Who do you want your offense to run through with the game on the line? Counting down from 30th to 1st (one per team), I’ve ranked the League’s go-to guys…
JOHN SALMONS, Milwaukee Bucks
For the most part, NBA teams will do one of two things when it’s high-pressure time to get a bucket: (1) High screen-and-roll with their best playmaker and their best big man, (2) Iso for their best 1-on-1 scorer. Or, if you’re the Spurs, you might run an actual play that requires more than two guys to move. But it’s those first two options that make the Bucks so tough to figure out when it came to identifying a go-to guy.
It was the screen-and-roll threat (plus Golden State’s inability to defend the most simple play in basketball) that allowed Brandon Jennings to drop 55 points in one game last season. It was the same threat that allowed Andrew Bogut to post All-Star caliber numbers and emerge as one of the best centers in the League. And it was the 1-on-1 option that allowed John Salmons to shine during his half-season stint with Milwaukee. Weighing all three, I’d have to go with Salmons as option No. 1, with Jennings and Bogut running 1A and 1B, respectively.
Salmons was arguably the Bucks’ MVP last year. In his 30 regular-season games with the team following a deadline-day trade from Chicago, the 6-foot-6 wing averaged 19.9 points on 46.7 percent shooting from the field and 38 percent from three. The Bucks went 22-8 during that span, earning the 5th seed in the East while Jennings struggled with late-season inconsistency and Bogut went down with a catastrophic arm injury. With the Bucks, Salmons put up 33.6 points per 48 minutes of “clutch time” (according to 82games.com), 21st-best in the League.
And in the Bucks’ seven-game series loss to Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs, Salmons put up 21 ppg in the three contests Milwaukee won. In the four losses, his numbers dipped to 14 points a night.
Salmons is a professional scorer. He works best when you give him the ball and get out of the way, where he can create space for his pull-up jumper (his preferred move) or drive to the cup and finish with either hand. He is reliable at the line, too, hitting 86 percent of his free throws with Milwaukee.
Down the stretch in a close game, he can and will go shot-for-shot with the likes of Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Dwyane Wade. In his very first game with the Bucks, Salmons scored 19 on Detroit and hit a game-icing three with 15 seconds left, and afterwards admitted he didn’t know any of Scott Skiles‘ playbook. Four games later, after another crunch-time win over Indiana, Pacers coach Jim O’Brien said, “John Salmons was a stake in our heart. He made big plays down the stretch.”
While the top-heavy Eastern Conference doesn’t have room right now for the Bucks to be a serious threat beyond the second round of the playoffs, Milwaukee is on the come-up. Jennings is the marketable face of the franchise, Bogut is the rock in the middle, but Salmons is the one who, more than the other two, will swing the balance on whether the team wins or loses.
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21. Rudy Gay (Grizzlies)
22. Stephen Jackson (Bobcats)
23. Baron Davis (Clippers)
24. Ben Gordon (Pistons)
25. Andre Iguodala (76ers)
26. Yao Ming (Rockets)
27. Mo Williams (Cavaliers)
28. Brook Lopez (Nets)
29. Andrea Bargnani (Raptors)
30. Michael Beasley (Timberwolves)