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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