With the 20th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls took the relatively unknown Tony Snell out of New Mexico. But in picking Snell over more frequently heard options like Jamaal Franklin and Reggie Bullock (something I wrote about a few days before the draft), the Bulls grabbed a terrific potential role player who could be known as the steal of the draft a few years down the road.
Chicago’s starting five is already pretty stacked: a healthy Derrick Rose (former MVP), Kirk Hinrich (lockdown defender) Luol Deng (defender and decent scorer), Carlos Boozer (post scorer) and Joakim Noah (interior defender and perennial hustle guy). The fact that they’ve got a fantastic upcoming prospect in Jimmy Butler doesn’t help Snell’s chances of coming in and having an immediate impact either, especially since Butler and Snell seem to have a similar playing style.
But out of all the teams that could have drafted Snell, only the San Antonio Spurs would be more ideal for the development of a player like Snell. On a team like the Charlotte Bobcats or Detroit Pistons, there’d be too much pressure on him to immediately produce, either as a starter or coming off the bench. But playing with a contender in the East will give him more time to grow accustomed to playing in the NBA while also learning how to win at the next level.
Under coach Tom Thibodeau’s tutelage, Snell’s natural defensive skills, which were instilled in him under Coach Steve Alford at UNM, will continue to flourish and improve. In fact, Nate Robinson is probably the only player I’ve seen in the last few years who’s played for Thibs and not shown significant improvements in his game on the defensive end. Simply put, Thibs will not tolerate players who don’t play tough, physical defense. That’s Snell’s ticket to finding minutes off the bench and it will be the first way he’ll get his coach to trust in him and his future in the NBA.
Snell will earn Thibs’ trust playing solid D, but he’ll earn the majority of his minutes for his defense AND perimeter jump shot. By drafting Snell, the Bulls acknowledged one of their biggest weaknesses: 3-point shooting. Chicago was 20th in the league last year in 3-point percentage (at 35.3 percent) and 29th in 3-pointers made (5.4 per game). Snell only shot 39 percent from 3-point range last season with the Lobos (per ESPN.com), but that’s a respectable mark that will improve under the instruction of an NBA coaching staff and anyone who saw him play last year will tell you … this guy can stroke.
As a New Mexico native, I saw Snell play multiple times last year and was able to watch the Mountain West Conference tournament in Las Vegas. Anyone doubting what this young man can do should watch his stellar performances against San Diego State and UNLV in the final two rounds of the tourney. He took over when he had to against UNLV, exploding for a personal 13-0 run that kept UNM on top. He buried both teams with a barrage of 3-pointers. In fact, a Tony Snell heat check nearly tore the roof off of UNLV’s stadium as an arena full of rowdy Lobo fans exploded with each 3 that dropped.
Even better for those wishing to study Snell’s game, those two games also gave him a chance to display the other assets he brings to the table. In a couple of situations, the Lobos gave the ball to the hot hand and cleared out for him. But rather than pull up for an isolation 3, Snell showed pretty respectable ball-handling skills and attacked the basket, putting the UNLV game out of reach with a silky scoop shot that was out of his defender’s reach (at the 1:16 mark of this video).
Why is this so important? Because unlike Kyle Korver or other 3-point specialists before him, that means Tony Snell can contribute in a number of ways. Snell’s 3-point shooting potential is obviously what Chicago drafted him for, but as a decent, lengthy defender with plenty of height, ball-handling skills and athleticism attacking the basket, Snell can develop into something more than a one-dimensional sniper. Three-point specialists can be stopped with persistent defense, but a guy who is capable of attacking the basket while still being a perimeter threat is much more difficult to stop, especially on a team that already has Derrick Rose for defenders to worry about.
Here’s an added bonus that few people other than someone familiar with the Lobos will be able to tell you: Snell has a much better chance of thriving in the NBA playing for a rowdy and rocking crowd like the Chicago Bulls. That may seem like Captain Obvious statement, but Snell thrives in a loud basketball environment after playing in The Pit, one of the top five college arenas in the country. That place positively explodes when the Lobos are playing well and players can’t help but perform their best in that kind of environment. The United Center is consistently packed and similarly rocking when the Bulls are playing well, so I really can’t think of a better transition to the pros for a guy used to playing in The Pit. And when you put all these concepts together, it’s hard to see how Tony Snell could fail in this ideal environment.
Topics: 2013 NBA Draft Chicago Bulls, Chicago Bulls Draft Tony Snell, Tony Snell 2013 NBA Draft, Tony Snell Chicago Bulls, Tony Snell NBA Draft, Tony Snell Player Profile, Why Tony Snell Is A Good Fit For The Chicago Bulls