With last week’s announcement that the Chicago Bulls will pick up Tony Snell’s third-year option this year, it seems, much to the dismay of a handful of Bulls fans, that the Snell Era in Chicago is just beginning. 

Rarely has a fan base soured so quickly on a talented player like Chicago has with Tony Snell. In July, Bulls fans were clamoring for him to become a key part of the team’s rotation following a breakout Summer League that saw the 6’7 wing torching other teams from outside. Snell, who averaged 20 ppg on 46 percent shooting, was later voted to the Summer League first team along with Chicago rookie Doug McDermott.

So, going into this year’s preseason, Bulls fans were hyped about Tony Snell, and for good reason.

Unfortunately, Snell’s performance thus far has been proof positive that dominating Summer League doesn’t necessarily translate into productivity at the professional level (take, for example, Marquis Teague’s 18.3 ppg in 2013). Relegated largely to a third-tier role in Chicago’s preseason rotation, Snell put up a paltry 4.4 ppg on 28.9 percent shooting. Even worse, his 3pt percentage—the reason Bulls fans were so high on him in the first place—fell to a dismal 20 percent.

And it’s not just statistics that have fans worried. The second year guard looked, at times, completely lost on both ends of the court. His defense, so praiseworthy in the past, was lacking. On offense, he was unable to create his own shots. Whereas Snell used his ridiculous length to separate from defenders in the Summer League, his preseason was primarily spent running through baseline screens. And when he did get open, Tony wasn’t just missing. He was missing bad (I can recall at least two wide-open treys that he airballed).

Yet despite all that, Bulls fans should be pumped to now have Tony Snell under contract through 2015-16. Last week’s announcement means the Bulls will hold onto Snell through next year under his rookie contract, with the pay scale set at $1.5 million a year.

Underwhelming as he’s been this year, that’s a great value for a solid wing, one able to hit the three at an efficient clip while locking down defenders on the other end of the floor.

The Bulls front office seems to agree. Per Sam Smith:

“He [Snell] doesn’t appear to be targeted for a regular spot in the rotation, but based on the Bulls experience of injuries and that he’s barely got more than the experience of a rookie it’s much too soon to be making a final judgment. Plus, management remains very high on Snell and given the spread between his value, which is low not having played much, and management’s view of his potential, which is high, I see him as one of the few untouchables on the team at this point.“

If there’s one thing we should all have learned by now, it’s that the Bulls’ front office is incredibly good at player valuation. Disliked as they may be, Gar Forman and John Paxson (GarPax) have proven time and time again they know how to evaluate player potential, as is evident by the notable success the Bulls have seen through the draft.

Snell is a project, sure—but he’s almost all upside, no downside. He’s fully capable of locking down defenders, and one could feasibly imagine his current shooting is simply slumping.

In other words, he’s a perfect “3 and D” guy, and well worth the $1.5 million they’ll shell out for him next year.

The question, though, is how does Snell’s contract figure into the Jimmy Butler situation?

That isn’t to say Butler is unlikely to sign an extension in Chicago. By all measures, he loves it here, and hasn’t seemed opposed to staying at a discount price. And with the league’s recent love affair with “3 and D” guys like Butler, his camp would be foolish to not at least test his open-market value (especially considering the projected cap increase in 2016).

For management, though, having Snell means having some leverage over Butler, as well as a player to fall back on should Butler ink a deal with a new team over the summer (unlikely as it is).

Regardless, Snell has enormous upside. He’s freakishly athletic and has shown flashes of solid NBA potential. Just ask the Orlando Magic:

Worst-case scenario, the Bulls lose out on $1.5 million next year, just as the salary cap is hitting historic highs. Best-case scenario, Snell evolves into the player we know he can be, working into the Bulls rotation as a solid and serviceable two-way player.

Besides, how could anyone not love that face