The Bulls' Hollow Man

The Bulls' Hollow Man

Hands up if you were of the belief that Tony Snell was an enigma that could be solved with external positive reinforcement and encouragement? There may not be many of you with raised arms, but ever since Chicago selected the New Mexico junior with pick #22 in the 2013 draft, I had faith that he would become a player.

Now, entering his third season as a Bull, I must admit, both my patience and belief in Tony Snell, is being questioned.

Like Gar Forman, I fell for the long and rangy physical tools that the modest wing undeniably possessed. I envisioned a player who'd fit perfectly into the modern game. Someone who had the ability to trouble dominant wing scorers with his near  7'0" wingspan, whilst being quick enough to curtail smaller guards. Someone who could stretch a defense and play multiple positions. That's who I thought Tony Snell could be.

He has tantalized and enticed, and at times, delivered. Beginning his career with 3 starts in his first 14 games as a professional, the rookie showed promise as a 3-and-D role player, shooting 48.6 percent from the field and connecting on 38.9 percent of his three-pointers. Sadly, it wouldn't last.

His passive play would eventually lead him directly into Tom Thibodeau's doghouse, somewhere he would familiarize himself with as his rookie campaign progressed.

Nothing really changed in his sophomore season. The fleeting spurts of solid play would easily be outweighed by the overly negative performances. Averaging 13.6 points a night in February, 2015, and shooting an incredible 52.2 percent from three, the quality minutes through those 9 games would be short lived. Hindsight suggests it would be remiss of anyone who hung onto these short sample sizes as evidence of growth, all while ignoring the legendary span of of 14 games where Snell failed to register a point.

But that's what we did. Ignorantly, we overlooked the glaring missteps, favoring to focus on Snell's "good", which was incredibly promising.

Unfortunately, many of us fell for an uncertain promise, myself included.

We searched endlessly for reasons why Tony would succeed, and not fail. So keen to see him fulfill his potential, we wanted to see the unassuming forward beat the odds. We wanted to see a good kid who has low self-esteem overcome his own mental war. Unfortunately, it appears the battle is being lost.

The exit of Tom Thibodeau followed with persecutions of torment to the player's on this roster. Doug McDermott was treated unfairly; Nikola Mirotic wasn't given enough time to develop; Tony Snell had his confidence crushed by Thibodeau's totalitarian ways.

Paraphrasing aside, these apologetic defenses permeated throughout the fan base, thus absolving the player's of any fault. It was easy to do given the confidence the organization had placed on its drafted youth. It was Tom's fault. It had to be. All would be well under Fred.

One could certainly argue that Doug McDermott has benefited from the arrival of Hoiberg.

Maybe Tom was the problem after all?

Mirotic and Snell, however, have faltered, with the latter being granted more opportunity than ever before.

Ok, maybe it wasn't Thibs.

The preseason injury to Mike Dunleavy would prove to be another chance for Tony Snell to revive his career. Under the guise of a new head coach who had improved plans of using the wayward wing, Snell would be fortunate enough to land the starting small forward job in 17 of the Bulls' opening 21 games.

Enabled with an increased role and a greater freedom to explore his game, Snell has yet to impress. Boasting meager averages of 5.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.0 assist in 21.5 minutes a night, his casting as a full-time starter has been painful.

Forced to use the third-year forward more than he'd like, unknowingly, Hoiberg had found his version of Keith Bogans.

In an attempt to hide Snell's inept and invisible play, like Thibodeau had done several years earlier, the Bulls' new coach hasn't made a change to the starting small forward position due to balance, hoping any weakness and nothingness seeping into the rotational minutes provided by Snell could easily be masked by surrounding him with the superior talents of the starting unit.

Like Bogans, Tony Snell would find himself starting first and third quarters, but quickly sitting out key and final possessions. Like Bogans, his play would grate on the collective fan base, with all increasing their cries for more wing help.

It's strange that coaches would opt for this strategy, but somehow, the numbers suggest it's working.

Currently, per 100 possessions, Chicago find themselves 7.6 points better off with Snell in the game. Yes, you read that right. Better.

This mind boggling number just doesn't make any sense. How can this possibly be?

His defense has been solid, but nothing more. His three-point shooting has been terrific, but he's only making 24.1 percent of his two-point attempts. He doesn't rebound or create offense, he's just there, collecting dust in the corner. How are the Bulls better with this version of Snell seeing minutes?

