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The Worst Bucks Contract of the Last Decade: Tony Snell Slides into 7th

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The former Bucks marksman never lived up to his extension

Brooklyn Nets v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Tony Snell, whose island I still own a small hatched hut upon, has emerged as the next contract in this endeavor. I think there’s an argument to be made that Snell offered more than O.J. Mayo did on his 3-year, $24M deal given his defensive capability and fit within the team construct, but he also fit the Bucks’ bill as an overpay to re-sign a player they felt was an ideal fit *cough* Miles Plumlee *cough*. Jon Horst used his first taste of power to follow right in his predecessor’s footsteps with that one. Let’s break down what ultimately went wrong with Snell’s contract to land him among this ignominious list anyway.

Snell came into the league as a wing player with 6’7” frame and 7’ wingspan that made him a prototype 3-and-D weapon on both ends of the floor. Reading through his scouting report from DraftExpress (RIP), it’s almost freaky how accurate most of it turned out to be after he entered the league. This sentence in particular feels like a proper summation of Snell in the pros:

Despite his smooth outside shooting stroke and strong physical tools, Snell wasn’t overly productive as a college player at New Mexico, as he seemed to lack a degree of assertiveness and toughness.

Selected 20th by the Chicago Bulls, Snell struggled from beyond the arc his first year (32.1%) before finding his stroke in subsequent seasons. Still, reports were that he never quite jived with Fred Hoiberg in 2015-16, and eventually struggled to stay in his rotation. With the 2016-17 season about to get underway, John Hammond jettisoned the Michael Carter-Williams experiment to the Bulls to snatch Snell away from a season where his role would clearly be diminished.

His first year in Milwaukee, Snell averaged 10.5 points per-36 and 40.6% from deep on 5.5 attempts per game. The latter figure was a leap forward for him after shooting in the mid-to-high 30’s with Chicago. He became a reliable long-range sniper, whirling around screens and dependably knocking it down to stretch the floor. In fact, Snell immediately slotted into the starting shooting guard spot and didn’t relinquish it the entire year, starting 80 games and playing the second most minutes on the team that season behind Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Recall that this was the year Khris Middleton missed over half the season with his hamstring issue, so the Bucks were in need of a floor-spacer and someone who could drill threes with consistency. They also needed a defensive wing who could fill in for Middleton. Acquiring Snell was an underrated shrewd move from Hammond’s history, particularly given they didn’t succumb to the sunk-cost fallacy and keep Carter-Williams longer than they should’ve. In 2016-17, Snell had the highest true shooting percentage on the team (60.3%) and averaged the most points per game of his career (8.5). He was also lights out against the Raptors in the Playoffs, shooting 51.3% from deep and averaging 10 points per game during that six-game stretch.

In retrospect, it certainly hurt the Bucks’ negotiation leverage that Snell was able to step into the spotlight with Middleton out, rather than emerge as the key bench player he was destined to become. After that season, as newly minted GM Jon Horst’s first move, he inked Tony Snell to a 4-year, $44 million dollar deal, with incentives that could move it to $46 million.

At the time, I thought it seemed reasonable. Snell fit into the team concept of plopping shooters around Giannis; heck, their chemistry was so crisp together they named one of their key sets literally around Snell, the DHO on the wings that would turn into an automatic triple called “The Tony Snell Play.” He was a sniper on handoffs. In 2016-17, handoffs were 13.1% of his possessions and he ranked in the 93rd percentile in terms of efficiency. Unfortunately, that efficiency curtailed somewhat in 2017-18 on handoffs to just 40th percentile, and his per-36 figures dropped too despite playing similar minute totals. Snell rarely, if ever, got to the rim, and he attempted just 21% of his shots there in 17-18, ranking in the 30th percentile among wings per Cleaning The Glass. His 3-point shooting remained elite, but the Bucks, or Snell himself, was never able to take that one skill and make it a deadly fulcrum they could depend upon.

His PER was piddly year after year, illustrating his one-dimensional game, as it rarely moved above 10 (~15 is league average). As a rebounder, despite his length and size, only one year in his career has his defensive rebounding percentage ticked above the 50th percentile for wings, the 2015-16 season. From a team perspective, it wasn’t until Bud’s first campaign that the Bucks had a positive net rating with Tony Snell on the court, after having -1.8 and -0.9 respectively his first two campaigns. During his two years in Milwaukee with the elevated contract, he ranked 6th on the team in terms of salary in 2017-18 and ‘18-19. While I’ve never thought of it as a gross overpay, it was clear in Bud’s first campaign after he got injured and essentially lost his bench role, that Snell’s one-dimensional game may not fit perfectly within Bud’s pass, dribble, shoot ecosystem.

Snell seemed like the kind of wing that could thrive under Bud’s 3-point happy system, but his 3-point attempt rate actually dropped that season. Bud doesn’t overly rely on players whirling around screens, and Snell didn’t seem like he had the dribbling acumen to work within Bud’s preference for guards to use some read-and-react principles.

Lots of teams strive for the Miami Heat development system, but Snell seems like someone who would’ve thrived from their principles. Zach Lowe discussed on a podcast how the Heat basically told Duncan Robinson to work exclusively on his elite 3-point shooting ability, to polish it to the point that teams had to respect him everywhere. They had used Wayne Ellington a few years earlier as a whirling dervish 3-point gunner.

Given Bud’s pedigree developing wings in Atlanta, it always puzzled me why Snell couldn’t up his usage to the point that he may justify his contract. It seems like that original scouting report may have proved almost too prescient. The Bucks jettisoned Snell in the summer of 2019 to Detroit, attaching their first round selection, in order to clear some cap space and sign their impending free agents.

From the Archives

Here’s what Mitchell and myself had to say at the time:

The success of this deal will largely rely on whether he can keep up his superb perimeter shooting skills from last season. He will most likely never be someone able to create off the dribble, but Snell recognized his role wholeheartedly and embraced it. You can’t always say that about a young player, and the fact he wants to remain in Milwaukee to hopefully improve upon his success thus far speaks to a high opinion of the organization. Snell seems like a logical first signing, much like the Middleton signing on the eve of midnight two years ago. Let’s hope this one still looks half as good as that one two years from now.


Brew Hoop Worst Contract of the Last Decade Ranking

10. Ersan Ilyasova (2012; 5-year, $40M; team option last year)

9. O.J. Mayo (2013; 3-year, $24M)

8. Mirza Teletovic (2016; 3-year, $31.5M)

7. Tony Snell (2017; 4-year, $44M)

Let’s keep this train rolling on:

Poll

What is the BEST Bucks contract out of this bad bunch?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    2010 John Salmons (5-year, $39M; partially guaranteed last year)
    (39 votes)
  • 11%
    2010 Drew Gooden (5-year, $32M)
    (16 votes)
  • 20%
    2013 Larry Sanders (4-year, $44M)
    (29 votes)
  • 24%
    2015 John Henson (4-year, $44M)
    (34 votes)
  • 12%
    2016 Matthew Dellavedova (4-year, $38.5M)
    (17 votes)
  • 4%
    2016 Miles Plumlee (4-year, $52M)
    (6 votes)
141 votes total Vote Now

This poll will close Friday, May 15 at midnight.