Snell embraces his move to Detroit: ‘The fact I’m wanted – that’s what it’s all about’

Tony Snell
Tony Snell’s size and 3-point shooting ability were two characteristics the Pistons coveted, making him a favorite to join the starting lineup in 2019-20.
NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – The last time Tony Snell got traded, things worked out A-OK.

After three years with the Chicago Bulls – the team that drafted him with the 20th overall pick in 2013 – Snell got traded on the eve of the 2016-17 season to Milwaukee. He wound up starting 80 games for a playoff team and earned a four-year, $46 million contract.

So getting traded under similar circumstances – to another Central Division team with a clear need for what he brings – didn’t exactly traumatize Snell when he learned last week that he’d be joining the Pistons for the 2018-19 season.

“Just the fact that I’m wanted – that’s what it’s all about,” Snell said Thursday as the team’s practice facility. “All I can do is what I do – work hard and try to perfect my skills and just go from there.”

Snell has earned a reputation as a team-first player who doesn’t cause ripples at his two previous NBA stops and got his Pistons voyage off on the same note Thursday. You don’t have to design an offense around him, he made clear, and whether he starts or comes off the bench won’t affect his disposition.

“Whatever they need me to do, I’m willing to do,” Snell said. “I’ll compromise for anything. Whatever is needed to get the job done. I’m not looking for them to draw up plays for me. Whatever the feel is, I’m open to it.”

There is familiarity all around for Snell. From the faces on Dwane Casey’s coaching staff – assistants Sean Sweeney and Tim Grgurich worked with Snell in Milwaukee and gave the front office and Casey thumbs-up approval of the deal – to the similarities in system styles.

The Bucks ran the bulk of their offense through Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose primary position is power forward, just as the Pistons under Casey last season funneled their half-court plays largely through Blake Griffin.

And Snell knows what to expect from Casey-coached teams, having spent all of his six NBA seasons competing against Casey’s Toronto and Detroit teams in the Eastern Conference.

The Bucks lost in the first round in Snell’s first two seasons there before making the leap to the NBA’s best regular-season record and advancing to the conference finals in year three. Depending on what happens in free agency – the Pistons could prioritize point guard now after acquiring Snell in free agency, though the market might dictate they pursue another wing – Snell could well line up as the opening-night starter at small forward.

“I’ve been through this before,” Snell said. “I know what it takes to try to build. It’s not a first rodeo. From the Bulls to Milwaukee – that was my first rodeo. Now I know it’s a business. I know what I have to do, what it takes to get here.”

Snell, at 6-foot-7½ and with the type of wingspan (6-foot-11½) in demand for defenses increasingly tasked with covering more of the court, brings the size and 3-point shooting that were the qualities the Pistons needed most at the wing positions, where Luke Kennard and Langston Galloway are the incumbents who logged the most minutes last season. It’s asking a lot of either to guard more conventionally sized small forwards, which became a glaring issue in the postseason when Milwaukee’s size gave the Pistons compounding problems.

Snell isn’t merely an above-average 3-point shooter, either, he’s a consistently above-average one. Since his rookie season, when he shot 32 percent from the arc, he’s shot no worse than 36 percent (2015-16) and twice has shot better than 40 percent for a season with a career mark of 38.2 percent.

That will fit like a glove in a lineup where shooting to complement Griffin’s passing and magnetic ability to draw double teams is a pillar. It looks like Snell’s personality will mesh the same way.

“I’m just there to impact the best way I can,” he said. “Whether I start or come off the bench, I’m just there to give 100 percent of what I have and go from there.”

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