With Derrick Rose out for the season and Jimmy Butler week-to-week with a toe injury, it’s no secret that the Chicago Bulls’ backcourt is shorthanded. Kirk Hinrich has rightfully taken over the starting point guard position, but Mike Dunleavy hasn’t done anything special in extended minutes and Marquis Teague looks like more of a D-League player than anything. So where has Tom Thibodeau turned to occupy the vacant starting shooting guard spot? Enter rookie Tony Snell from the University of New Mexico.
Snell has started in Chicago’s last two games, joining Luol Deng on the wing. In 26 minutes in an overtime loss against the Utah Jazz Monday night, Snell posted nine points on 3-of-7 shooting, but his playing time was limited by Dunleavy, who had 38 minutes and went 1-for-8 from the floor. A simple look at the stat sheet was probably all Thibs needed to make a change, because Snell’s minutes were bumped up to 37 in a win against the Detroit Pistons Wednesday. Snell rewarded Thibs and the Bulls with his best game as a professional, tallying 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting to go with three assists and two steals.
Obviously that stat line doesn’t really compare to Luol Deng’s 26-6-5 numbers against Detroit, but Tony Snell is already meeting expectations. Instead of going with Dunleavy, an established 3-point shooter and NBA veteran, Thibodeau has opted to give the rookie a chance, something that he doesn’t typically do. But desperate times call for desperate measures and Snell has already shown plenty of potential because of his length, shooting ability, defense and hard-working mentality.
The Bulls front office has been high on Snell since taking him 20th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft. According to ESPN’s Nick Friedell, Thibodeau and even Bulls players are noticing the type of player he is: a gym rat. As someone who saw Snell play numerous times in college, I can personally attest to Snell’s serious demeanor that always seems to be focused on the next game. That kind of hard-working, focused mentality fits in perfectly with Thibodeau’s squad, so it actually shouldn’t be too much of a surprise he’s getting a starting opportunity over Dunleavy, who may become the only player to ever play for Thibs and NOT improve defensively.
What happens when Butler returns? That’s entirely up for speculation. I don’t think Snell’s game is that finely tuned yet to give him the starting job over Butler, even if Butler has been pretty inconsistent this year. Snell still has plenty of aspects of his game to work on, but as he continues to grow more comfortable and confident maybe Thibs will have to revisit the issue at that point. One thing is for certain though – Snell’s defense, shooting ability and athleticism could seriously put Mike Dunleavy’s minutes in jeopardy.
Rose is done for the season and most likely, so are the Chicago Bulls’ title aspirations. General manager Gar Forman has already gone on the record saying that the Bulls aren’t going to blow it up. Although trading Luol Deng and amnestying Carlos Boozer seems like the smartest (albeit heartless) course of action for Chicago, Snell will be getting plenty of playing time either way this year. The immediate future isn’t too bright for Chicago as currently constructed, but Bulls fans can find some solace in watching Tony Snell develop in extended minutes this season.