It’s kind of wacky how basketball works, isn’t it?
For those in need of a bit of a refresher on how Michael Carter-Williams ended up on the Milwaukee Bucks: The Milwaukee Bucks had Brandon Knight up until the trade deadline in 2015, and decided that they wanted to move him. It was never made clear why, but speculation was believing that Milwaukee wasn’t sold that he was going to be worth the cost of him signing with them again in the upcoming offseason (spoilers: he later inked a $70 million contract for five years with the Phoenix Suns that same year). Jason Kidd saw potential in Michael Carter-Williams, who was coming into the season after winning Rookie of the Year on a rebuilding Philadelphia 76ers team.
The deal broke down as follows:
Phoenix Suns received Brandon Knight (via Milwaukee)
Milwaukee Bucks received Michael Carter-Williams (via Philadelphia 76ers)
Philadelphia 76ers received the Los Angeles Lakers first round pick (via Phoenix Suns. It should be noted the pick is protected 1-3 in the 2017 draft, but unprotected in 2018)
The trade left a lot of people uncertain of who won: Suns fans were looking forward to getting that Lakers pick in the somewhat near future (albeit it still wouldn’t have come to fruition by 2016 and very well may not be usable until 2018), and Bucks fans felt like the front office might’ve undervalued Brandon Knight’s role on the team significantly
That’s the past, though. Since then it has become glaringly obvious that the Bucks have grown tired of Michael Carter-Williams, as he has steadily declined since his rookie campaign. The emergence of Giannis Antentokounmpo as the team’s primary ball handler on offense (the “point-forward”, if you will. I call him the Greek army knife) and the signing of Matthew Dellavedova as lock down defensive point guard further punctuate the team’s falling out of love with Carter-Williams.
Enter the Chicago Bulls, who can’t seem to quite the production out of Tony Snell that they had once hoped. It wasn’t always bad for Snell in Chicago: his defensive game was praised at one point by both Tom Thibodeau and Fred Hoiberg as well, and when he is able to shoot threes well, he can actually knock them down. In this second season with the Bulls, he shot a career-high 37% from three-point range. There were a handful of games where he actually looked like he could be a competent enough bench player for the Bulls and could come in to help space for the floor for the team. Snell ultimately lost having quality minutes by the beginning of March 2016, when he began consistently getting DNP’s after poor performances in his previous games.
Who won the trade?
What makes this trade confusing on the Chicago Bulls end is that they really don’t need another guard who can’t shoot the ball well. Michael Carter-Williams is a career 41.2% shooter and shoots an abysmal 25.5% from three. I guess if GarPax really wants to lean into the “screw spacing” mentality, the trade makes a bit of sense: Carter-Williams can absolutely be a decent defensive point guard and can move the ball well enough but how useful is that on a roster that already has issues with not having that many solid shooters that help space for the floor? The consistent talk surrounding the Chicago Bulls since the acquisitions of Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade has been questioning who is going to be able to help space the floor for the team? Nikola Mirotic is inconsistent, Doug McDermott still doesn’t seem to be quite there, and Paul Zipser, while having a really great name, is still a rookie. Michael Carter-Williams is a player who certainly has the potential to be a solid enough bench unit player, but with the current roster that will surround him on the Bulls, he doesn’t have much of a chance to flourish here in my view.
The Milwaukee Bucks are in desperate need of three-point shooting since it was announced that Khris Middleton would miss the entirety of the 2016-17 NBA Season. Additions of Mirza Teletovic and Matthew Dellavedova remedy this in a sense, but any additional help they can have is great. They were already horrible from three last season, ranking 30th in three point shots attempted and resting at 21st in three-point percentage. By adding Tony Snell, they’re adding a player who desperately needed a change of scenery from the situation that surrounded him in Chicago. When Snell had the opportunity to get consistent minutes and had patient coaching (from Thibodeau of all people), he showed off his potential. When he was on the chopping block for his spot on the bench, he played intimidated, lacked confidence, and was reckless driving to the basket as it wasn’t uncommon to see him get slapped with an offensive foul. He has the shooting ability for sure, but just needs a coach who is willing to let him grow a bit. Milwaukee provides him an opportunity to show off what he can do in a bench role, on a team that could very well fluctuate between being a low playoff seed or missing the postseason entirely. Their options were already limited, so adding Snell and moving Carter-Williams can be seen as a mostly harmless decision.
So who really wins this trade? Both teams are getting players that their former homes had grown frustrated with and showed no interest in continuing to try to work with (and with good reason, I suppose). Milwaukee ultimately got the better end of the deal in this trade, but it’s not necessarily because I feel Tony Snell is the better player, rather that he is able to fit in with the teams current needs more.
It’s easy to consider the past surrounding all of this and laugh in saying that the Milwaukee Bucks essentially traded Brandon Knight for Tony Snell, but that is being insanely reductive. At the time, Michael Carter-Williams was a player who showed a lot of potential, and fit in well with the Bucks gimmick of having the NBA’s longest collective wingspan.
Over time, it has become apparent that Carter-Williams isn’t a starting caliber point guard.