3 goals: Tony Snell – win the job, help Pistons to a top-10 defense
Rocky Widner (NBAE/Getty)
(Editor’s note: Today continues a series looking at the 17 players – 15 under standard contracts, two on two-way deals – who comprise the 2019-20 Pistons roster heading into the home stretch of the off-season. Today: Tony Snell. Coming Wednesday: Sekou Doumbouya.)
When do you make a trade that helps the reigning king of your own division and conference? When it helps you even more.
The Pistons understood that their trade of Jon Leuer for Tony Snell and the 30th pick in the June draft would allow the cap-strapped Bucks to keep much of the core intact that won 60 games, claimed the No. 1 seed and swept the Pistons in the playoffs.
But getting Snell – never mind the draft pick that the Pistons were able to convert into four second-round picks – not only solved a gaping roster need at small forward, it allowed the Pistons to focus their limited free-agent resources to address the other major need at point guard.
Snell, 27, is the front-runner to start at small forward for a Pistons team that made the playoffs with a 19-12 finish despite needing to patch together the position Snell inherits with undersized players such as Wayne Ellington and Luke Kennard.
At 6-foot-7¼ with a 6-foot-11½ wingspan, Snell is ideally sized to not only defend his position but to be utilized in the switching defenses Dwane Casey prefers. He can swing to power forward to defend against small-ball lineups. Further, he’s an accomplished 3-point shooter, a career .382 marksman who’s taken 57 percent of his shots from the arc.
Casey gives his players a three-item card with their core values to the team before training camp starts. In keeping with that protocol but with a twist, we’ll look at the three goals for each player on the roster heading into the 2019-20 Pistons season. For Tony Snell, those are …
SIDEKICK FIT – Because so much of the offense runs through Blake Griffin, learning how to play off of him is essential for teammates who figure to play the majority of their minutes with Griffin on the floor. Reggie Bullock, the player who held Snell’s position until his February trade to the Lakers, was a near-ideal fit next to Griffin for his natural instincts for movement off of the ball and his ability to shoot off of Griffin’s dribble handoffs. Snell is more of a catch-and-shoot 3-point weapon than Bullock, but learning the timing of his cuts to get to optimum shooting spots to play off of Griffin’s elbow-initiated sets will go a long way toward Snell becoming a proper sidekick for Griffin. Snell’s background with Milwaukee, where Giannis Antetokounmpo often initiated offense instead of Bucks point guards, might give Snell a leg up in figuring out his best fit with Griffin.
WIN THE JOB – Snell as the starter makes perfect sense for the Pistons for his size, defense and 3-point shooting. Snell as the starter would give Casey flexibility at the other starting spot. If he values defense over more shooting – a reasonable calculation given the shooting Snell, in addition to Reggie Jackson, would provide to allow spacing for Griffin and Andre Drummond – then he could opt for Bruce Brown at shooting guard. If he wants to maximize spacing by sticking Kennard with Snell and Jackson – an easier call with the scoring punch Derrick Rose brings to the second unit – then Snell’s ability to guard small forwards gives him the luxury of using Kennard in that role. But the viability of those plans only fully works if Snell wins the job on merit. On paper, he fits like a glove. The unknown is how he’ll adapt to the change of environment, though there’s a comfort level given that he’s familiar with Casey assistants Sean Sweeney and Tim Grgurich from their time together in Milwaukee and played with Thon Maker and free-agent addition Tim Frazier there last season and with Rose in Chicago. There’s also the fact that Snell thrived in Milwaukee after arriving from Chicago three years ago.
TAKE OWNERSHIP – Snell fits the classic description of a 3-and-D wing, one of the most valuable commodities in today’s NBA. Both of those element are critical to the 2019-20 Pistons, but there are reasonable options to replace Snell’s shooting – more Kennard at that position, Langston Galloway, Svi Mykhailiuk – but not his size/defense combo. Snell’s defensive capabilities make him especially valuable to Casey’s team. He and Bruce Brown could form an elite 1-2 perimeter defensive combination. If the Pistons are protecting a 10-point lead with five minutes to go, a lineup that includes Snell, Brown and Thon Maker might be enough to give Casey the confidence to allow Griffin the occasional break in high-leverage minutes. The Pistons finished 12th in defensive efficiency last season despite playing undersized for the final third of the season. Snell’s addition gives them the tools to craft a top-10 defense. Taking ownership for improved team defense will help Snell establish his bona fides with his new team and teammates.