AUBURN HILLS, Mich.—Before Wednesday night’s 99-79 Bulls win over the Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills, All-Star small forward Luol Deng watched rookie swingman Tony Snell in warmups and said, “He’s going to be a great shooter.”
Snell proved the veteran right in the game, his second consecutive start, with a career-high 13 points, including 3-for-5 from three-point range.
“Tony can shoot the ball well. I’m just trying to get him to know the characters and know what’s going on in the game. Guys he’s guarding, what’s their tendencies, how he could beat them and he’s just going to keep getting better,” Deng said. “He’s a rookie and it’s just tough. There’s a lot of stuff out there that could make the game easier for him and I think he could learn those things.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau added: “We need the shooting. We watch him shoot every day. So we know that he’s capable. He’s a lot more comfortable out there today. I thought he did a good job in the Utah game. He stepped up and made two huge free throws in that Utah game. He’s not afraid. That’s a big plus as well.”
Thibodeau doesn’t hand out praise easily, so Snell might want to frame the following statement in his locker:
“The best thing about him is how serious he is. Even when he wasn’t playing, his getting ready to play told me how serious he was. The questions he asked. On game days at home, he just stays in the arena. He’s there all the time. Those type of guys, when they get opportunities, they’re ready and usually take advantage. He has done a great job. He has to continue to work, which I know he will because of the type of person he is. The thing I like is he’s playing all areas of the game. He’s playing defense. He’s passing the ball. He’s making shots. And he’s never satisfied. You want a new guy to have the right attitude and approach. And he’s had that from Day One.”
Taj Gibson, who was in a similar situation as a surprise rookie starter, has also been pleased by Snell’s all-around play, which include attentive defense, as evidenced by his two steals, and the ability to function as a secondary ballhandler, shown by his three assists on the evening.
“I’ve just been really working with him in practice on the second unit. I’ve mostly been talking to him like, ‘Take advantage of it.’ I was in this position at one point, where I had the chance to start as a rookie and I told him, ‘Just have fun with it.’ At times, you see that he’s still a rookie,” Gibson explained. “He’s still a little shy to the game, but he’s so humble and he works so hard on his game. It’s great to see and we’ve got good guys around him supporting him, and he’s just stepping up, playing great basketball right now.”
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The soft-spoken rookie seemed more at ease on the court than he was in front of a gaggle of reporters, but he gave some insight into his successful night.
"Not rushing things, being more patient out there because before I’d start rushing, but I’m starting to calm down my pace and just pace it,” he said. “It seems the more that I’m out there, the more comfortable I get out there, so I’m just trying to help the team win.
“It was just all that hard work I put in, it’s finally showing, so just go out there and prove myself,” the New Mexico product added. “I feel comfortable when I’m out there, period. I’m just trying to get in there and help, do whatever I have to do to help my team win.”
“All the hard work I put in in the gym, all the hours, it’s finally showing, so it showed out tonight.”
While Snell won’t be asked to replace the production of the sidelined Derrick Rose, like Jimmy Butler last season, he could emerge as a rotation player because of the Bulls’ short-handed status.
“Well, he could. Like I said, you’re not replacing Derrick individually,” Thibodeau said. “It has to be done collectively. Tony has done very well for us, and we have a lot of other guys that have stepped up for us.”
Fittingly, Snell gave credit to Deng, who jokingly called him “Little Lu” after the game, as well as Butler, currently on the shelf with a turf-toe injury.
“Definitely Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler. I’ve been watching them both when I’m sitting on the bench,” he said. “They just tell me a couple pointers about where to be and just playing my game.”
That approach worked well for his predecessors, so if he sticks to it, perhaps Snell’s career could experience the same type of trajectory.