Yesterday, Trill Will stole my idea for a post and wrote about John Salmons, complete with a terrible title. Not to belabor the point, but I’m going to follow up a little bit before I drop today’s gameday post.
While Will’s conclusion is that Salmons isn’t all that terrible – he’s a negative on offense and a positive on defense – I would tend to disagree. He is terrible.
I don’t need any statistics to back this up, but consider the following:
|John Salmons||Stat||Qualified NBA Rank (of 186)|
You want to know why Salmons plays over 20 minutes a game and is used as a secondary ballhandler on the second unit despite all evidence being contrary to the idea that he has offensive value? It’s that last column – Salmons doesn’t turn the ball over much, so he’s a safe play. He can dribble late in the shot clock without pissing himself.
He also doesn’t do anything with the ball – he doesn’t score well, he doesn’t facilitate well, and he doesn’t rebound. His average shot comes from 17.5 feet away, but the only time he ever scores is on threes, 92.1 percent of which have been assisted. He shoots just 26.7 percent on drives and 36.1 percent on pull-ups. And again, he doesn’t get assists. This late-clock creation or secondary ballhandling may exist, but it’s not effective. On offense, he is essentially a complete negative except as a spot-up floor-spacer.
The net result is disastrous for the Toronto Raptors offense.
With John Salmons on the floor, the Raptors score 102.8 points per 100 possessions. When Salmons sits, that number rockets to 108.8. That is the difference between a below-average offense and the league’s third best unit. And his gains on the defensive end don’t make up for it – the defense improves by 3.5 points per 100 possessions with Salmons, yes, but the team is 2.6 points per 100 possessions better without Salmons than with him.
There aren’t great options to replace him. I realize this. Nando De Colo or two-point guard lineups with Greivis Vasquez leave the team somewhat exposed defensively, Steve Novak can’t reliably slide to the three, and Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan can only play so much.
So it’s time to dust off Landry Fields.
I know, I know, he’s been terrible. In 113 minutes (post-trade) with him on the floor, largely garbage time, the team has been outscored, and he’s one of the only players on the team for which that’s true. That’s a really small sample, though, and it’s tough to evaluate a player when totalling up a bunch of 30-second garbage-time appearances.
On the two instances since his return from injury that Fields has played, he’s actually looked pretty good. He played 25 minutes in the team’s March 2 win against Golden State, hitting 4-of-5 from the floor and grabbing six rebounds. In the March 30 win against Orlando, he shot 2-of-3 with two rebounds and two steals in 17 minutes with a +12 rating.
I understand that FIelds has basically burned any goodwill remaining with Raptors fans, and I can’t guarantee he’ll be any better than Salmons. It’s simply too difficult to evaluate a post-op Fields given how little he’s played. But Fields at his worst has been a more effective offensive player than Salmons, thanks in part to the enormous rebounding edge he provides. I’m sure Dwane Casey has his reasons, and the last time I saw Fields shooting at practice, his shot still didn’t look “fixed” – he’s still 0-for-5 on threes for the season, a key area he was expected to provide value – and maybe his confidence isn’t back yet. Those are valid concerns.
However, Fields isn’t that far off of Salmons in terms of defense, with the ability to guard three spots to some degree of effectiveness. He’s not the pick-and-roll defender Salmons is, but he’s solid, more athletic, and a far superior rebounder. Whether the defensive drop-off with Fields is enough to warrant playing Salmons over him is unclear. There are no double-blind tests in sports, and it’s certainly possible to craft a rotation in which either would be a helpful fifth component.
However, the reason I’d like to see Fields dusted off for some additional run right now is because the cost of experimentation is about to sky-rocket. Come playoff times, rotations shrink (or should). Casey is likely going to employ a rotation that looks like this:
Guard: Lowry, Vasquez
Wing: DeRozan, Ross, Salmons
Bigs: Johnson, Valanciunas, Patterson
Specialist: Hayes, Hansbrough, Novak
An eight-man rotation is the norm in the playoffs, and a ninth option will probably only be used situationally – Novak for spacing, Hansbrough for shit-disturbing, Hayes if the team faces a post-up threat. But look at that rotation and tell me what part scares you the most. It’s undoubtedly Salmons.
I’m not suggesting I’d be any more comfortable with Fields in that rotation; I wouldn’t be, at present. But Salmons is very clearly the team’s weakest link right now, and with eight games to go, there’s little harm in giving Fields extended run to find out if he can strengthen that final rotation spot. Maybe the time off and the re-tooling of his shot can pay dividends; maybe he’ll be incredibly motivated to run with the opportunity; maybe he’ll do something other than hit an occasional open three.
The game’s played on both sides of the ball, and there’s value in reliability and savvy on the defensive end. There’s also value in not playing 4-on-5 on offense, and experimenting with Fields over the next few games has the potential to add some athleticism and energy to the rotation that Salmons can’t provide. It’s worth a shot now, while the cost of trying is low.