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Bulls rookie Tony Snell likes comparison to Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard

Chicago Bulls' Tony Snell (20) steps drive against Memphis Grizzlies' Donte Greene first quarter an NBA Summer League basketball game

Chicago Bulls' Tony Snell (20) steps to drive against Memphis Grizzlies' Donte Greene in the first quarter of an NBA Summer League basketball game on Saturday, July 13, 2013, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

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Updated: August 22, 2013 7:02AM

There will come a day when Tony Snell might be sick of the comparisons.

But not today.

“I love it,’’ said Snell, the 20th pick in the 2013 NBA draft. “I mean to be compared to [Spurs forward] Kawhi Leonard . . . we’re talking about a phenomenal player. His defense is amazing; he works hard; he gets better every year. You can see the work he’s put in.

‘‘This season, everyone had a chance to see him in the Finals guarding LeBron [James], so that speaks for itself.

“How could I not like the comparisons?’’

Give it time.

Leonard was the “it’’ player of the 2013 postseason, taking the title that Indiana’s Paul George earned last season. At 6-7, Leonard has the wingspan of a 7-footer, can defend and can knock down a three-point shot.

If that sounds familiar, it’s almost the same scouting report NBA teams had on Snell coming out of New Mexico.

“I played against Tony when he was in New Mexico,’’ Bulls power forward Malcolm Thomas said. “First time we played against him, my coaches watched the film and were like, ‘This guy is going to be a pro.’

‘‘I mean, I’m not a talent evaluator or anything like that, but I just thought he was really good.’’

From the moment Snell was selected by the Bulls, the Leonard talk was out there. Nothing new for Snell, considering they played one year of high school basketball together at Riverside (Calif.) King and made history by upsetting the top team in the country, Mater Dei, in the 2009 Southern Section Division I-AA final.

“I remember thinking how crazy it was that he and Kawhi were on the same high school team,’’ Thomas said. “Two guys with a wing-span like that?

“I feel like he’s very similar to Kawhi in a lot of ways, and that’s kind of scary.’’

It was for opposing teams in high school, with Leonard at a guard spot and Snell at center.

“Both of us were real dominant,’’ Snell said. “I was more of a garbage man, but it was a great experience.

‘‘All I remember is how hard we pushed each other.’’

Now Snell has a different motivation.

Playing for coach Tom Thibodeau as a rookie isn’t a foregone conclusion. Jimmy Butler didn’t do it, and Marquis Teague basically redshirted last season.

With the Bulls bringing back their core group this season, minutes for Snell won’t come easy, either. Especially if he doesn’t show Thibodeau that he buys into the Bulls’ defense-first mentality.

“I understood that as soon as the Bulls [drafted] me,’’ Snell said. “If you’re not playing well defensively, you’re going to get exposed. And there’s no point in you going out there if you keep getting scored on and you’re not playing good defense, so I really take pride in my defense.’’

Snell showed that in five summer-league games, using his length to make life difficult for opponents and at least showing he has the ability to make the NBA three-pointer.

He went 8-for-23 from beyond the arc on his way to averaging 11.8 points to go along with 6.6 rebounds.

In other words, a very Leonard-like showing.

So while the comparison works for now, Snell knows that down the road he’d like to carve his own path.

“This is the place I wanted to be,’’ Snell said. “I just know that I want to try to help this team win a championship.’’

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