is predicated on forcing the ball handler away from the screen, in turn allowing them to put up a low percentage midrange jumper over the defending big man sagging off in the paint. Snell does a fantastic job of getting on the high side of the screen preventing the ball handler from using the pick. Being able to grasp Thibs’ defense as a rookie bodes well for Snell and his future as a Chicago Bull.
Tony Snell has performed reasonably well this season as a rookie, but there is still a plethora of room for him to improve and develop his game. Offensively, as smooth as his shot is, he needs it to become more consistent as well as adding a midrange game to his arsenal. Defensively on the ball, there are times where Snell gets a bit helter-skelter, particularly in isolation situations, which can be contributed to his lack of lateral foot speed. Granted, he is just a rookie and with added time in the weight room he will improve in those various areas and overall as a player.
For someone who was a bit of an unknown out of college and with little expectations coming out of the gate his rookie year, Snell has quickly filled the organization and fans with excitement and optimism for the future. With his rookie year gearing down the last half of the season, Tony Snell won’t win Rookie of the Year and more than likely won’t be selected to an All-Rookie team. But, that being said, Snell has proven throughout the year that he has the ability and potential to be very good player in the NBA for years to come.