I believe in John Salmons

There are several things that worry me about the 2009-10 Bulls season. The first-half schedule. Vinny Del Negro’s coaching. Luol Deng’s ability to return from injury and regain his 2006-07 form. Tyrus Thomas’ maturity, decision-making and proclivity for jump-shooting. The continuing lack of an inside scoring threat. Defensive rebounding. Team defense in general.

One thing I’m not all that worried about is the loss of Ben Gordon. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll miss BG, and so (at times) will the Bulls. He was a warrior, a fearless scorer, and a true joy to watch…when he wasn’t forcing up bad shots and getting backed down by bigger guards on defense. But the reason I’m not sweating his exodus to Detroit is because I believe in his replacement. I believe in John Salmons.

(Quick segue: I hate the fact that many so-called experts have claimed either that the Bulls didn’t replace Gordon or they replaced him with Jannero Pargo. The Bulls brought in Ben’s replacement last season when they traded for Salmons. Management had, for years, been searching for a bigger guard who could both score and play defense. That is, after all, why they drafted Thabo Sefolosha. So if you think about it, replacing Gordon with a player like Salmons was part of the long-term game plan all along.)

Last season, Salmons set new personal bests in several categories: Minutes Per Game (37.5), Points Per Game (18.3), Three-Point Percentage (41.7), Free Throw Percentage (83.0), Effective Field Goal Percentage (53.0), Offensive Rating (113), Win Shares (5.6) and Player Efficiency Rating (16.0). He also tied or nearly tied his career marks in Field Goal Percentage (47.2), Rebounds Per Game (4.2), Assists Per Game (3.2) and Steals Per Game (1.1). Clearly, even though he struggled at the end and in the playoffs due to a lingering groin injury, it was a career season for Salmons.

However, the general consensus seems to be that he can’t possibly repeat the performance, that he will inevitably take a step back. Maybe even a big step back. Why? Why is that such a sure thing? Most people point to the fact that some of his numbers took such a sharp step up (such as PPG, which went from 12.5 in 2007-08 to 18.3 in 2008-09). But was Salmons’ improvement really that much of a surprise? It shouldn’t have been.

Last season was Salmons’ first as a full-time starter. It was the first time he received a starter’s minutes and starter’s shot attempts…for a full season. However, you should check out the splits for his 2007-08 season with the Kings. Due to a variety of injuries to his teammates, Salmons started a then-career-high 41 games that season. As a starter, he put up numbers quite similar to last season’s career-year: 38.1 MPG, 17.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.6 SPG, 49.7 FG%, 38.5 3P%. Unfortunately for Salmons, when his teammates returned from injury, he returned to the bench. Obviously, his numbers dropped like a stone.

The point is, last season’s seemingly out-of-nowhere performance wasn’t as out-of-nowhere as it seemed. Salmons had already shown what he could do as a featured player, but he did it for only half a season on a pretty awful Kings team that nobody outside of Sacramento was watching. I guess it’s not too surprising that few people noticed or even cared.

If you look at the numbers and his skill set — good shooter, capable of penetration, can finish or draw the foul, solid on defense — then you can see it’s not really a foregone conclusion that Salmons is going to regress this season. He is, after all, only 29 years old, which means he’s still in his athletic prime. He has to help fill the void created by a guy who scored 20+ PPG, which means he’s going to get minutes and shots. And if the second half of last season is any indication, the Bulls will probably be an up-tempo team this season, which is always good for stats. Furthermore, Salmons is going to be a key component of the defensive game plan (and I say that hoping there actually will be a defensive game plan).

Last, but certainly not least, is the fact that Salmons will probably opt out of his contract after this season. If that’s the case, he has pretty strong incentive to play at his absolute best in order to maximize any potential payday he’ll receive next summer. He’ll be 30 years old by then, which means this is most likely his last and best chance for a fat contract.

So yeah, I believe in John Salmons. I bet that, soon, you’ll believe in him too.

