Snell coming out of his shell


Oct 17

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Lost Wednesday in the excitement of Derrick Rose’s first game in the United Center in 18 months was those half dozen naked streakers spelling out “Bulls” during timeouts.

And first round draft pick Tony Snell having a breakout night with a dozen points that included a pair of three pointers, four assists and three steals.

Yeah, missed that, too?

Well, OK, the Snell part actually happened. And it was perhaps as unexpected and welcomed to the point it had you thinking, “Hey, maybe this kid could be in the rotation.”

“Every game I feel I’m learning something,” said Snell. “I feel I’m picking up on everything real quick. Knowledge is power. So you have to work hard and you pick up something every day. I feel I’m doing great defensively. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. I know my offense will eventually catch up with my defense. So I’m fine.”

“Every game I feel I’m learning something,” said Snell. “I feel I’m picking up on everything real quick. Knowledge is power."

“Every game I feel I’m learning something,” said Snell. “I feel I’m picking up on everything real quick. Knowledge is power.”

That offense appeared to come in Wednesday’s 96-81 win over the Pistons as Snell was on the floor and had 10 points along with Rose when the Bulls broke open the game in the second quarter to take a 55-34 halftime lead.

Sure, Snell hit a pair of three pointers. But his defense was as significant in creating offense as he stole an inbounds pass that Rose turned into a three pointer. The long limbed 6-7 Snell also showed versatility dribbling up full court and finding Kirk Hinrich for a three in the second quarter and coming up with a loose ball and finishing for a score.

Perhaps his only uncertainty was late in the game when he scooped up a ball and dribbled full court, going up to dunk. But then he laid the ball up softly and it rolled off the rim. Taj Gibson was there to slam it home.

“I went up like at the last second and I guess I should have dunked it,” Snell said somewhat apologetically. “I’m learning. I’ll dunk next time.”

The Bulls Friday in the United Center host the Indiana Pacers, whom most predict will challenge the Bulls for the top of the Central Division, in large part because of their strengthened bench.

But if Snell can develop into a rotation player, it would be a major benefit for the Bulls, who have a solid, if not particularly deep, second unit.

The Bulls bench is strengthened with Hinrich moving back behind Rose, the improved play of Gibson and the addition of Mike Dunleavy. But if a reserve has to move up because of injury or also cannot perform, then the Bulls could be forced into the additional playing time they hope to measure more evenly throughout the season.

In recent years, Bulls rookies have not played much. It’s been similarly expected when Snell was chosen with the 20th overall pick, the quiet, developing guard/forward who only averaged 9.2 points in three college seasons would watch more, like Jimmy Butler did as a rookie.

Snell still might. But if he can produce and play within coach Tom Thibodeau’s defensive system, his addition as perhaps a 10th man in the rotation could be significant given his ability to play several positions.

Asked about Snell after Wednesday’s game, Thibodeau, predictably, as all good coaches do with rookies, was not exactly fawning.

“I thought the first half he was very good,” said Thibodeau. “Our second unit did a very good job. In the second half, I didn’t like the way our second unit played. The challenge is to be a 48-minute team. We got outscored 28-20 in the fourth. That’s something we have to do better. We held onto the ball, made quick decisions and got into trouble. And our defense was non existent.”

So, OK, Thibodeau’s not lobbying for rookie of the year quite yet.

But Snell did open some eyes after three feeling-your-way preseason games.

Snell came into Wednesday’s game averaging 2.3 points on two of 13 shooting.

But he’d even then shown a nice feel for the game moving the ball and going to the boards. He said teammates in a refrain we hear from all young Bulls players had encouraged him to keep shooting. I don’t believe they did that with Omer Asik, but it’s a supportive group.

Snell stayed ready and produced.

“I feel more comfortable out there,” Snell said afterward. “I’m learning the system and feel great. It’s (game) been fast, but I feel it’s slowed down. I’m in the weight room, which is helping. As long as I’m playing good defensively I’m comfortable. I’m just trying to make plays. That’s it.”

The kid also seems to be getting it fast.

Snell came to the Bulls seemingly very shy. Though cooperative, he didn’t have much to say in a soft voice. But having been around the team in the summer and now through camp, he’s brightened. He was joking brightly with Luol Deng in the locker room, then admitting as a rookie he’s had to run for lotion for the players, a favorite as you’ll always hear someone in the locker room asking if anyone has extra.

Maybe because of Snell’s youth he’s in charge of the lotion.

But Wednesday as he talked with reporters about his mini breakout, Snell showed new confidence and maturity. He answered questions to the point, his head high and making strong eye contact with each reporter, turning to address someone directly when the questioner would change. It’s not a big thing, but often you see youngsters coming into sports unprepared how to relate. That Snell faced his queries, though mild and affirming, directly showed a confidence that should serve him well.

Snell is something of a late bloomer.

He is from Los Angeles and played high school ball with the Spurs Kawhi Leonard. But as a freshman at New Mexico he played sparingly, about 15 minutes per game and averaging 4.4 points. But he seemed to be a worker, his scoring average and three-point shooting increasing each season until he was 39 percent on threes as a junior.

It’s also that work ethic that seems to impress Snell, which is an encouraging sign. When he was asked about Rose, as everyone was Wednesday, Snell said he was most impressed with how hard Rose works.

“He’s a real hard worker,” said Snell, “a really dedicated team leader, making sure everyone is on the same page working hard. He’s a great leader. He’s on the court (after practice) doing extra shots, extra running, always something extra. I respect that.”

And Snell is earning some respect for himself. It could help give the Bulls a very respectable support group.

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