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Bulls’ Tony Snell could learn lesson from Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard

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Updated: June 11, 2014 9:28PM



MIAMI — The Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard plans to have a chat with an old high school teammate this offseason — the Bulls’ Tony Snell.

Snell and Leonard played at Martin Luther King in Riverside, California. Even when Leonard went off to San Diego State and Snell to New Mexico, they still worked out together in their early college years.

But things change. New friends are made, workout partners come and go.

“I’ve talked to him a little bit, but definitely not as much as we used to,’’ Leonard said Wednesday. “I’m sure I’ll see him this summer and we’ll catch up.’’

Considering what’s on the line for Snell this offseason, he should have Leonard on speed dial.

Picked 20th overall by the Bulls last June, Snell played to mixed reviews in his rookie season. By December, he was a rotation player for coach Tom Thibodeau, averaging 6.3 points and 2.6 rebounds per game and raising eyebrows with his ability to shoot from long range.

By March and April, Snell was an afterthought, with questions arising if he was more Marquis Teague than Jimmy Butler. Teague, the Bulls’ first-round draft pick in 2012 (29th overall), never lived up to promise and was traded this season. Butler, the Bulls’ first-round pick in 2011 (30th), endured a rough rookie year but now is a starter with a high ceiling.

What Snell shows the Bulls this fall will carry a lot of weight regarding which direction the 6-7 swingman is headed.

Leonard could help.

Like Snell, Leonard had an up-and-down rookie season in 2011-12, averaging 7.9 points and 5.1 rebounds while playing with future Hall of Famers Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. Then it clicked for him that summer, when he focused on defense first.

“I just really worked on the spots on the floor where I can get the ball, where I was going to get the ball, and where I can be the most aggressive,’’ Leonard said of his improvement. “But first and foremost, I focused on defense because that’s how you’re going to get on the floor.’’

Sound familiar?

Defense was a big reason Snell was off the floor by the end of the year. It’s up to Snell to add some muscle, then earn minutes with stops.

Leonard did, and while his career-high 29-point performance in Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday was nice, the job he did defending Le­Bron James in the second half was art.

Snell should look forward to that chat.

Whispers

Chris Bosh was asked if the Spurs’ hot Game 3 shooting felt like an avalanche. “No, it wasn’t an avalanche,’’ he said. “We did it to ourselves. From the get‑go, we’re supposed to be the avalanche.’’

◆ There was speculation that the Bulls were looking to use their Nos. 16 and 19 first-round picks to trade up in the draft, but one NBA source said the team is having trouble finding a partner.

◆ The Heat’s Mario Chalmers could be out of the starting lineup for Game 4 with his confidence shot.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @suntimes_hoops



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