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Calculated Countdown: 17 days to Tipoff

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How Tony Snell’s defense can help bolster his offensive output

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

It’s nearly the regular season folks, which means it’s time to start contrived “countdown to tipoff” pieces. Our series will be called the Calculated Countdown, where we take a particular statistic from last season that corresponds to the number of days left till tipoff and analyze it in the context of this upcoming year. Today, we’re looking at Tony Snell’s defensive upside.

17 days till tipoff: 17.9% of Tony Snell’s points came off turnovers

If you were to look solely at Defensive RPM, ESPN’s catch all statistic that’s supposed to account for the quality of the other players on the court, one would say that Tony Snell had a worse defensive season than Michael Beasley last year. If one were to make that statement, a Bucks fan would be obligated to politely apologize before informing them that is quite incorrect. Tony Snell’s defensive metrics may not look stellar, but I’m bullish on his potential within this Bucks scheme and as a one-on-one defender. To kick off our calculated countdown, I’m looking at Tony Snell and how 17.9% of his points last year came off turnovers.

Discounting GP II’s minuscule contributions, that percentage would rank fifth on the team, behind three obvious candidates (Giannis, Brogdon, Middleton) and a surprising Thon Maker. The majority of Snell’s points come from the 3-point stripe (63.3%), and his limited offensive skillset is somewhat offset by his utter willingness to fire away from deep at a moment’s notice. Still, in halfcourt sets Snell’s offensive worth as a ball handler is almost null. His puny 12.2% usage rate is indicative of his worth as a gunner running around screens and that he understands his limitations. He doesn’t have the ball skills to drive towards the basket effectively in the halfcourt. Which brings us all back to that points off turnover percentage.

Typically, Snell will be guarding the opposing team’s best wing player, but at times he will even guard more athletic point guards when Delly or Brogdon aren’t up to the task. Regardless of who he’s shadowing, the point is that Snell is primarily in the backcourt defensively. Snell averaged just 0.7 steals per game last year, a testament to his defensive style, which I’d characterize as more preventative than aggressive. He keeps some space between him and the offensive player, knowing he doesn’t have the kind of foot speed to easily recover and cut off their angle once they’ve got a step on him. That frees guys like Khris Middleton to work the passing angles and snipe steals, but it feels like there’s untapped defensive potential. I think Snell can improve markedly is in playing a bit more aggressive, in your face style of defense on opposing players.

His long limbs can be utilized to better effect if he’s trying to swipe the ball away, and while he should avoid recklessness, I think he has more potential to gather steals and proceed to the opposite end for an easy score. Snell is never going to add a ton of versatility offensively, so an expanded defensive presence could give Milwaukee a needed offensive boost and easy buckets. While Jabari Parker was a defensive liability, he was able to average at least a steal per game, which would usually translate to a thunderous dunk on the other end.

If Snell can replicate or steal some tricks from Khris Middleton, who averaged 1.4 steals per game, that should go a long way towards helping Milwaukee create easy points and offset some of the inherent issues with their aggressive defensive scheme. Snell is an adequate on-ball defender, but if he can improve his steal rate, that would help Milwaukee’s scheme pay the type of dividends envisioned by the coaching staff.