The NBA season is getting ready to tip off in just over a week, and two central division rivals shook the rosters up in the middle of the preseason. The Milwaukee Bucks sent point guard Michael Carter-Williams to Chicago for swingman Tony Snell.
It is not often that teams trade within the division, but not many players have been as polarizing as Michael Carter-Williams. Some talent evaluators see him as the jack-of-all-trades distributor who can be a defensive menace as he was for Philadelphia during his rookie season in 2013-2014, in which he was named Rookie of the Year. Others see a ball-dominant point guard who can be turnover-prone and has yet to show any ability to shoot from outside of ten feet on a consistent basis. Snell, on the other hand, is a relative unknown. The 2013 first round pick has been buried on the bench for the Bulls, who have a log jam on the wing.
Whether Snell couldn’t find the court because he has been stuck behind players like Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler, or because he just is not a very good NBA player, remains to be seen. In either case, a change of scenery appears to be welcome for both players, but what impact could these players have in their new teams?
For the Bucks:
The initial trade for Carter-Williams left some pundits scratching their heads. The Bucks sent Brandon Knight to Phoenix as part of a three-team deal and received Carter-Williams, along with Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee. Plumlee remains the only player left on the roster from that deal and it was clear by midseason last year the Bucks were struggling to find a rhythm offensively with MCW at the helm.
While he gave the Bucks a major plus defensively with his ability to switch and guard bigger players, Carter-Williams’ inability to shoot clogged an already crowded paint with non-shooters Giannis Antetokoumpo and Greg Monroe on the court. Speaking of Giannis, Jason Kidd unleashed a new lineup when Carter-Williams was out with an injury that featured Antetokoumpo as the primary ball handler. The man known as the Greek Freak went on a post-All Star break tear where he racked up triple-doubles left and right. He was somewhere between space-aged Magic Johnson and young LeBron James.
While it is unfair to compare anyone to those two players, Giannis showed flashes that left people with their jaws on the floor. By moving away from Carter-Williams, it is a signal from management that they feel strongly about a Giannis-centric offensive philosophy. The addition of Matthew Dellavadova and Mirza Teletovic fit in that offense as players that can space the floor around Giannis drives. The Bucks tinkered with Carter-Williams running the second unit last season, but those minutes were often filled with clunky offensive possessions centered on Carter-Williams isolations.
The loss of Khris Middleton leaves the Bucks in an awkward spot as far as realistically being a playoff contender, and it is conceivable that they would view Snell as someone who could help fill that void. However, there is not much on Snell’s NBA resume that would suggest he is capable of playing at that level. The trade is more about removing Carter-Williams from the roster and committing to Giannis as the focal point of their offense.
For the Bulls:
This is a head-scratching move for a team has been full of them since the 2016 season ended. With the league placing more and more value on shooting and small lineups, the Bulls seemed to have gone in the opposite direction. After bringing in much-maligned point guard Rajon Rondo, the Bulls shelled out 25 million dollars a year to 35-year-old Dwyane Wade. The on court chemistry of those two with and guard Jimmy Butler already posed a daunting spacing task.
Adding Carter-Williams’ broken jumper to that mix feels like doubling down on a point of weakness. There is logic to say that the Bulls needed a point guard to guide the second unit, but as previously stated Carter-Williams struggled in that role for the Bucks last season. His defensive ability should pair nicely with Butler, as both Rondo and Wade have been subpar defensive players in the last couple seasons. However, his ball-dominant nature sharply contrasts with Butler, Wade, and Rondo so pairing him with one or more of those players will bog down an offense that struggled mightily in Fred Hoiberg’s first season.
This move thrusts even more pressure on Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott to provide the bulk of the three-point shooting for a team sorely lacking in that category. Losing Snell is essentially negligible because he struggled to hold down a rotation spot during last season. The Bulls are one of the most difficult teams to try and predict because Rondo and Wade are complete wild cards. Wade’s health has been declining, but as he showed in the playoffs against Charlotte and Toronto he can still turn the clock back and hit big shots. Rondo, for all of his antics, has shown he can at least have good box score production, but those may be just empty numbers for a terrible Sacramento team. The addition of Carter-Williams only muddies an already uncertain outlook for a team trying to fight their way back into the contention in the Eastern Conference.