Though the season's net rating reflects favorably for Tony Snell, digging deeper, the last 10 games suggest otherwise. The Bulls have been 2.5 points worse with Snell on the floor through this period, whilst Doug McDermott has been a positive through that same stretch - despite being an overly negative contributor in this metric for the entire season.

Given these variability of these numbers don't align with the "eye-test", how much credence do we into them, particularly when the insights offered over the last 10 games tell us that Chicago have been 2.7 points better when Jimmy Butler sits?

Do we put any weight in these particular advanced numbers? Do others such as PER and true shooting percentage - of which Tony Snell is significantly under league average in both - attempt to tell a different story?

Therein lies the problem with these metrics at this point in the season. Like Snell himself, what aspects of these figures are real, and what is fiction?

For simplicity's sake, what we do know is that Tony Snell has scored in double-digits six times this season, but has also gone scoreless in five other games. Putting up points isn't everything, but if you're doing nothing else, it's a problem. Lacking in the ability to influence in several ways on the floor, of players registering at least 20 minutes of play a game, only two have a PER lower than Tony Snell. TWO!

Adding to the scoring problems, is the indecisive nature of his game, which makes Snell a sneaky ball stopper. That's not good. If you're stopping the ball, you'd better have some elite isolation skills that enable you to conjure up something of substance on the fly, or risk committing a cardinal sin in the flow offense Hoiberg is trying to establish. Given Tony's lack of on-ball creation and low volume attempts, these traits quickly kill any positive action created by his teammates.

His plummeting play has allowed Snell to remain as a stop-gap starter (for now), but he certainly has lost the faith of his coaches as a closing option in the fourth quarter. Searching for alternative options who can offer greater scope of services in the dying moments, Hoiberg has begun experimenting.

Through the last 5 games, Doug McDermott has been involved in many late game situations, playing a total of 42 fourth quarter minutes. Comparatively, Tony Snell has featured in just 2 minutes of action in the final frame! McDermott's improved defense and quality shooting has made him playable at the depth of games, and in turn, has shaped Snell as dispensable.

Yesterday, against the Pelicans in the fourth quarter, the second unit consisted of a two-guard lineup of Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks. Snell, like his boxscore numbers, was nowhere to be seen.

Opting to keep Brooks' hot shooting in with the starters, Hoiberg would shift Jimmy Butler to the small forward spot, and close with the dual point guard lineup, similar to the logic Thibodeau would employ when his trust in Snell was tested.

Clearly, the coaching staff is beginning to lose their patience in Snell. They're trying desperately to work him out of rotations, which isn't a good sign for a third-year wing who has yet to establish a role in the league. Until Dunleavy remains sidelined with his back injury, Tony will likely remain a starter by default. But when Mike returns, will he even be in the rotation?

Through his first two seasons, you could make excuses for Tony Snell. Some were valid, others not. As we progress through 2016, Snell will need to show more than he currently has to justify his continued worth. Ghost-like performances are no longer acceptable.

The next four weeks of his career are critical in defining his place within the rotation, both for this season and those that may follow.

Writing that hurts.

I want to see him succeed, perhaps more so than anyone else on this roster. That may seem strange to most, but I naturally gravitate to those who are visibly timid and vulnerable. From all reports, Tony is a great teammate and an even better person. Guys like him deserve a personal win like making it in this league, but at some point, humility and goodwill simply isn't enough.

Ideally, Snell will snap out of this funk, finding a balance required that enables him to be a steady rotational piece. We've seen the positives of Tony's game, albeit momentarily. He has the tools to make it in this league, but the temperament and self-belief certainly need some fine tuning, if that is even possible.

I'll be hoping Snell finds his place within this league, otherwise, he will forever be known as the Bulls' "Hollow Man".



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  • Comments:

    1. As this is the holiday season I am glad that you "naturally gravitate to those who are timid and vulnerable." Let's establish the "Tony Fund" where readers of this blog can send money to alleviate his stress. Earth to Mark, this is the NBA.

    2. Tony "has the tools to make it in this league?" Watch last night's game again. He fell down to the floor multiple times. At least twice he fell down while dribbling even though nobody touched him. Yes, falling over your own feet and having a below average basketball IQ are what scouts are looking for in NBA players these days.

    3. The year Snell was drafted he was ranked dead last in rebounding out of 100 small forwards in DraftExpresses' data base. Yes, that's a guy I want on my team.

