Tony Snell With a Career Night at the United Center


Photo Credit – Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune

By: Mark Strotman of CSN Chicago

Tony Snell entered the Bulls locker room Tuesday night and picked up a box score that had been left on the chair in front of his locker. The 23-year-old swingman picked up the sheet of paper, glanced down at his own numbers and nodded approvingly before turning to speak with the media about his career night.

That performance comprised a career-high 24 points off the bench from Snell, including four 3-pointers and 9-for-11 shooting in a season-high 41 minutes in the Bulls’ 104-86 victory over the Kings, their third straight win since dropping 10 of 15 games.

It also marked Snell’s third straight positive outing since Tom Thibodeau made him a healthy scratch last Wednesday against the Rockets; including Tuesday’s performance, Snell has averaged 17.0 points on 63.3 percent shooting and made 11 3-pointers in his last three outings. He’s also seen his minutes increase in each game as he finds chemistry with his teammates, something he attributed to his improving confidence in his second NBA season.

“I feel I have a more confident flow with the teammates I’m with out there and we’re getting a feel of our strengths and weaknesses, playing together,” Snell said after the game. “I feel like if I see one (shot) go in, I feel like more are going to go in.”

Thibodeau said after the game that consistency has been something that’s plagued Snell, though part of the reason Snell hasn’t been able to contribute on a nightly basis is, of all things, inconsistent playing time. Though he saw an uptick in minutes when Mike Dunleavy, who returned Tuesday, missed 19 straight games with an ankle injury, playing behind the league’s minutes leader in Jimmy Butler hadn’t allowed Snell much of a chance to improve in game settings.

Thibodeau’s confidence in his second-year wing — or perhaps just needing more bodies — had increased during the Bulls’ road trip, as Snell put together a pair of strong performance in New Orleans (19 points, five 3-pointers) and Orlando (eight points, two 3-pointers) in victories. But with Dunleavy returning to the lineup for the first time since New Year’s Day, it was presumed that Snell’s sporadic minutes would begin trending downward, beginning Tuesday.

Instead, Snell connected on a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter and added seven more in the second quarter, playing the entire stanza while Dunleavy — playing on a minutes limit — watched from the bench. Thibodeau’s mantra of players needing to stay ready rang true at halftime when it was announced Butler had been ruled out for the remainder of the game with a right shoulder strain, thrusting Snell into the starting lineup in the third quarter.

While also defending Rudy Gay most of the second half, Snell poured in 11 more points after halftime and limited Gay to just nine points on 3-for-8 shooting.

“I’ve been through it last year, it’s nothing new. Just staying ready at all times because you never know when your name will get called. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready when my name gets called,” Snell said of his uncemented role in the rotation. “It doesn’t matter to me if I get minutes or not. All that matters is that I’ve got to stay ready.”

Snell quietly added a pair of assists by passing up jumpers and making the extra pass for open layups. It’s also part of Thibodeau’s mantra that Snell is getting used to, where players must not only be playing well individually but making the five-man unit better as a whole. Snell did that, compiling a +14 rating and not turning the ball over in his 41 minutes.

His presence — as well as Dunleavy’s — opened up the rest of the Bulls’ offense, which had been limited to less than 100 points in three of their last four games. With Snell connecting from deep and the threat of Dunleavy (five points, 1-for-3 3FG) in the lineup the interior opened up for the Bulls, with Pau Gasol finishing with 26 points and the Bulls scoring 36 points in the paint. If the No. 20 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft can give the Bulls another shooter to space the floor with, it will only open up even more opportunities for both the talented frontcourt and their slashing backcourt.

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Tony Snell jersey]

“It’s nice. It opens the floor up, especially when they’re knocking down those shots,” said Gasol, who shot 11-for-15 in the win. “It’s great to have shooters on the floor that space the floor, the penetration becomes a lot easier and those defenders have to be aware of them and pay attention to them, it’s great to have those guys be ready to shoot and be a threat.”

Snell has gotten used to minutes fluctuating on a nightly basis, and he likely won’t know his role for Thursday’s contest against the Cavaliers until Jimmy Butler’s status becomes clearer. With Dunleavy back and a deep bench consisting of Taj Gibson and Aaron Brooks, Snell likely won’t have a defined role all season. But that’s something he understands, and if he’s able to follow Thibodeau’s lead and continue to show up he’ll be ready for any scenario the Bulls need him to fill.

We need consistency from him. And if he’s consistent — he played well tonight — he’s going to play,” Thibodeau said. “You’ve got to base it on performance. You can’t base it on anything other than performance.

Based on Tuesday night, Snell has earned his time.


Watch Highlights & Locker Room Interview of Tony Snell HERE:

Tony Snell Career High 24 Points Full Highlights

Tony Snell Locker Room Interview

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