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Tony Snell or Ben McLemore: Who Plays?

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Which of the Blazers’ two new wings sees the court?

Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers have added to their wing core this offseason, luring Ben McLemore and Tony Snell on veteran minimum contracts. The pair share a few similarities — both were first round picks in 2013, play at similar positions, and shoot the three ball.

Great, but the Blazers need more than three-point shooting to get to where Damian Lillard wants to go. So buyer beware, these two signees will not be the antidote to the Blazers’ ailments.

Quick note, the reason why this piece does not feature a photo of both Snell and McLemore on the court at the same time is because there is no available photo of the two of them on the court at the same time. That might give you a clue as to how much two of Portland’s key signings have impacted the league to this point.

Failing Portland’s still-to-be-signed mandatory 14th player being an impact addition, the Blazers rotation seems set. Portland’s starters will be Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic with Larry Nance Jr., Cody Zeller, Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little guaranteed time off the pine.

This leaves only enough game time for one more wing in the rotation, perhaps playing less than 10 minutes a night. That one player will be one of Snell and McLemore. But which one and why?

Tony Snell

Snell, 29, has spent time with the Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks after being taken with the 20th pick in 2013. The former University of New Mexico sharpshooter recorded a ridiculous 57 percent from long range last season, but on a smallish 2.3 shots a game. This percentage could drop if he’s required to take a higher volume, but I’m not too concerned — his shooting form is so pretty it could have been designed by German engineers.

Measuring 6’6 with a 7’0 wingspan, Snell is capable of guarding shooting guards and small forwards. Given the glut of guards already on the Blazers roster, Snell will almost certainly be asked to play the latter, which is no issue considering the length and athleticism that has allowed him to play the majority of his minutes there since the 2018-19 season.

Last season, he started 23 of 47 games, averaging 21.1 minutes, but at times fell out of Atlanta’s crowded wing rotation, which included Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish, and De’Andre Hunter.

On offense, he isn’t much more than an incredibly reliable catch-and-shoot option but the Blazers don’t necessarily need him to be more than that given the limited number of minutes on offer.

Ben McLemore

Taken with the seventh selection out of the University of Kansas — three spots ahead of CJ McCollum — McLemore has played the lion’s share of his time with the Sacramento Kings, along with shorter stints with the Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets and most recently the Los Angeles Lakers.

McLemore becomes the fifth Blazer under 6’4 - joining Lillard, McCollum, Simons, and Powell — we’ve all heard this one before. McLemore is an undersized shooting guard and nowhere near capable of guarding larger wings/small forwards.

Last season, the 28-year-old shot 34.6 percent from three but improved this to almost 37 percent after being waived by the Rockets and signing with the Lakers in April. He started five of 53 games across both franchises, averaging just over 17 minutes a game.

Which leads to another salient point: while Snell has never been waived or bought out, McLemore has been cut twice, obviously the above instance and two years earlier, when his brief second stint with the Kings came to an end.

Conclusion

McLemore offers reliability from behind the three point line and some veteran savvy. But for a team that is severely undersized, another 6’3 guard lacking defensive acumen isn’t going to improve the league’s second worst defensive rating from 2020-21.

Snell offers far more for a team desperately needing to raise the bar on the defensive side of the ball. His length gives him a better chance at stopping some of the bigger wings, particularly those in the Western Conference, such as LeBron James and Paul George.

He won’t necessarily be called on to play more minutes than he did with the Hawks last season, so he may be able to keep his phenomenal three point percentage at that ridiculous rate.

And while we all know rookie coach Chauncey Billups said he doesn’t believe it’s all about three pointers, when you’ve got someone like Snell waiting in and on the wings, he’s almost guaranteed to get the nod.

Let’s be clear: these two players were brought into Portland on veteran minimum contracts, neither will likely close games, and, as such, won’t be responsible for the fate of this team. But if Billups was given an ultimatum forcing him to play one of the two, it will almost certainly be Snell.

Don’t get me wrong, there will be injuries and McLemore will play. But when the Blazers are fit and firing, it’s going to be hard to see him finding time, especially with yesterday’s addition of Nance Jr. to fortify the bench unit.