    4. Watch some D-League games. At least half of the starting small forwards in that league are better than Tony. Really.

    5. For three straight years now I have read columns essentially asking "what's the matter with Tony?" The assumption being that when we figure out the answer he will live up to his status as a first round pick. Ok, let's try a new answer this year. He stinks.

  • This is the way his playing ends
    Not with a bang but a whimper.

  • Perhaps Hoiberg could design and run some plays for Snell early in games; when he scores early he seems to play much better, at least for a while. And at the other end, he MIGHT benefit from the Aaron Brooks effect. ie. a couple days off to build his confidence and NOT have to risk failure....

  • Unfortunately and unlike other Bulls first round draft picks who were drafted later in the first round like Taj and Butler, Snell does not seem to have any nastiness in him on the court. It is also the same problem I see with Mirotic some times. Butler and Taj believe they can take the ball to the basket and dunk on you if they have to. Elite NBA players need a certain mentality to remain successful and dedicated beyond just talent. Talent can only get you so far. That is why Mirotic will last longer than Tony. But if neither develop a hardcore mentality, they will float around and eventually drop out of the league. Tony doesn't seem to have that mentality. If it was the Wizard of Oz you would give Tony whatever Aaron Brooks has. Or you would give Aaron Brooks Tony's height and reach and athleticism.

    Occasionally I have seen Tony do it. But overall he just seems more passive on the court. As does Mirotic. Dunleavy, whether you like him or not as the Bulls starting forward, has a nastiness to him that bothers opposing players on both ends of the ball. Also, I do think you are right about the next couple of weeks being his defining moment. Will he be a mid to late first round pick that the Bulls are appreciated for like Butler and Taj or is he more like James Johnson and Marquis Teaque. Ok, Tony. This is your time.

  • It's becoming more evident that Doug is leaping ahead of Tony. I wouldn't be surprised to see Tony going back to D-League or being traded once Dunlevey comes back. The Bulls could potentially get a decent wing if they traded Mitotic and Tony. This will give Portis the time he deserves and would give the Bulls back a serviceable SF.

  • It's about time that the Warriors F-ing lost. They've had a number of close calls, Boston the night before, the Nets with Lopez missing a bunny at the, buzzer. Now, they "only" need to go 49-8 to break the Bulls record, that's still winning 6 out of every 7 games. It always bothered me that the Bulls lost their last 2 homes games that season by one or two points after winning their first 39 to put them on the brink of breaking the 86 Celtics all time home record of 40-1. 74-8 would likely be unbreakable. I think that they went 39-2 at home the next season also, again missing out on the home record as well as back to back 70 win seasons, that would have been epic. Heck, if Pippen didn't purposely miss the first half of the next season they could have won 70 again. There certainly wouldn't be any argument about the greatest team ever.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    As for Snell, somnambulant and stupid, not exactly a recipe for success in any endeavor. People don't change the very essence of their nature unless something completely life changing happens to them, and even then it's not a lock.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Yeah, BigWay, I remember Phil Jackson pulling the starters in the final game of the regular season for most of the second half. I recall wondering, "Why not go for the extra win?"

    Phil was a great coach most of the time, but not all of the time! Even the great ones do stupid things. Like Popovich pulling Duncan on D for the last minute of game 6 in the Finals against the Cavs. Duh!

  • Let's remember Tony Snell next time we see an unknown quantity perform well in summer league. Based on that, some Bulls fans were projecting Snell as a starter. Lol.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    I was hoping Snell would become a starter. And Mirotic an Allstar. And Rose regain his form. And Butler continue to improve. (I bet he took the past summer off! Well, why not? He landed his big contract.)

    O well. Not sure what to hope for now.

  • In reply to rustyw:

    I hoped for all the same things except for Snell, because the only reason to put any hope in Snell was summer league, and that's proven time and again to not be a good basis for much of anything.

    I think the Snell pick was Forman doing a favor for New Mexico in return for all the help NM gave his career. There were clearly better players available.

    My hope now is that Rose retires a la Kobe.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    At 37 or right now?

    He's obviously not retiring now as he has to worry about how he's going to feed his kid in the future. No way he's made enough money(somewhere between $100-300 million) at this stage in his career to feed one kid for 18 years, never mind paying for college, assuming that he can get(pay) someone to take his kids SAT just to get into college.

    If he retires now, not only does he lose out on the remaining $41 million on this contract, but he misses out on all the crazy money that they're doling out in his new contract. Rose may be a world class simpleton, but he will milk this gig as long as someone will let him. For that we really can't blame him.

