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Tony Snell: Another GarPax hit?

The rookie from New Mexico has been showing signs of promise over the last two games.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

John Paxson and Gar Forman take a lot of heat. That isn't exactly breaking news; more than anything, it's part of being a high-level NBA decision maker. But whether much of the criticism is deserved or not, it isn't hard to pinpoint where most of it comes from.

The Bulls' two-headed boy of a GM does not sweat charisma. Paxson and Forman come off a bit socially wooden in front of a microphone or a potential free agent. They're openly obstinate with the media. They do all of their dealings in secrecy and have had great success in eliminating leaks to reporters. They have the panache of Eeyore.

The Bulls' braintrust is conservative, no doubt about that. The last 10 years (and to be fair, Forman came on in May of 2009) have seen Chicago tied to nearly every major trade candidate, but they've never been able to pull the trigger on any of them. Their failings in free agency are well documented. But there is one thing Paxson and Forman do very well, and I'd argue it's the single most important thing for any NBA general manager. GarPax can really draft, a skill that only takes on added importance under the current collective bargaining agreement. Tony Snell is the latest evidence of that.

Snell was very much an off-the-radar pick at No. 20 in last June's NBA draft. As a sophomore at New Mexico, Snell wasn't even considered a starter until an injury opened up a spot for him in the lineup. When he got there, he showed flashes but was mostly inconsistent, reaching double-figures in points in only five of 13 conference games. Despite putting up numbers that didn't jump off the page in college (10.5 points, 2.3 assists on 44.8 percent shooting from the field, 38.7 from three), he chose to forgo his last two years of eligibility. GarPax saw something they liked in him.

It was two things, I'm guessing. The first is that three-point stroke, something Snell has flashed (albeit inconsistently) in his first 32 NBA games. Snell is taking 2.9 attempts from three per game, and is hitting on 32.6 percent of them. He's been better in January, making 38.9 percent of his 2.6 attempts per game. The second thing GarPax saw in Snell might be even more important: wingspan.

With a 6'11.5 wingspan, Snell has the reach to be a terror on defense and also finish tough drives at the rim. We've seen him show the ability to do both of those things so far in his brief NBA career.

Snell has played really well in his last two games. He was everywhere in a loss to Washington on Monday, flying around the court on both ends. He finished with 12 points in 16 minutes, shooting 5-of-9 from the field and 2-of-4 from deep. His defense was more impressive than his offense.

Even though Bradley Beal drained this shot, the way Snell was able to recover and challenge it with a ultra-quick closeout is a great sign for his pro career:

He was even better against Orlando on Wednesday. This overtime slam was the highlight in a 15-point, seven-rebound, two-steal performance.


But again, Snell's defense was, to me, even more encouraging than what he did on offense. You don't make this steal without mutant arms.

If Snell can be that type of defender, the Bulls may have found a gem of a 3-and-D player. This is a particularly impressive feat when you compare Snell to the rest of the rookies, as Doug Thonus noted today. This rookie class was supposed to be weak from the start, and that's proven true in the early going. Of course, you really need three or four years to judge a rookie class, but the initial returns have not been terribly promising league-wide. Stunt on 'em, GarPax.

It's true that Snell's numbers are nothing particularly inspiring thus far, but I think he's shown a good deal of promise from a scouting perspective. What's surprising to me is how comfortable he is handling the ball. Here are a few plays he's made either off the dribble (the first two) or off a cut (the last one) in the last two games.

I'm not going to waste everyone's time by breaking down those plays, because I think it's pretty evident what Snell is doing well there. It's first step, it's reach, it's control and it's touch. Over time, he could become a player Thibodeau plugs into the same baseline down screen sets he used to run for Kyle Korver and Rip Hamilton all the time.

Thibs' reluctance to play rookies is widely know, and Snell is likely seeing the floor this year more because of injuries than anything he has done in practice. But it goes to show the value in developing young players with real minutes. Thibs may not like giving Snell as much burn as he has, but it's surely been helpful for his future.

Where does Snell project? I'm interested to see what you guys think. Conservatively, I think he's shown that he can at least be a solid role player off the bench. If he shoots threes and plays good defense, he's going to be helpful. Anthony Morrow and Courtney Lee are two names that immediately come to mind. Hamilton might actually be a good high-end projection, though it's important to remember just how good Rip was when he was young.

Regardless of where Snell's true potential lies, he's shown enough in the early going that I already feel comfortable calling him a rotation player. To me, at pick No. 20 in a bad draft, that's enough for a hit.

GarPax, they really aren't so bad.