One of the biggest stories of last year’s Pistons team was the lack of size and defensive presence at the small forward position. Reggie Bullock and Wayne Ellington split time as the team’s starting wing opposite Bruce Brown, who consistently held his own on the defensive end but contributed little on the offensive side of the floor. With head coach Dwane Casey’s decision to make the offensively-limited rookie a full-time starter, the Pistons relied on Bullock and Ellington to contribute with shooting and off-ball movement. However, both three-point specialists were consistently outmatched against bigger, stronger, and more skilled forwards on defense; more so Ellington than Bullock, but nonetheless.
With Bullock traded at last February’s trade deadline and it being known that Ellington was likely a rental, the Pistons were in search of a more all-around starter at the position early this summer. Fortunately, one of the most under-the-radar offseason acquisitions fell right into the Pistons’ lap prior to the NBA Draft – Tony Snell. Snell was acquired along with the 30th pick in exchange for Jon Leuer, the underperforming yet handsomely-paid big man who seldom saw the floor during the 2018-19 season. With this move, Ed Stefanski basically killed two birds with one stone: he cunningly took advantage of Milwaukee’s dire cap situation and their overabundance of rotationally-viable forwards on their roster to add Snell while also shedding Leuer’s contract. With the final pick of the first round included as well, this deal was a no brainer.
Tony Snell was in a similar situation a few years ago, following a trade that sent him to the Milwaukee Bucks for… Michael Carter-Williams. The Bucks, at the time still a young, up-and-coming borderline playoff team that had recently uncovered a rare gem in Giannis Antetokounmpo, gave Snell his first opportunity as a full-time starter. Snell, who previously had started 33 of the 64 games he played in with the Bulls the year before, started all of the 80 games he participated in for the Bucks in 2016-17. In his best professional season to date, Snell took advantage of his 29 minutes a contest, nearly nine more than the previous year. His averages improved as a result of his volume and efficiency simultaneously skyrocketing, all with his high-IQ defense unwavering. Still his most productive campaign, Snell averaged 8.5 points and 2.8 rebounds while shooting at a highly efficient 45.5-40.6-81 percent clip – not to mention his work on the other side of the floor. With Snell as their starting shooting guard, the Milwaukee Bucks were able to take a huge step towards becoming the contender they are today by finishing the season with the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed.
While the Milwaukee Bucks’ success has steadily increased since the 2016-17 season, Tony Snell’s role has steadily decreased over the last two seasons. In 2018-19, Snell played just 17.6 minutes per game, the lowest since his rookie year in 2013-14. Despite the smaller role, Snell was still a valuable contributor when he was played by the Bucks, as his 3-and-D skillset was consistently useful for the East’s young contender. However, following his return from an injury that sidelined the 27-year-old prior to last season’s playoffs, Snell was unable to scratch his way back into the bench rotation. With newcomers Sterling Brown and Pat Connaughton usurping his minutes, this was the point where the Bucks might’ve realized that it was time to move on from Snell. The Bucks were now improving both internally and from other acquisitions, which eventually led to Snell’s contract finally being moved in exchange for long-term cap relief.
Now with the Pistons, Snell’s role will reflect his 2016-17 season much more than recent years. He’ll have the chance to show the league that he is worth upwards of his $12 million player option following next season. Who knows, now entering his prime years, Snell could elevate his game to become a double-digit scorer in Detroit. Likely playing around 30 minutes per game now, Snell could be putting up more performances like this in a Pistons uniform:
Snell provides stability in two areas of weakness for recent Detroit teams – three-point shooting and perimeter defense. If he remains as solid as he was during his three-year tenure with the Bucks, Snell will immediately improve the Pistons. However, now entering his age-28 campaign, Snell might just be able to provide a little extra as he and sophomore Bruce Brown look to make Detroit’s wing corps a strength rather than a weakness this season.
Featured Image: Kirthmen F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press