Salmons: One season fluke?

Was John's season a fluke? 

I've seen this the question asked quite a few times.  A player suddenly shooting the ball better at age 29 does raise serious questions, but I think there's a decent chance it's not a fluke. Lets take a look his shooting the last few years in Sacramento and with the Bulls courtesy of 82games.




Att. eFG% Ast'd Att. eFG% Ast'd Foul%
Bulls 73% 50% 51% 27% 66% 50% 13%
Sac 09
68% 47% 40% 32% 63% 36% 13%
2007/08 58% 42% 39% 42% 63% 35% 14%
2006/07 66% 43% 43% 34% 63% 45% 14%


The numbers that should jump out right away is his FG% on close shots.  63% for three straight seasons.  That's impressive efficiency around the basket.  And he's getting to the basket for a good % of his shots.  Gordon had an 80/20 split on his FGA for comparison.  So at the very least John will finish around the basket as well as any Bull.

It is true that he's only put up one really strong 3-point shooting season, but he was consistent all season long with his shooting.  He never shot worse than 37% in any full month this season, and shot at least 43% from 3 in his other 5 full months.  And he shot the ball pretty well from nearly every spot on the floor.  Prior to this season, Prior to this season John was a break even 3-point shooter at 33%, rather than a horrible 3-point shooter.  Visually it looks like he's developed a consistent, but unorthodox, trigger mechanism for his shot, but he obviously doesn't have a Ben Gordon like track record. .

The focus has been on John's improved shooting, but nearly as important was a career best turnover rate.  And the shooting and drop in turnover rate are likely connected.  This season in Sacramento 24% of his FGA were 3PA, and he was assited on 62% of his 3PM.  In 07/08 14% of his FGA were 3PA and 89% of John's 3PM were assisted.  That at least suggests that the pull up three he took often this season either never almost never went in or simply wasn't a part of his game prior to this season

In 07/08 and 08/09 in Sacramento, Salmons took the same % of 2P jump shots, had the same FG% on those shots, and the same assist% on those shots.



2P Jumpers
Inside Shots

Att. FG% AST% Att. FG% AST% Att. FG% AST%
2008/09 24 0.418 62 43% 0.388 26 31 0.63 36
2007/08 14 0.331 89 43% 0.387 4 41 0.625 35


And he had the same FG% on side shots with the same AST%, but a quarter of his forays to the basket ilkely became those pull up 3-point attempts.  If he's shooting 40% on 3PA that's a reasonable tradeoff because it was that reduction in drives to the basket that likely led to a signifcant decline in turnovers.  In Chicago he took even more 3PA and his turnovers dropped even more.

Something that caught my eye almost  immediately is how much Salmons was assisted in Chicago compared to Sacramento. It's a fairly large jump, and I wouldn't have thought that Salmons was assisted on half of his shots in Chicago.  For comparison Gordon was assisted on 47% of jumpers and 38% of close shots.  At least part of the reason for the jump is Salmons getting a lot more assisted transition baskets with the Bulls, and the other part is more assisted 3s because he wasn't a primary ball handler in Chicago.

Much of John's game has been very consistent from year.  Improving his shooting allowed him to cut his turnovers, and turned him into a starting caliber player for the 1st time in his career.  So why did he shoot 41% o 3PA this season?  The stats suggest either he made changes mechanically that allowed him to make jumpers with consistency, or that with Artest gone and Kevin Martin out injured he was able to play big minutes as a #1 scoring option for the 1st time.  Which would have meant getting to take those 1 on 1  pull up 3s on a consistent basis instead of being put in catch and shoot situations as a reserve role player.  Salmons shot 41% on 3PA this year, but he still didn't appear to be an effective catch and shoot player.  It's probably a little of both.  He's an odd player, but I don't expect his shooting to be a fluke if he's allowed to do his thing.  If he's asked to conform to a system or asked to play a limited role off the bench where he can't get his 1 on 1 opportunities in the flow of the game there's a much greater chance that he reverts to the 33% 3P shooter and mediocre player.  You can live with John's style of play when it comes within the rythm of the game, but it's not what you really want from a guy coming off the bench.

Can the Bulls survive with Salmons at SG?

I've seen questions about his ability to play SG, and I believe there were reports out of Sacramento at the time of the trade that he played better at SF.  But at least according to 82games Salmons has at the very least not played any worse at SG.





22 17.2 17.2
2008/09 18 17.4 21.6 30 18 17.1
2007/08 39 16.7 15.5 22 14.6 16.8
2006/07 26 14.5 15.3 23 12.8 17.6


His opponents PER this season in Sacramento wasn't good at SG, but it looks like a fluke compared to the rest of his career.  Salmons appears to be a player that gives up about the amount that he produces.  (In looking at the opp PER numbers, you should keep in mind that Salmons likely played most of his minutes at SG with Artest on the floor in 06/07 and 07/08, and played SF with defensive liability Kevin Martin on the floor)  

The other question at least in my mind is can you afford to play Salmons at SF if you dump Deng.  There were obviously long stretches where the Bulls were very effective offensively letting Gordon and Salmons take turns.  The team scored an impressive 113.8 pts per 100 possessions in Salmons minutes in Chicago.  But, playing Rose, Gordon, and Salmons is an unsustainable defensive disaster for a good team.  The Bulls also gave up 112.7 points per 100 poss with Salmons on the floor.  It's obviously not just the fault of Salmons.  When Rose and/or Gordon was on the floor the team also gave up at least 110 pts per 100 poss.  Salmons played about 75% of his minutes with Gordon and the team scored 105 points and gave up 104 points per 48 minutes in their minutes together.  Rose, Gordon, and Salmons on the floor together is too poor defensively to be sustainable over the course of a season.  Unfortunately Salmons just doesn't rebound well enough or contribute enough to the team defense to be starting at SF along with Gordon and Rose.  If it was a different starting SG and PG than Rose and Gordon then starting Salmons at SF would be more feasible.

Going forward the Bulls can survive next season with Salmons at starting at SG.  Defensively it's a good place to place him, especially in the East with all the big starting SGs.  It's easier defensively for him to start at SG and then slide over during the game to backup the SF because most teams go smaller and quicker off the bench in the backcourt.  That aren't a ton of starting SGs whose biggest threat is dribble oenetration.  There are also less help responsibilities defensively at SG, especially if he's assigned to stay with a shooter.  And offensively playing SG or SF hasn't really made any difference to Salmons based on his past history.  Salmons can't replace Gordon's offense by himself, but he can at least fill the void enough that the Bulls can make up the difference in other areas, particularly on defense.

  I see a lot proposed lineups with everyone back or at least Gordon and Deng starting, and Salmons coming off the bench.  That's not something that's likely to work well for Salmons.  There's a reason Sacramento has always been worse defensively with him on the floor, and that he was also an offense killer until this season.  Bringing his offensive style into an already established game flow is a recipe for offensive distruption, and he has to score well enough to justify that distrubtion.  And normally bringing a mediocre player off the bench isn't a big deal, but Salmons is the type of player that actively hurts his team with his mediocre play because of his ball dominance and turnover issues.   I find myself in the strange position of being relatively content with Salmons starting at SG, but wanting no part of him as a starting SF or bench player.

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