Tony Tony Tony

by Alex Boeder
Bucks.com Writer

When the Bucks traded for Tony Snell, he was by some measures (like, say, field goal percentage) one of the worst shooters in the NBA.

Snell had just shot 37.2 percent from the field in his final season with the Bulls. Among players who attempted as many field goals as Snell in 2015–16, only eight were less accurate: a rookie point guard (Emmanuel Mudiay), an erratic former borderline-star who the next season would head to China to play for the Sichuan Blue Whales (Josh Smith), two legends chucking through their last and second-to-last pro seasons respectively (Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce), and an unholy collection of guys who together are comfortably below 40.0 percent for their careers (Marcus Smart, Nick Young, P.J. Hairston, and Randy Foye).

Notably not in that group was the player the Bucks traded away to the Bulls: Michael Carter-Williams. After peaking in his first career NBA game (honestly, 22/7/12 with nine steals and 4–6 on threes in a win over LeBron’s Heat in his debut), Carter-Williams shot a career-best 45.2 percent from the field in his final season with the Bucks, though that number — boosted by respectable finishing at the rim — belied his crooked jumper and non-existent long-range shot. Bucks fans should not (necessarily?) take pleasure in Carter-Williams heading the short list of worst shooters in the league since departing Milwaukee (31.1 percent from the field and far worse from three), but they also should not be terribly surprised.

What is a bit more surprising is that Snell — who was a roughly league-average three-point shooter in Chicago — is on pace to make a run at the franchise all-time single season three-point accuracy record this year.

After hitting that decisive triple to help secure the win over the Cavaliers on Tuesday night, Snell is at 46.6 percent from deep. Statistically and in real life, he is approaching more-surprising-if-he-misses territory. The top mark in franchise history belongs to one Wardell Stephen Curry.

Bucks Single-Season Three-Point Percentage Leaders
1. Dell Curry — 46.7 — 1998–99
2. Craig Hodges — 46.6 — 1987–88
3. Ersan Ilyasova — 45.5 — 2012–13
4. Craig Hodges —45.1 — 1985–86
5. Michael Redd — 44.4 — 2001–2002

In the season prior to landing Snell, the Bucks ranked 25th in the league in three-point accuracy and dead-last in makes. Last season — with Snell as one of five players on the team hitting at least 40.0 percent from deep — they moved up to 10th in accuracy and 21st in makes. So far this year, they are down a bit in both categories, underscoring the importance of Snell’s quick strikes and the spacing he offers, particularly with fellow three-point specialist Mirza Teletovic’s unfortunate injury and uncertain timetable.

Snell remains an extremely low-usage player (incredibly, his usage this season is a career-low and 15th on the team, ahead of only Jason Terry and DeAndre Liggins) who blends in even when taking center stage — witness his “celebration” in the video above. His presence, or lack thereof, is perhaps felt most when he is missing, like when the Bucks suffered through three straight single-digit losses against the Pelicans, Bulls, and Rockets.

The Bucks would be wise to find more threes for Snell — he isn’t going to create them by himself off the dribble, and while he ranks fourth in accuracy in the league, he ranks 94th in threes made — but as it is, he is a valuable outlet. The team’s three best frequently-used lineups (according to point differential) each feature Snell. And why not? He is a competent defender, never turns the ball over (eighth best turnover percentage in the league, a significant improvement), and it must be said, has improved greatly not only as a three-point shooter but also around the hoop.

That shot distribution map — like something straight out of Houston — is a beauty, and so are all of those green circles hovering over the rim. Snell has hit 27–37 (.730) shots near the basket, way above league average and a far cry from the 46–116 (.397) he shot from that area just two seasons ago in Chicago.

Which is to point out that his progression is not merely as a three-point shooter. His strides and efficiency from both beyond the arc and near the hoop has Snell up to fourth in the NBA in true shooting percentage, on a leaderboard dominated by dunking centers (Clint Capela etc.), three-point specialists (Kyle Korver etc.), and superstars (LeBron James etc.).

Snell has carved his own little place in Milwaukee, and it fits snugly on the periphery of the new big three. He makes for an interesting case study in how much a starter playing 30+ minutes can specialize. For now, his low usage is matched by his low profile which is matched by his high efficiency which is a match in itself, used to keep the offense warm.

 

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