    The only question is who gives him his next contract and how much will he get. At this point it's starting to look like it won't be the Bulls. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if they start shopping him this summer even if the market isn't all that robust.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    Good point. Albuquerque completes the Ames, Chicago, NM triangle..We see the whole Iowa State thing and the New Mexico time and time again with Gar. It's why a guy like him has gotten as far as he has. Loyalty. Cam Bairstow from New Mexico also. We also drafted somebody else from there under this FO. Can't recall who though.

  • Forget all the analytics. Tony Snell blows. Period. I know it's not the most high brow commentary. But enough pussy footing around this useless postule. He should be cut now, start McDermott and bring up the best small forward in the D League until Dunleavy is back.

    The final straw with me was last night when Snell drove the lane, tripped over his own feet and threw the ball out of bounds while he was falling. I have commented on other Bulls I thought weren't pulling their weight like Hinrich and Boozer, be never has there been anyone so inept as Sleepy. It's to the point that when I am watching a Bulls game on DVR that I fast forward through the parts of the game when Snell is on the court.

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  • I think a lot of unwarranted expectations were foisted upon Hoiberg by the Bulls FO. He was going to fix the offense. Turn the young bulls into stars and go to the finals. So far the offense is worse and its been more of the same from the bulls youngsters outside of the likely natural improvement for McDermott from his rookie season.

    This from a team that has been quite healthy too. I doubt that Hoiberg has the chops to keep a roster of scrubs competitive the way Thibs did the years Rose was MIA.

  • In reply to Chad:

    You may be correct about Hoiberg, but I would not say the team has been "quite healthy." Maybe you mean quite healthy for a Bulls team! That could be.

    Still, you have to admit Hoiberg has been dealt some tough injury stuff. Rose fracturing his face in a scrimage. Dunleavy first delaying surgery until late in the summer and then still not recovered. Just missing Dunleavy has likely cost the Bulls 3 or 4 wins! 16-4 looks a lot better than 12-8!

    Additionally, something is wrong with Mirotic. He has not looked like the player he was last March.

    Plus the FO messed up in not getting a decent FA at SF and backup PG. Plenty of guys could have helped the Bulls there. Instead the team has Snell, Brooks, and Hinrich!

  • In reply to Chad:

    Agree, Hoiberg was supposed to fix all that ails this team. While I'm not saying the FO and coach are off the hook completely, I don't think any FO or coach could overcome the Derrick Rose problem.

    The loss of Dunleavy is significant because the drop from him to the next guy is so huge. By contrast, Gasol is a better player but losing him wouldn't be so bad since Noah could step in.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    The current Bulls just dont match up with what Hoiberg wants to do. He wants quicker pace and more sharp 3pt shooting. The Bulls are an unathletic slow team that relies on defense and on offense they rely on long twos by Pau Gasol. They dont shoot well and cant run consistently........the Bulls are basically the current version of Derrick Rose. With a backcourt of Rose and Butler, this should of been a more fun team to watch but it isnt.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    and Portis is there to mitigate the injury risk of only having Noah, Niko and Taj.

    You are right, unless Rose undergoes a miraculous and massive in season transformation into a player we haven't seen in years(or Russell Westbrook), this Bulls team as presently constituted is done and much closer to a total rebuild than contending for a title. That's not on Hoiberg, no matter what his deficiencies ultimately turn out to be.

  • Interesting random stat of the day

    "When Capela and Howard share the floor, Houston grabs 36% of available offensive rebounds (which would have led the NBA any season this millennium) and 83% of available defensive rebounds (which would set a league record)".

    I've noticed that Capela guy in some highlight clips, he's big, long and awkward/gangly.

    "The Rockets’ are outscoring opponents by 10.2 points per 100 possessions with Capela and Howard on the floor, the best net rating of the team’s 50 most-used tandems and one of only a dozen positive ratings in the group. The only other duos coming close to Capela-Howard also feature Capela (Capela-Trevor Ariza and Capela-Marcus Thornton)":

    Apparently, you can average less than a double double(about 8 & 7) and still have a big impact on your team's success. I wonder if the flipside of that is true.

