The regular season is rapidly approaching. That means it’s time for the now-annual tradition of our Calculated Countdown series examining a particular stat that corresponds to the number of days until tipoff. Today, that figure focuses on Tony Snell’s impossibly low usage rate shrinking year-after-year.
10 Days to Tipoff
Tony Snell posted a “10%” usage rate last year
Men of few words do not always have to personify their off-court persona, on the court. Kawhi Leonard, a stalwart off-court disciple of the Milford School where children should be neither seen nor heard, displays none of his mute tendencies when he dominated possessions for the Spurs. Tony Snell, on the other hand, has taken his admittance to the Milford School to another level. It’s getting to the point they’ll likely build a statue for his studious brand of on-court unselfishness, as he achieved a career-low 10% usage rate last season.
Snell’s usage rate has been a slippery slope since he entered the league. Somehow, his career-high usage rate (14.5%) came in his rookie season. Since then, it’s steadily dripped downward, perhaps as he tried to settle into what his realistic role would be in the NBA. Lacking the dribbling or speed to properly attack the basket or create off the bounce, gunners are inherently designed to have diminutive usage rates. Just not nearly as diminutive as Tony Snell’s, which ranked in just the 4th percentile among all wings last year, per Cleaning the Glass. There are comforting nuggets within that minuscule rate though, in particular his hyper-low 8.1% turnover rate. Part of that is the fact he had the lowest average seconds per touch (1.58) among all Bucks players who weren’t bigs last season, but it also demonstrates a steadfast commitment to swim in his well-worn lane.
Unfortunately, the trench he’s built around the 3-point arc could stand to get a little more action from Snell. Last season, 62% of his shots came from 3-point land (89th percentile among wings), including 24% of those in the corners, which ranked in the 94th percentile among wings. It’s hard to imagine that percentage hitting any higher, but Coach Budenholzer places an emphasis on those golden pockets of the court, as his Atlanta teams ranked in the top ten in terms of percentage of shots taken from the corner in four out of his five seasons. All of this is to say, Tony Snell needs to shatter whatever shell’s been sapping his confidence these last few seasons and fire away.
Miraculously, Snell’s arrival in Milwaukee brought both an uptick in 3-point percentage and volume. That’s the prime curve on the efficiency line graph, and something coaches would do well to impart upon Tony. At 40.8% on 353 3-pointers in 2016-17 and 40.3% on 268 last season, there’s no reason to discount Snell’s ability as legitimate. His form may be stiff, but his release is plenty fast. There’s little reason he shouldn’t be able to function as an off-ball gunner in Bud’s new system in ways comparable to the past wings who’ve graduated from the tutelage of Bud’s coaching staff. Indeed, Snell shot a promising 40.1% on his 3.4 3-point attempts per game in catch and shoot situations last season. Coming off screens he only had 32 attempts on the season and converted at a 40.6% clip, but there are tools to work with there.
In Snell’s case, the most important rationale for Bud tipping him over and dumping threes out of him is the ideal fit within Milwaukee’s scheme. Their starting lineup necessitates having someone who rarely, if ever, needs the ball in his hands to be effective. Snell will benefit from the gravity Bledsoe, Giannis and Middleton create when they try to drive to the rack or pull-up for their own shot. Snell’s underdeveloped off-the-dribble game means that precious second it takes him to hoist another high-arcing jumper is the best case scenario whenever the ball touches his hands. If you want to get close to the value one would expect out of someone on his contract in the suddenly cap-crunched league, you need him to contribute in bunches the one way he knows how: indulging his inner on-point gunner.
Early returns are a little dubious though on how Snell will fit within Bud’s offense. He got some short shrift in the first preseason game, and it’s possible his lack of “five-tool” skills might not make for as ideal a fit as I presumed going into the season. Time will tell in that respect, but I’ll stand behind believing Snell can and should be a big part of Milwaukee’s rotation this year.