Obviously, the ultimate X factor for any Chicago Bulls championship run is Derrick Rose. The Bulls aren’t winning a ring without their star. That much is obvious. But there is another X factor hiding on this roster and could be extremely important to what the Bulls are trying to accomplish. That man is Tony Snell.
Tony Snell had a lackluster rookie campaign by most measures. He was virtually thrust into playing decent minutes with the injury to Jimmy Butler, the trade of Luol Deng, and the general malaise that was Mike Dunleavy early in the season. He performed admirably, but his overall statistics for the season are mediocre at best: 16 minutes per game, 4.5 points, 1.6 rebounds, 38% field goal shooting, and 32% from three, which is particularly troubling since he was brought in as something of a three-point specialist. Frankly, everyone could see the tools that Snell possessed and most were touting his potential instead of what he was actually showing. We all HOPED he would get there and be this evolutionary Luol Deng who could not only defend, but possess athleticism and three-point shooting. We saw flashes with this dunk against Orlando last year or going off for 18 against the Cavaliers. We just never saw it consistently and neither did Bulls coach, Tom Thibodeau, who bounced Tony Snell’s minutes around to the point where it seemed to effect his confidence.
But the season ended. Tony Snell got a haircut that people started retweeting and making fun of. He talked to Chuck Swirsky and talked about working on his game and gaining muscle. Then we saw him in Summer League and he dropped 27 against the Clippers. 23 against Denver. Overall, he averaged 20 points per game in Summer League on 46% shooting and a blistering 50% from three. He looked awesome and was overshadowed by Doug McDermott to some degree in Summer League.
The Bulls are coming into this season with a ridiculous amount of talent, but the Bulls have long needed a quality backup wing. Part of the reason Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler had to log heavy minutes is they never quite had the depth at shooting guard or small forward to lessen that burden. This year the Bulls have that depth with Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Doug McDermott – who should be NBA ready, and Tony Snell. As I wrote on The Bulls Charge today, there shouldn’t be a need for Butler or anyone else to play 39 minutes per game. But the Bulls need to see that Summer League Tony Snell. They need to see Snell play great defense. They need to see that beautiful arc on a lethal three-point shot. They need to see the guy who was creating shots for himself and utilizing his length and athletic ability to score almost effortlessly. They need to see a confident, bulkier version of the guy who dunked on Orlando out of nowhere and went lights out against Cleveland. They need a two-way player that Tom Thibodeau can trust down the stretch of a playoff game, someone that can not only defend Lebron James or Carmelo Anthony, but also make them work for it on the other end. That guy can be Tony Snell.
If we see anything resembling Summer League Tony Snell in 2014-2015, watch out. I’ve always maintained that two-way players are what you need to win championships (I’m looking at you Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Kevin Love, Carlos Boozer, 2012-2014 version of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, last year’s Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich, etc.) Tony Snell has potential to be a great rotation player in this league and possibly even a starter or a valuable sixth man. Let’s hope he reaches that potential and shows that hard work does pay off.
Brandon Pence is an occasional contributor to The Bulls Zone and the creator/author of “The Bulls Charge.” You can follow him at @thebullscharge on Twitter and read more of his work at http://bullscharge.weebly.com