Heading into the 2013 NBA Draft, I was a big Gorgui Dieng guy. The Bulls had a clear need for a backup center behind Joakim Noah, and Dieng had just finished spearheading Lousiville's top-ranked defense to a national championship. Dieng seemed like the perfect fit to replace Omer Asik.
But the Bulls also needed some help on the wing, so when they took Tony Snell at No. 20, it didn't seem like the worst thing in the world. Snell shot 39.0 percent from three in his final year at New Mexico (39.3 percent the year before), and with a wingspan of nearly 7', it was easy to envision him as a defensive terror on the wing after some tutelage from Tom Thibodeau.
Snell's rookie season wasn't much to write home about. He did get some major minutes early in the year when Jimmy Butler missed time with a turf toe injury, and the rookie had his moments. During a two-game stretch at the end of November, Snell put up 31 points on 12-of-21 shooting and 6-of-10 from three. In February, Snell scored a season-high 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting in a blowout win over Denver.
But by the time March rolled around, Snell barely saw the court. He played 9.1 minutes per game in March and 8.3 minutes per game in April. The most minutes he played in a game during those two months was 20, and he scored in double figures just once. In the playoffs, he was an absolute non-factor. I was hoping Thibs would give Snell more of a chance to develop, but instead, the Bulls coach opted to ride Butler hard down the stretch.
For the season, Snell averaged 4.5 points on 38.4 percent shooting overall and 32.0 percent from three. There were some flashes of potential as a ballhandler and defender, but there wasn't a whole lot to go on. The hope was that Snell would use the offseason to improve, and then he would come back and stake a claim to a permanent spot in the rotation.
Everything seemed to be going swimmingly this summer. He added some much-needed weight to his slender frame and lit up the Summer League along with Doug McDermott. Excellent Summer League performance can't really be trusted (see: Teague, Marquis), but it was certainly a positive that he was dominating that kind of competition. Because of Snell's offseason and the circumstances surrounding the roster, I figured he would see pretty consistent time off the bench this upcoming year.
Then we get this:
Thibodeau doesn't sound high on Snell again. Said he needs to be more consistent.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) September 30, 2014
It may have been easy to dismiss that as just reporter speculation, but when the Bulls opened the preseason against the Wizards a week later, Snell found himself glued to the bench until the fourth quarter. Thibs chose to go with Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks as the primary guards off the bench, with McDermott manning the other reserve wing spot.
When Snell finally played against other scrubs in the fourth quarter, it almost looked like he forgot how to play. His handle and passing was sloppy, which led to two turnovers. He did knock down one jumper off a screen, but he missed an open three-pointer. Certainly not the best way to impress a coach when in the doghouse:
Yes. Things change during season but Thibs sounds frustrated with him. RT @Bulls_Jay: Think Snell is truly the odd-man out of the rotation?— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) October 7, 2014
In the second preseason affair, Snell again didn't see time until the fourth quarter. He was basically non-existent throughout much of the final frame before finally breaking out at the end of the quarter and into overtime, knocking down a few jumpers and sending the game to the extra period with two free throws. Of course, those free-throw attempts came after he almost fell over trying to dribble to the rack.
Snell's confidence can't be too high at the moment, although maybe this last performance will help him a bit. Even so, it sure doesn't look like Snell will see any significant time this year unless there are injuries. From KC:
The starters you mention are five. Gibson, Hinrich and Aaron Brooks are locks to come off the bench. So you're looking at a battle between Mirotic, McDermott and Tony Snell for the last spot. My guess is McDermott will initially see the most court time, though it's obviously based on performance. Mirotic is hurt a bit by Gasol, Noah and Gibson gobbling up the frontcourt minutes and small forward being a tough matchup for him defensively. The Bulls are just thinner at wing, which is why I guess McDermott will see more playing time.
Thibodeau almost always changes the subject when asked about Snell, though Snell did close well in the second preseason game against the Pistons. You also have to almost assume injuries, so the rotation likely will change.
And from CSN Chicago's Mark Schanowski:
Tony Snell might spend some time in the D-League. Clearly, Thibodeau is more comfortable with Brooks and Hinrich as his backup guards, which means there really aren't any minutes left for Snell. Thibs has said the second-year pro out of New Mexico needs to be more consistent, which is coach-speak for 'I can't really use him in the rotation right now.' Barring injuries, Snell will have a tough time getting on the court this season.
The Bulls don't use the D-League often, and this year they'll be sharing the Fort Wayne Mad Ants with 12 other teams, so who knows how beneficial that would actually be. They did send Teague down last year, but he was traded not long after. While this may all be speculation, it's not promising for Snell.
One has to assume Snell is performing extremely poorly in practice to be getting this type of treatment from Thibs. I'm not ready to give up on Snell yet because this is just his second season and he has some skills that, if honed, would be useful on this Bulls roster. However, if there's little improvement and he remains stapled to the bench as the year goes on, I wonder if the Bulls will look to cut ties early like they did with Teague.