For the first time since joining the Milwaukee Bucks, Tony Snell will go into the season knowing he’s coming off the bench if everyone is healthy. Last season he started 59 out of the 80 games he appeared in. The season prior he made 80 starts. That may be because the Bucks are a better team, or because Tony Snell hasn’t improved as expected. The truth probably lies in the middle and it’s due to parts of both. Snell’s numbers weren’t too much worse than typical, but he can still be a frustrating player to watch.
Last Season: Disappointment
For the first time last season, Snell failed to score 20+ points in any game over the course of a season. He also accounted for single-digit points in 53 games. For a 3-and-D guy, that’s not good enough.
His best season as a pro came in 2016-17. That was parlayed into a four-year contract worth around $10 million per season. It seemed Snell was primed for a bigger role in 2017-18 – and he was given one – but his production stated about the same.
The sixth-year pro is now 27, the age largely accepted as an athlete’s prime year. And there’s enough to build on to suggest the New Mexico product can have a very productive and lengthy NBA career.
Areas of Improvement: Assertiveness on Offense
Milwaukee has no shortage of ball-handlers. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Eric Bledsoe are all at their best with the ball in their hands. Malcolm Brogdon also could see an uptick in usage rate. Snell might not log as many minutes with that group since he’ll be coming off the bench, however, Snell is one of those players you forget is out there at times.
It might be surprising to some that Snell shot 40% from three last season. But by volume, he took almost a full shot less per game last season over the season prior. He hasn’t shown a particular knack for moving without the ball, but in Mike Budenholzer system, that has to change. Tony Snell can play way more assertive without necessarily handling the ball any more than he has in the past. He’s a shooting threat who should shoot in more volume. Better movement without the ball could not only get him more open shots but put more pressure on the defense, making the offense easier for everyone else.
Projected Role: Sixth Man; Part-Time Starter
The Bucks might not use the Sixth Man in the traditional way: Snell might be Sixth Man in name, but depending on game situation, it could be Thon Maker, Matthew Dellavedova, or somebody else coming off the pine first. However, of players not in the starting lineup, Snell should lead the rest of the roster in minutes. Which makes his production very important to the Bucks’ success this season.
Projected Key Stat: 3-Point Attempts
As outlined previously, Snell can play frustratingly timid sometimes. In most cases, there’s a perfect correlation between his aggressiveness and his shooting percentage. As long as his defensive effort isn’t the same type of roller coaster ride, he should always be a net positive on defense.
On one hand, it’s kind of impressive that Snell is self-aware enough to realize he shouldn’t shoot as much when his shot is off. On the flip side, if he’s not shooting, he’s between a zero and a negative on offense. He’s a good shooter, he needs to trust his own ability. Even when in a slump, he needs to shoot himself out of it. The Bucks will see a sizeable increase in threes this season. And Snell might be Milwaukee’s best marksman from deep. Coaching may have played into it, but it has seemed like Snell has done more to turn a green shooting light into a yellow or red light on himself. We’ll find out this season how much of a factor coaching was in Snell’s (lack of) volume, the shackles are off now.
In a vacuum, plus-minus is a flawed stat. Especially on an individual level. But, as mentioned, Snell is a plus-player on defense. Thus, his plus-minus will be more of an indicator of his offensive impact than defensive.
Further, with Tony Snell coming off the bench this year, he projects as best scorer – at least from outside – on the second unit. If most of his minutes come with Giannis and the starters resting, Snell’s plus-minus could be an indicator of the Bucks’ bench success as a whole. If you want to take a deep dive throughout the season, play around with four or five-player lineup stats that include Snell. It’s imperative Milwaukee gets a plus number when Snell is on the court.