John Salmons: A tale of two Milwaukee Bucks shooting guards

Traditionally, success in the NBA is as simple as one, two, three: An alpha dog playmaker (Brandon Jennings), a bulldog big man (Andrew Bogut), and a third option capable of scoring in multiple ways (John Salmons). We were all witnesses to the Milwaukee Bucks at their best in 2009-10 under this formula.

That was then, and this is now, where the 2010-11 Milwaukee Bucks were a vast ocean of offensive impotence and underachievement.

The failures of Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut can at least be explained in part by youth and a barely functioning right arm. John Salmons entered the season $39 million richer and secure in his role as an adequate defender and clutch scorer.

But the fact is John Salmons had 73 games (70 starts) to get into some rhythm, ANY rhythm, and he did not do so until it really didn’t matter (see Salmons’ final 10 games). Of course, the obvious questions to ask are, “We expected regression, but why was it that bad?” and, “Can we reasonably expect Salmons to bounce back in 2011-12?”*

*Provided there’s a season, but let’s think happy thoughts…for now…

The good news is that Salmons posted just two career low statistics in 2010-11. The bad news is that both happened to concretely prove he failed miserably at his main offensive duty. Salmons shot 41.5% fg and had a 51% TS (true shooting), indicating that even when he was shooting his due shots, they sure as hell weren’t going in.

Luck is definitely a factor in determining a shooting percentage. Coach Scott Skiles even acknowledged that Salmons probably led the NBA in rimmed out shots, but shot selection and location have a much larger influence on a player’s success.

Salmons averaged 2.5 fewer shots and 1.8 fewer makes between his half-season stint with the Bucks to his first full season in Milwaukee. Many of Salmons’ scoring problems start and end with his hesitancy to penetrate and contentment with jumpers between 16-23 feet from the cup.

Salmons took considerably fewer shot attempts at the rim this season (1.3-2.4, 54.3% career low) compared to last (2.4-4.2, 57.6%). His 2.4 attempts were his lowest point over the past five years. Likewise, his percentage of three point plays decreased from 3.6% to 1.9%.

Salmons’ average number of mid-range shots between 16-23 feet increased from 3.3 to 3.6, but therein lies the crux of his shooting troubles. Salmons’ 46% shooting on long range twos in 2009-10 ranked third among all NBA shooting guards averaging 30 minutes or more per game, behind just Raja Bell and Stephen Jackson. His 35% shooting from that range in 2010-11 ranked third to last among NBA two guards (ahead of Kevin Martin and Jordan Crawford).

Salmons’ ability to get to the line was also a crucial part of his success in 2009-10, as he set career highs in free throw attempts (5.3), makes (4.6), and percentage (86.7%). A natural backslide will happen after a career year from a 30-year-old shooting guard. But Salmons regression to 3.3 free throw attempts per game, 2.7 makes, and 81.3% shooting from the line were actually above his career averages (2.1-2.6, 80.1%).

It could be argued that Salmons wasn’t capable of building a routine or getting into a rhythm from the start because of a knee injured suffered on the first day of training camp. Salmons later added a back and hip injury to complete his retirement home application, and you could also speculate that both body parts are crucial to a guard’s mobility off the dribble.

The most likely cause of John Salmons’ PER drop from 17.54 to 12.85 and scoring reduction (19.9 to 14) and general ineffectiveness was a perfect storm of a team-wide injury bug, a failure to stick to what made him $39 million richer, and becoming a known commodity around the NBA.

In 2009-10, John Salmons gave Bucks fans every reason for hope. In 2010-11, Salmons gave them every reason to doubt. Somewhere in between lies the truth about where Salmons’ career is headed and where it will take the Milwaukee Bucks.

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Tags: Andrew Bogut Brandon Jennings Bucks Defense Bucks Offense John Salmons John Salmons Shooting Milwaukee Bucks Scott Skiles

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