Michael Carter-Williams is a reliable perimeter defender capable of contributing in either backcourt slot. He is also an offensively challenged guard with shooting woes that often overshadow his versatility.
For a Milwaukee Bucks team that had placed Carter-Williams on the trading block months ago, the recent loss of sharpshooting guard Khris Middleton further accelerated the Syracuse product’s inevitable departure.
The Bucks finally found a suitor for Carter-Williams, sending the fourth-year guard to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for swingman Tony Snell. Entering his fourth season in the NBA as well, Snell joins a cast of players looking to fill the void created by Middleton’s left hamstring injury that is expected to keep the starting shooting guard out for most of the 2016-17 season.
Although he has averaged a modest 5.3 points per game throughout his three years in the NBA, Snell’s arrival could help quell concerns about the team’s shaky shooting-guard situation. Milwaukee has been using the preseason to test out myriad lineups, and there is no indication yet as to whom will fill Middleton’s starting role while he is sidelined for roughly the next five months.
Free-agent signees Jason Terry and Matthew Dellavedova are NBA champions capable of logging minutes on the wing, but Terry is 39 years old and Dellavedova will likely spend the majority of his time at the point. First-round pick Malcolm Brogdon looks to have a bright future ahead, but has also yet to play in a meaningful NBA game. Second-year guard Rashad Vaughn will have a chance to show improvement after an inconsistent rookie season, and if he does not, will struggle to find his way onto the court.
Among this mix, Snell’s skill set gives him an opportunity to thrive.
Snell’s most recognizable asset is his catch-and-shoot ability from behind the three-point line, which is crucial considering that Middleton shot 39.6 percent from long-range while leading the team in scoring last season. Snell leaves much to be desired with his game inside the arc, aside from his rim-finishing potential, but fortunately, the Bucks will not be asking him to do much else. With budding stars Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo providing a serious inside scoring threat, he is able to remain in his comfort zone on the outside while receiving a plethora of open looks.
But what will allow Snell to remain on the court for significant stretches of time — and could eventually secure him the starting job until Middleton returns — is his underrated defensive ability.
Regardless of his offensive troubles, Carter-Williams provided Milwaukee with solidity on defense, something the team is lacking on the wing with Middleton out. Brogdon earned ACC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors as a senior at Virginia last season, generating optimism. As most rookies learn, though, the learning curve can be particularly steep on the defensive end.
While Snell is far from an elite defender, he is the most proven option the team has.
His statistics are not gaudy, but more important is the notion that he is not a defensive liability. He has also displayed flashes of greatness, like the time in February 2015 when he delivered a dominant defensive performance while outplaying LeBron James.
Snell turns 25 years old next month, and even when Middleton returns, has the potential to be a key contributor for the Bucks going forward. In the meantime, he will provide some much-needed relief on the perimeter.