Under Tom Thibodeau, rookies have gotten little to no playing time. Jimmy Butler and Marquis Teague saw very limited time during their debut seasons, averaging 8.5 and 8.2 minutes per game, respectively.
Snell came to a different Bulls team, though. Depth was limited, but with Butler and Deng in the starting lineup, Snell’s minutes were scarce. The latter is gone, though, and Snell has the chance to show that he can be an asset for Chicago’s championship aspirations in the coming seasons.
It will be an uphill climb, though. Despite the trade making more than a handful of minutes available, Snell has still seen inconsistent playing time, even when he's been the starter.
Regardless of his spot on the depth chart, though, Snell now has a chance many rookies on the Bulls—and around the league—don’t get: a chance to make an impact and prove himself during his debut season.
Getting Consistent Minutes
Even with Deng as a Cleveland Cavalier, Snell has struggled to see consistent minutes. In the five games prior to Chicago's contest with the Orlando Magic, Snell had played approximately 16 minutes per game.
This was a considerably big drop in playing time compared to December when he averaged 25 minutes. Snell figured to be the primary backup to Butler and Mike Dunleavy, but, instead, Thibodeau has used Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin in two-point-guard sets.
Snell even lost minutes to the recently acquired Cartier Martin during his debut, where Martin played 26 minutes to Snell's 17. That could have been a big game for the rookie as he was starting in place of the injured Butler.
The following game against the Washington Wizards on Jan. 13, Snell came off the bench to play just 15 minutes, despite a solid offensive performance, scoring 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
Thibodeau did, however, give Snell crunch-time minutes against the Magic on Jan. 15 after a productive fourth quarter from him helped get Chicago back in the game. Snell went on to play all three overtime periods, contributing on both ends of the floor, leading to a 128-125 Bulls win.
Snell’s minutes could continue to fluctuate until he fully settles in, but performances like those certainly bode well for him as the season progresses.
Where He Must Improve
Snell has a lot of defensive potential, but it hasn't been fully realized yet.
According to Synergy, Snell allows nearly one point per play, but it's his pick-and-roll defense that is a bit worrisome. He allows .96 points per play, and opponents shoot nearly 46 percent.
Snell’s problem is that he tends to trail while defending the pick-and-roll.
A quicker, more athletic wing can get by Snell because he tries to make the ball-handler go away from the screen. At times, though, he gives too much room, allowing the offensive player a lane to the basket; although some of it can be blamed on poor help defense on the back side.
Offensively, the rookie guard has shot the ball particularly well. On 83 two-point attempts, Snell has made 48 percent of them and is shooting 56 percent in the paint, per NBA.com. It’s his three-point shooting that’s been off all season.
After a solid month in November where he shot 7-of-16 from downtown across nine games, Snell’s three-point shot took a turn for the worst. During December—his most active month—Snell shot 28 percent from behind the arc.
Snell has a high ceiling and has good defensive potential given his frame. It will surely take the 22-year-old some time to develop into a solid rotation player, but now he has a chance to speed up that process—if he can get the playing time that is.
Cementing His Role on the Team
Snell's shot will come around sooner or later, but the other aspects of his game give him the potential to be an all-around player. Fortunately, Chicago's front office seems to believe in him.
After the Deng trade, Bulls general manager Gar Forman spoke on the Bulls’ future, via Mark Strotman of CSN Chicago, naming Snell as one of the players the organization can use in their “retooling” process.
Whether Snell can be a starter or not remains to be seen. His role will depend on who the Bulls sign and draft during the offseason. Chances are Chicago will target a wing player after trading away Deng.
Can Tony Snell be a starter in the foreseeable future?
Some of it will also depend on Dunleavy’s future as there are rumors floating around that he could be the next Bull traded. B/R’s own Ric Bucher recently reported that several general managers around the league believe the 12-year veteran will be shipped before the trade deadline on Feb. 20.
This would make Snell the next man up by default, and he’s had success as a starter so far. In 10 games as a starter, Snell is averaging 9.6 points per game while shooting 40 percent from downtown.
If the Bulls land a big free agent or draft a rookie with high upside, Snell could default back to the bench as one of the key members of the second unit.
Snell has a bright future with the Bulls. Management seems to be high on him, and he’s had some good flashes this season.
Without Deng, Snell has lost a player he could learn from and possibly model his game after, but it has given him a huge opportunity to show the Bulls what he can provide for them in the near future.
Note: Synergy stats accurate as of Jan. 15, 2014, before new game data was available.