  • If you read this morning's piece by David Aldridge, it seems as if the #1 thing this team needs to do in order to get Hoiball to work is simply "get the Thibs out of of them (mostly Rose)"-

    "The biggest thing is, we've gotta get more consistent," Hoiberg said afterward. "We show flashes. The biggest thing is consistency with our group, as far as getting out and playing with pace. When we do play with pace, we're pretty darn good ... if we get that ball moving, we're pretty effective. When it sticks on one side, that's when we go into our droughts, and we've had too many of them this year. But just keep working and hopefully get better."

    Let's be clear: a lot of teams would love to have Chicago's troubles. The Bulls are just a game and a half behind Cleveland in the Central Division, and sit at No. 3 in the East. Despite the changes to the starting lineup, with Joakim Noah coming off the bench, Taj Gibson now starting at power forward (former starter Nikola Mirotic has been in a prolonged slump), and despite not having Mike Dunleavy, Jr., for a minute yet this season, Chicago already has wins over the San Antonio Spurs, the Cavs, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Clippers.
    But Rose's numbers are way down across the board: 36.4 percent from the floor, 23.4 percent on 3-pointers. Of the 28 players around the league who are taking more than the 14.9 shots per game Rose is taking, only one is shooting worse -- Kobe Bryant (32.4 percent).
    Knowing that every stat points to decreasing offensive effectiveness for any team as the shot clock winds down, Hoiberg wants Rose to get the ball past midcourt within three seconds. Rose thinks he's forcing tempo, but it doesn't look like it when you watch the Bulls in transition. With few exceptions, he just doesn't seem to have the burst he had prior to all of his injuries.

    "I feel like I've been pushing," Rose said. "But as far as a team, as far as individually, I think I've been playing with a pretty up-tempo pace, as far as pushing. Of course, teams are going to load to me a little bit more whether I push it, just like everybody around me."
    Gasol said it would be unfair to put Chicago's offensive woes all on Rose.

    "He's playing hard, he's trying, hasn't been able to find it consistently. He's trying to figure it out, just as we are as a team," Gasol said. "It's not on just only him. We also, as a team, we need to get to our spots and run the floor better, and quicker, so he can explode his quickness and probe and get shots for everybody else as well. So it's not just him pushing the ball; it's everybody getting to their spots and spreading the floor, and allowing him to do what he does."

    Butler concurred: "A lot of times, we don't (run), because maybe we're discouraged that we got scored on, gave up some baskets. So if one guy doesn't run, then it messes up the break for everybody. We'll be fine. We'll pick it up. It's not just on him. It's on me, it's on all the wings, it's on the bigs ... it's on everybody. It's basketball. Everybody knows what spots to be in on the floor. Get there as soon as possible."

    I'm with DA, if Rose thinks he's pushing it, he's either dumber than we think, or just so worn down from 5 years of Thibs calling a set play each and every time down the floor that it's gonna take some time to fix him.

    I'm also with DA that it's nice to have the Bulls' problems, 6th-best record in the league with lots of signature wins, all without their starting SF and playing for a new coach in a completely different system on offense.

  • I guess Tony read this blog before the game against the 76ers!

  • In reply to BullsDynasty:




  • McDermott, Snell, Mirotic, Moore, Portis.

    Many of us were complaining about Thibs not developing younger players. Well, this is what developing young players looks like: inconsistent, frustrating, much poor play with some good moments sprinkled in.

    It’s a process that cannot be stopped or changed just because it ain’t pretty. I believe GarPax and Hoiberg are on the same page about development, so they will stay the course. The time to grade them is when the season is over, when we see how they prepare for and compete in the playoffs. Bulls really have no other choice as I doubt there are great trade options available to them.

  • Celtics, Heat and Bulls Lining Up for DeMarcus Cousins

    Sacramento Kings All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins has drawn significant trade interest from the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls, league sources tell SheridanHoops.

    Sacramento is listening, but the Kings are in a holding pattern and currently have no plans to make a deal despite sitting in 13th place in the 15-team Western Conference, the sources said.

    But should owner Vivek Ranadive, general manager Vlade Divac and coach George Karl decide to change course, they have been made acutely aware what is available from the Celtics, Heat and Bulls.

    As for Chicago, the Bulls are loaded with expendable frontcourt talent. Joakim Noah’s $13.4 million expiring contract and Taj Gibson are available, along with a young asset or draft pick. With former first-round pick Bobby Portis stuck behind a crowded frontcourt, Chicago is looking to clear a path for him to play more, one source said.

  • Excellent. Better than anything on the Bulls in the Trib or Times.

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