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8 Responses to I believe in John Salmons

  1. hankus14@gmail.com'
    Hank October 27, 2009 at 1:27 pm #

    Outstanding points Matt. I was making some of them (albeit at a lower decibel level during the playoffs) that Salmons is an upgrade at the 2 and that Gordon’s impending departure was actually a good thing. It improves our team defense (when we decide to play some) and it adds a scorer who can both shoot and finish at the rim. Gordon for all his great game ending shots was a defensive liability who was usually one of the reasons why a last second shot was even necessary. I loved watching him play but the Bulls are Rose’s team now and it did not seem to me that Gordon either agreed with that and/or intended to change his game to better complement Rose’s strengths. I’m just hoping the Raptors tank so we have a shot at Bosh next year and maybe, assuming enough cap space, the ability to add a Joe Johnson to replace Salmons.

  2. macalo07@gmail.com'
    Calogero October 27, 2009 at 2:29 pm #

    im more concerned about salmons’ spike in 3 point% last year… his career high before last year in 3% for a season was 35.7%, in 07-08 he shot a meager 32.5% from 3, and last year he shot up to 41.7% from deep. Sure, he is in his prime and will certainly be motivated by his ability to opt out after this year, but I really hope he’s actually figured out how to shoot and that his gaudy 3 point shooting last year doesn’t regress.

    Also I’m going to have to dispute your contention that he is “solid on defense.” He won’t get backed down like you claim Gordon was (and really, I was always ok with Gordon’s defensive limitations being in size rather than quickness considering how few 2 guards have good post games), but Salmons is rather slow for a two guard and I have trouble believing he’ll be able to keep most 2 guards in the league in front of him.

  3. macalo07@gmail.com'
    Calogero October 27, 2009 at 2:35 pm #

    Also I don’t really see how Salmons can “replace” Gordon when he, you know, played with Gordon last year. Deng is technically the guy that has to replace Gordon (since Deng essentially went out the moment Salmons got here), and Lu hasn’t looked fully back yet. Plus, Deng can’t really shoot 3′s, whereas both Salmons and Gordon could last year, so it’ll be interesting to see how Deng and Salmons work together; it could conceivably work better than Salmons/Gordon did together, but to do that we’re going to need the healthy, 06-07 Deng back.

  4. bullsbythehorns@gmail.com'
    Matt McHale October 27, 2009 at 2:51 pm #

    Calogero — As I pointed out, Salmons shot nearly 39 percent from downtown when he started in 2007-08, so the apparent jump wasn’t as far out of range as it seemed. When players get more shot opportunities, they are better able to find their rhythm and therefore shoot a higher percentage. I still believe Salmons can shoot around 40-ish percent.

    Salmons is replacing Gordon at SG, just as Deng is effectively replacing Salmons at SF. And I agree with you, that for everything to work, Deng has to stay healthy and play like he did a few seasons ago. And yes, I’m worried about whether or not he can do that. But I’m not worried that Salmons can provide similar production to what he did last year.

    It’s also worth noting, and I meant to mention this in the post, that if you check out Salmons production last season as a King and as a Bull, the numbers are almost identical. This means his production remained constant despite switching systems, teammates, etc. To me, that’s a good sign. If there has been a major deviation one way or the other, I would have been worried.

  5. nussbaum.jb@gmail.com'
    Jb October 27, 2009 at 3:23 pm #

    I believe in “loving it live”.

  6. bscholtens@hotmail.com'
    Brad S. October 27, 2009 at 6:02 pm #

    Whatever, Matt. You totally missed the biggest news of the day: Byars made the Team!!!

  7. tc643@hotmail.com'
    Tony C. October 28, 2009 at 12:55 am #

    Couldn’t agree more. Salmons is likely to have a fine season. It’s VDN that I remained concerned about. He was a very bad coach last year, and I’m not at all optimistic that he will improve significantly this season.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    [...] a personal level, I’m bummed about the Salmons trade. I like the guy, and I hope he succeeds in Milwaukee. I’m also¬†mildly put off that the Bulls couldn’t [...]

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