Tony Snell's Likely Role With Blazers Needs Proper Perspective
Tony Snell's elite shooting ability and solid positional size make his two-way limitations easy to miss at first glance.
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Tony Snell's raw shooting numbers and basic physical profile make him seem like a surefire answer to the rippling questions Portland faces about small-ball .
He shot 56.9 percent from deep last season with the Atlanta Hawks, better than any player in league history who attempted at least 100 threes, per Stathead Basketball . At 6-foot-6 and 213 pounds, adequate size for a wing in the modern NBA, Snell also boasts a seven-foot wingspan—the type of plus positional length that's especially valuable in downsized lineups.
There's no doubt Snell is a better shooter than Nassir Little or Derrick Jones Jr. The Blazers basically need to be unstoppable offensively when going small to survive an inevitable drop-off on the other end, and spacing the floor to its max is their surest means of doing it. Snell isn't Duncan Robinson or even Wayne Ellington as a movement shooter, but he won't need to be to make an impact—tangible or otherwise—on offense alongside Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Norman Powell and Robert Covington.
It's not like Little or Jones, despite their impressive physical tools, proved some game-changing individual or help defender last season anyway. The former was mostly untapped potential defensively, mixing the occasional highlight-reel block with less noticeable struggles to maintain scheme responsibility and overall consistency. Jones was plenty disruptive before Terry Stotts pulled him from the rotation, but his lithe physique leaves him better equipped checking guards than forwards and bigs.
Enter Snell, right?
It's crucial to remember when assessing Snell's prospective role that he signed in Portland for the minimum. If there was a realistic chance he could serve as some missing piece of a contender's rotational puzzle, Snell probably wouldn't have signed with the Blazers.
Most instructive to setting proper expectations for Snell in Portland is how his season unfolded with the Hawks. After starting 23 games as an injury replacement during the regular season, he barely left the bench in the playoffs despite Atlanta's unending health woes.
Fellow journeyman Solomon Hill was Nate McMillan's choice when the Hawks went small or needed help on the wing, even starting three second-round games against the Philadelphia 76ers. Snell was out of the rotation after the first two games of Atlanta's surprising postseason run, notching 66 total minutes.
The problem with Snell, in downsized units and more traditional ones, is that he's far more limited on both sides of the ball than a passing glance often reveals. It was easy to miss that Snell attempted just three off-dribble triples and shot an ugly 41.9 percent on twos last season, per NBA.com/stats , as he set a new record for long-range accuracy. His average footspeed, at best, and longtime aversion to physicality aren't especially obvious when Snell is switching across three positions on defense against backups.
There's no indication Neil Olshey or Chauncey Billups is overestimating Snell's utility. He's poised to enter the season as no better than Portland's ninth man, and Jones' actualized ceiling under Billups means he likely gets the first crack at earning that spot. There's even a possibility Ben McLemore leaves training camp with a leg up on Snell as the Blazers' foremost perimeter injury replacement and situational shooting specialist.
No matter if Snell reaches his high-end outcome, low-end outcome or somewhere in between with Portland, his perpetually intriguing blend of size and shooting ability guarantees Blazers fans will want Billups to ask more of him. In that roster-specific capacity, Snell could occupy a similar space Jones did last season once he fell out of favor with Stotts.
Don't be fooled by appearances, though. As solid a signing Snell was at the minimum, it would still shock if he provided the two-way versatility and impact depth that could make a difference for Portland on the wing.