After being traded for Jon Leuer from Milwaukee last offseason, Tony Snell came to Detroit as their new starting small forward. A 6’6” 3-and-D wing, Snell returned to being a starter after only starting 12 games for Milwaukee in the year prior.
There was a certain level of excitement to get Snell on the earliest version of this Pistons team, especially from this video that surfaced before the season:
For his entire career, Snell has been someone who simply does his job. He played solid team defense and scored when asked to, without stepping on any toes. His season averages of 8 points, 2.2 assists and 1.9 rebounds don’t blow you away, but looking deeper into his numbers, he shot 44% from the field and 40% from three, including 43% from the corners.
Looking even deeper into Snell’s statistics, on November 6th, he went 9/9 from the field and 6/6 from three for 24 points against the New York Knicks. Perhaps his greatest statistic of all, Snell finished the 2019-20 season perfect from the free throw line, at 32/32.
The Pistons tasked Snell with guarding opponents’ best offensive wings throughout the season, as he was a better and longer defender than Luke Kennard, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Langston Galloway. As the season went on, Snell became almost invisible, only scoring over 20 points one time while playing over 20 minutes in 52 of his 59 games.
Snell was the ideal fifth starter in a lineup that would’ve included Reggie Jackson, Bruce Brown, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, but injuries and trades forced Snell to become one of the team’s main offensive options, which is a role he did not thrive in.
Headlining a group of small forwards that included Svi Mykhailiuk, Louis King, and (sometimes) Sekou Doumbouya, Snell wasn’t put in a position to succeed this past season in Detroit. In Milwaukee, the Bucks had several scoring options off the bench and a suffocating defense to make way for league average players like Snell to succeed in small roles. It’s no coincidence that Snell jumped from 17.6 to 27.8 minutes a game, but his scoring average only increased from 6 to 8 points per game.
Detroit needed Snell’s defensive chops in an otherwise poor defensive group of wings, otherwise, he wouldn’t have been a mainstay of the Pistons’ starting five. Snell, with his production, would have been an awesome bench piece for a great playoff team (he was, last season in Milwaukee). Increasing Snell’s role out of desperation produced expected results.
The Pistons have an interesting situation with Snell this offseason and until the trade deadline. He’s the perfect player to send in exchange for a team looking to salary dump an established veteran. His contract only yields more cap space for Detroit next offseason, in a stronger free agent class. The Pistons need a face-of-the-franchise guard from this draft, which doesn’t help the off-ball corps in Detroit. Snell is best suited as an impactful backup wing to an offense-focused starter, but not for the money he’s being paid, and not in Detroit.