(Editor’s note: Today wraps up a five-part series on Pistons.com looking at the Pistons at each of the five positions for the 2019-20 season. Today: small forward.)
Tony Snell is best described as an average NBA starter, but his value to the Pistons elevates his status a few healthy notches.
And his acquisition – which came out of the blue 24 hours before the June 20 NBA draft, in a trade that cost the Pistons only a player, Jon Leuer, who’d fallen out of their rotation – came with the significant added bonus of ripple effects on the rest of their off-season.
We’ll get to that part, but first a look at Snell. At 6-foot-7¼ with a 6-foot-11½ wingspan, Snell is what central casting would have sent the Pistons had they submitted their specifications for roster fit. After trading pending free agents Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson at the trade deadline last winter, the Pistons patched together small forward with buyout signee Wayne Ellington but needed another solution for 2019-20.
Snell, a six-year veteran who comes to the Pistons at 27 in the prime of his career, is a classic 3-and-D wing who’s taken 57 percent of his career shots from the 3-point arc. In the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, he averaged 29 and 27 minutes a game for Milwaukee and made 139 starts.
Familiar with the Eastern Conference, having spent all six of his seasons in the same division as the Pistons with Chicago and Milwaukee, Snell is as close to a plug-and-play acquisition as it gets.
Snell was available to the Pistons only because Milwaukee was up against the wall with its ability to retain its own free agents without exploding past the tax barrier. The Pistons also picked up the No. 30 pick in June’s draft in exchange for Jon Leuer – subsequently bought out by the Bucks – as the Bucks tried to shed the extra year of Snell’s contract.
It was an easy swallow for the Pistons, who sacrifice some of their 2020 cap space but got a starting-quality wing for their trouble.
The cherry on top for them was enabling a focus on point guard with their limited cap resources. With the gaping hole at small forward filled, the Pistons were able to sign Derrick Rose and Tim Frazier to address a need at point guard, then waited out the market to get Markieff Morris on a team-friendly deal to buttress their frontcourt.
Here’s a look at Snell and the small forward spot for the 2019-20 Pistons:
DEPTH CHART: Tony Snell, Svi Mykhailiuk, Sekou Doumbouya, Louis King
Getting Snell and signing Rose gives Dwane Casey more latitude to choose his fifth starter – likely Luke Kennard or Bruce Brown – than he had a year ago. Snell gives the Pistons another above-average 3-point shooter, a critical need in a starting lineup with Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond on the floor.
Snell and Brown would form a terrific 1-2 defensive wing tandem. Snell and Kennard, along with Reggie Jackson, would give Casey three above-average 3-point shooters surrounding Griffin – who vaulted above the NBA average line himself last season – and Drummond. It’s likely we’ll see fair amounts of each combination as Casey tailors his lineup to suit situations.
Mykhailiuk brings another element to the position with his potential as a playmaker off of the dribble. Becoming a consistent 3-point shooter in line with his potential as an elite marksman will be the first step to Mykhailiuk winning rotation minutes.
Doumbouya’s size and athleticism are tantalizing, but he’ll need to show Casey one or two assets – whatever they might be – that he can consistently deliver in order to become a consideration for playing time as an 18-year-old. King, on a two-way contract, will spend the bulk of his season playing for the Grand Rapids Drive but in a best-case scenario he’s a wing with great length and scoring potential.
OPTIONS: Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown, Markieff Morris, Langston Galloway
Kennard became a more competitive defender as his second season unfolded and figures to come back a stronger player who’ll benefit from the knowledge of personnel he’s gained. When Casey pairs Jackson and Rose in the backcourt, a likely outcome late in close games, putting Kennard at small forward would give the Pistons their best offensive perimeter grouping.
Brown’s strength makes him an easy fit at small forward. If the Pistons are protecting a late lead, Brown and Snell are going to be on the floor and it could be at the two forward spots against small-ball lineups with Griffin or Drummond at center, depending on what Casey needs at the moment.
Morris came to the NBA as a hybrid forward who’s now more of a power forward/center, but in the right matchups he could still give the Pistons minutes at small forward in a jumbo lineup with Griffin and Drummond.
Galloway battled admirably, often giving away 5 or 6 inches, as a small forward down the stretch last season. When his 3-point shot is falling, he can change games in a hurry and no one ever doubts what he’ll bring to the floor.
FLEXIBILITY: Snell, Mykhailiuk, Doumbouya
All three of Snell, Mykhailiuk and Doumbouya have the size to guard up a position, especially as teams downsize in late-game situations. Doumbouya, in fact, might prove himself a better fit at power forward as he physically matures.
The Pistons have become a significantly bigger, longer team over the course of the last calendar year. Snell’s length makes him an obvious candidate to slide to power forward in lineups that require maximum floor coverage as opponents group five perimeter players when playing from behind. Mykhailiuk’s size/playmaking combination would make him a tough matchup at power forward on a second unit if Casey’s looking for an offensive jolt.
The Pistons were enthusiastic about the Snell trade on any number of fronts – from the pure fit, to the way it allowed the rest of the pieces to fall into place this summer, to the bonus of the extra draft pick, No. 30, that came with him – but also because assistant coaches Sean Sweeney and Tim Grgurich knew Snell from their time in Milwaukee and endorsed the personality fit, as well. Snell knows his role and stays in his lane. Draft night wouldn’t have turned out any differently if the Pistons hadn’t acquired Snell the previous night, but having him in place eases any pressure to rush Doumbouya into the lineup – nor will Snell’s presence prove any hindrance to Doumbouya’s emergence if he proves ready ahead of schedule. The Pistons were thrilled to get Mykhailiuk at the trade deadline instead of another second-round pick, intrigued by his offensive upside. They’re not dependent on him this season, but there’s a spot for him if he’s ready.