After Thursday night’s NBA draft, Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau told his city’s local media that his team needed to address its shooting concerns. He believes the Bulls found the answer to that in former New Mexico star Tony Snell.
The shooting guard known at UNM as the “Silent Assassin” got the call to join the professional ranks after the Bulls selected him with the No. 20 pick in the draft. Snell opted to forgo his senior season, despite some criticism from Lobo fans, to become UNM’s eighth ever first-round selection.
“It’s crazy knowing I’m going to the Bulls,” Snell said. “I watched (Michael) Jordan play my whole life. I watched (current Bulls point guard) Derrick Rose. He’s a great player. I can’t wait to work with him and help the team win.”
Chicago also drafted Erik Murphy from the Florida Gators, considered a “stretch four” with his ability to handle and shoot from the power forward position.
Snell was the second Mountain West Conference player taken in the first 20 picks. The Cleveland Cavaliers used its No. 1 overall pick to draft UNLV’s Anthony Bennett.
Thibodeau and Bulls general manager Gar Forman both praised Snell for having tremendous potential, repeatedly using the word “upside” when describing him. Forman said the team has had its eye on Snell since last October and November and was impressed with Snell’s arm span, athleticism and ability to defend, handle the ball and shoot.
“For a rookie, the first part of it is coming and learning how to be a pro, learning the pro game, learning our system, learning how to work,” Thibodeau said. “You’re just trying to get them to focus on steady improvement every day, putting everything you have into each and every day. Improve, get out there, do your job, know what your job is.”
The Bulls, who had former Lobo Luc Longley play alongside the legendary Jordan during three of the team’s six title runs in the 1990s, were 50-44 this past season and lost in the NBA playoffs second round to the eventual champion Miami Heat.
During the season, Chicago ranked among the bottom five in 3-point shooting with a 34.6 percent average. Only the Boston Celtics, Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers fared worse from beyond the arc. In its playoff series with Miami, Chicago connected on 30.7 percent of its 3-pointers (31 of 101).
Snell averaged 9.2 points per game and shot .380 from 3-point range for 165 treys after joining UNM in 2010, but his scoring average increased each year. This past season Snell scored 12.5 per game, hit a team-high 64 3-pointers, shot a team-high 84.3 percent from the free-throw line and helped UNM win the Mountain West Conference regular-season title. The Lobos were 16-3 when Snell took at least 10 field goal attempts in a game last season.
At the Mountain West men’s basketball tournament, Snell took his game to another level and UNM captured the tourney title. He scored 53 points and hit 60 percent from the 3-point line in three tournament games. His effort also earned him MVP recognition.
Snell also received Third All-Mountain West honors, conference co-player of the week on Nov. 19, 2012 and made the Paradise Jam All-Tournament Team.
“I feel like I’m good enough to defend anybody,” Snell said. “I really feel good about that.”
Snell moved up on several mock draft boards after participating in the NBA Combine and working out with several NBA teams, including the Sacramento Kings, Indiana Pacers and Minnesota Timberwolves. Dime Magazine called Snell the draft’s “biggest sleeper,” while CBS Sports analyst Doug Gottlieb said he was “undervalued” as a pro prospect.
Forman said he considered dealing the pick, saying a general manager always investigates his options, but did not find an attractive enough offer. Since Snell was a player the team targeted as a potential addition, Forman said he was happy to take the former Lobo who could be a contributor as soon as next year.
“To me, that’s to be determined and that’s going to be up to him what comes in and puts into it,” Forman said, referring to Snell’s playing time. “But we do think he’s a talented kid that will have a chance to come in and earn any playing time that he gets.”
UNM has not had a first-round selection since 2008, when the Boston Celtics selected guard J.R. Giddens, who is no longer in the league. One former Lobo first-round pick, Danny Granger, plays for the Indiana Pacers, the same team who drafted him in 2008.
Granger went with the 17th pick that year.
In all, 31 UNM players have been drafted. Snell is the first Lobo drafted in either round since Darington Hobson went to Minnesota in 2010 as a second-round pick.
“It’s an exciting day for Tony,” UNM head coach Craig Neal said. “I’m so proud of him and extremely happy for him and his family.
He has represented himself and our University in a first class manner. Great things happen to great people, and Tony is a tremendous young man.”
The Mountain West Conference had four players taken in this year’s draft. Besides Snell and Bennett, Memphis selected San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin at No. 41 while Indiana drafted Colorado State’s Colton Iverson at No. 53 and then traded him to Boston.