Last night in Toronto, Tony Snell came out firing to the tune of 17 points in 18 minutes. He didn't hesitate when left open, drove when he saw an opening and got out of his own head, which was a problem early in the season. Obviously, Snell cannot duplicate such a performance to the point of making it consistent, but he can build on it. Snell had an awful December in which he got just 5.7 minutes and scored 0.8 points a night, and turned that to averaging 13.6 points in February by playing close to 30 minutes a ball game. Now, he's come back to Earth this March where he's at 9.6 points in near 33 minutes.
So while it's fair to say Snell is at this point inconsistent, it's important to notice the strides he's made. His current production, although far from steady, is worlds ahead of the December he had, suggesting he's starting to figure things out. Last night proved a tremendous lesson for the second-year man, as there were no hints of doubt or second-guessing himself, the most usual tendencies found in young players.
At a long 6'7 while gifted athletically, Snell possess larger potential than I suspect even he realize. His long ball is rounding into form, as he's closing in on 40% from deep for the season, while increasing his volume, and he's just now learning to use his dribble against players who close out on him hard. With his long strides, Snell is capable of getting to the rim a lot quicker than most players, and the sooner he understands this, the better. His 49 total free throw attempts on the year by far signals the biggest weakness in his offensive game, which is the fact that he mostly goes down the middle when the lane is wide open. Unlike Jimmy Butler, Snell still shies away from contact from anyone who position themselves between him and the basket, regardless of body size. It'd be understandable if Snell saw Dwight Howard or Marc Gasol rotate over, but he's making the drop-off pass even against point guards who have no chance of stopping him due to his length.
At 23, Snell is nearing an age where most players are discovering exactly what they can do out there on the court, while laying the groundwork for the kind of player they're going to become for the remainder of their careers. Snell is currently looking like a future three-and-D wing, but that seems to be aiming short of what his body and capabilities suggest. He's a surprisingly adept ballhandler for someone his height, and has on several occasions made split-second passes that indicates his grip and feel for the ball is a lot better than originally believed.
Going forward, it's unlikely Snell becomes a top-notch all-around player. He's never been a good rebounder, even despite his long arms, and while his passing instincts look quite underrated, he is yet to play with enough confidence to run sets for the Bulls for extended runs, something Butler started doing this year. For all his physical tools, Snell might top out as being a solid scorer who at times can rely on his passing pending match-up. This would be perfectly okay given his draft position, but I wonder if Snell could further advance his game in areas that'd optimize him for playoff basketball. It wouldn't kill him to lower his turnovers, seeing as 28 of his 43 on the season have come on passes, which is a high number given his somewhat conservative passing pattern of mostly swinging the ball around the perimeter. No one is asking him to become Muggsy Bogues in that department, but if he's bound to become a low-volume player overall, he might as well focus on limiting mistakes to the point where he constantly is an asset on the floor.
With Snell having the skill-set that he does, it'd make perfect sense to develop him in a similar fashion as to his former teammate, Kawhi Leonard. San Antonio didn't put any pressure on Leonard, and made sure the offense ran through Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, while Leonard would play and learn simultaneously. Snell has a similar opportunity with the depth of the current roster, but injuries and line-up shuffling is making it difficult to solidify his role.
That's why it might prove beneficial next year, to start Snell full-time to once and for all give him a chance to break out in his own right. Playing alongside Butler will undoubtedly minimize the pressure on him, especially if they are to see plenty of minutes together. Butler can play both wing spots, and while Snell projects as being capable of doing the same, it would be interesting to see if there is a spot where he feels more comfortable. His length and ability to cover large areas on the floor would make life hell for opposing shooting guards, but his speed and agility could prove even more beneficial against larger, but slower, small forwards.
Either way, throwing Snell into the fire, but under safe circumstances, is something that could finally give everyone an idea of what his ceiling actually is.