Let’s do some comparing and contrasting.
Player A averaged 18.3 points two years ago, but has never been within two points of that total for any other entire season of his career. He came into the league as a point guard but quickly moved over to the wing in his rookie season. His career assist percentage is 15.5, so he’s seen as a guy who keeps the ball moving on offense. Solid is the word that most often describes his defense. He’s not a bad guy to have around and he can occasionally carry a team.
Player B is a serious scoring threat. Per 36 minutes, he’s averaged 20 points for his career. A stat-geek’s best friend, his true shooting percentage and PER are always better than league average. Though he’s traditionally not a strong outside shooter, he’s made better than 36% of his threes this season. With each new stop, his defensive reputation precedes him and he’s seen as selfish offensively, despite a sterling locker room reputation.
Player A has played at least 30 minutes in all but six games he’s played in this season, while Player B has managed only 13 such games this season, his most recent coming February 11.
By now, you know I’m referring to John Salmons and Corey Maggette. At least you probably know, and you probably knew immediately. But you’re probably wondering why I’d be comparing these two. Salmons has spent the majority of his season at the two, while Maggette is more a three. Whenever Carlos Delfino has been healthy this season, he’s been Maggette’s main competitor for minutes, not Salmons. But this isn’t about competition. It’s actually about last season and how sample size affected the Bucks.
For 30 games last season, John Salmons was everything the Bucks could have ever wanted at the two guard. He slashed, he finished, he made threes, he found teammates and he closed out games. More than anyone else, Salmons was responsible for the team that earned the Fear The Deer moniker and had everyone talking about the Bucks. This was the second season in a row that Salmons took off after a mid-February trade, so there was some reason to be skeptical regarding how productive he would be in the season following. But he seemed such a natural fit for Scott Skiles wing reliant offense. He could create and score, that’s an ideal Skiles two guard.
This season, the bottom has fallen out for Salmons. He showed up to training camp and immediately suffered a knee injury. He missed all of pre-season and still occasionally seems as though he hasn’t recovered. Any explosion he had last season looks sapped and all of the difficult shots he so regularly made last season haven’t gone down this one. After hitting 47% of his shots for the Bucks last season, Salmons has made just 40% this season.
The most frustrating moments with Salmons come on nights like Saturday. In a meaningless game, Salmons drops in 19 points and eight assists, but ends up with two turnovers and a missed shot in the final 5:33. The Bucks have needed him to step up all season, and occasionally have gotten terrific overall lines that indicate he’s moving the ball and playing well, but haven’t gotten the same fourth quarter production out of him. But that hasn’t changed much about Salmons role.
He’s still relied on nearly heavily as he was last season, as evidenced by only a slight drop in his usage with the Bucks last season to this one (22.7 to 20.8). And his minutes haven’t much been impacted either. After averaging 37.6 minutes per game with the Bucks for the final 30 last year, he’s notched 35 minutes per game this season, despite being significantly less productive.
So that begs the question: What would Salmons have to do to land in Maggette’s predicament? Walk off the court? Gain possession and roll the ball out of bounds continuously? Last season’s stretch run seems to have bought Salmons an incredible amount of faith, as much as any other player on the Bucks. 40, 50 and 60 game samples this season have largely resulted in an unproductive set of data regarding Salmons, but he’s continued to receive big minutes for a team that hasn’t been performing.
This probably speaks to how desperate things have been for the Bucks and how little other shooting guards on the team have stepped up. The opportunity has been there for Chris Douglas-Roberts, but he apparently hasn’t done enough to earn his coach’s trust. And I’m not speaking solely in terms of what’s going on on the court. Something that John Salmons is doing each and every day is keeping him on the court for big minutes. Coach Skiles and players on the team have spoken about this group not being prepared on a number of occasions this season. Perhaps Salmons is taking those steps while the Bucks reserves haven’t quite figured out how to keep themselves as ready mentally and physically as their coach would prefer.
Whatever the case may be, Milwaukee’s suffered badly at the shooting guard this season as Salmons has struggled. For now, it’s easy to look back on that 30 game sample and curse the good fortune that came with it. But perhaps there is a silver lining. After seeing what hasn’t worked this season, maybe the Bucks will address their depth issues and find a more productive backup guard, ready to push Salmons if he slumps again next season. Maybe the Bucks will luck out in the lottery and find a swingman equally as capable of the scoring and distributing duties Salmons once took to so easily. If that’s the case, this season will be the aberration.
But however you want to look at it, there’s been no comparing this season’s Bucks to last season’s. And that starts with John Salmons.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Become a fan on Facebook (right sidebar).