With last night’s “hang on for dear life” 2 point victory over the Indiana Pacers, the Milwaukee Bucks are now 5-0 since trading for John Salmons. It is tempting to conclude that John Salmons is responsible for the win streak. The trouble is, there isn’t any evidence to support that cause-and-effect relationship. The two events appear to be largely coincidental.
Salmons has played alright so far. He’s an upgrade at the shooting guard over Charlie Bell, but not a dramatic upgrade. He hasn’t set the world on fire by any means.
He scores points, but he uses too many shots to get those points (not by Brandon Jennings standards, but “Young Money” — btw, whatever happened to that lame ass nickname? — is on a whole different plane when it comes to wasting possessions). So Salmons scoring hasn’t been particularly effective.
And Salmons doesn’t do a heck of a lot else valuable on the stat sheet. He’ll mix in some assists, and generally he doesn’t turn the ball over, but he doesn’t rebound at all, and he doesn’t seem adept at garnering steals. And using Opponent Win Score and Basketball-Reference’s “Defensive Rating” as a measure of his defensive contribution, he hasn’t been any improvement over Charlie Bell on that end of the court either.
In short, John Salmons is pretty much the adequate contributor he was when he played for the Chicago Bulls. In fact, once I update the Bucks Win Chart (found on the Pages section of this blog), I think his Marginal Win Score so far with the Bucks will be about the same as it was with the Bulls, somewhere in the range of -0.73 or so.
Before I move on to what I think has been the real cause of the team’s improved play (besides the obvious improvement in Andrew Bogut’s play), I note that there is the possibility that the trading deadline moves, including the Salmons trade, are having a stronger than recognized indirect positive effect on the team’s play. In fact, there may be four positive substitution effects related to the trading deadline moves.
First, Salmons has taken Charlie Bell’s starting SG minutes in the rotation, and as mentioned, he is performing better than than Charlie Bell was performing in that role. So you have that substitution effect. Second, Charlie Bell has taken Jodie Meeks secondary backup SG spot in the rotation and since the trading deadline Bell has performed much better than Meeks had been performing. So you have that substitution effect as well. Third, the presence of Salmons, along with the earlier acquisition of Jerry Stackhouse, has virtually removed Luke Ridnour from spot duty at shooting guard, a position he was ill-suited to defend. So you have that third potential substitution effect. Finally, the trade of Hakim Warrick — who was a decent, but nothing better than decent power forward — has freed up more time at the position for the more productive Luc Moute and Ersan Ilyasova. So you have that fourth potential substitution effect as well.
And the last potential effect allows me to transition to the event that I think really turned the Bucks season around — Scott Skiles decision to insert Luc Moute into the starting power forward role, and to refrain from using him at the small forward. This one seemingly nonsensical move (Moute has the size and “effective height” of a shooting guard, not a power forward) has made a dramatic difference.
Scott Skiles inserted Moute into the starting power forward role for Game 40 against the Toronto Raptors on January 20th. Prior to that time Luc Moute had been underperforming his rookie MWS48 numbers and was scuffling along in the small forward role. The team was 16-22 on the season and seemingly headed nowhere.
Since the move was made, Luc Moute has completely turned his MWS48 numbers around and has strung together a series of heretofore unthinkably good games in a row, a streak which he continued last night. And, somehow, the move seems to have restored Andrew Bogut to the high level of play he exhibited last season when he also had Moute alongside him at the power forward spot. Since the move, the Bucks are 13-6, and they have won more games on the road during the short period (7) than they had won during the entire rest of the season (5). A remarkable turnaround.
Skiles must be given all credit for the move. It flew against conventional wisdom. As I said, Moute is way undersized for the power forward. And he was seemingly a valuable perimeter defender (I say “seemingly” because his defensive statistics actually did not match the high praise endorsements he was getting from the likes of Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant).
But Skiles knew a few things. One, Moute’s perimeter defense was overrated, or at least it wasn’t enough to mask the fact that he lacked traditional small forward skills. Two, Moute is actually a more effective defender against interior players, where his quickness and effort level are quite disruptive. Three, playing Moute on the inside allows him to do what he does exceptionally well — offensive rebound like a man possessed, and convert those opportunities into points, both of which he has done exceptionally well since the move.
And unlike the John Salmons effect, the numbers back up the Moute effect… and then some. In the month of February alone, Luc Moute’s Win Score per 48 has been a superstar level — and I mean SUPERSTAR level — 17.40. If you don’t believe in Win Score, just go to his splits page and notice the dramatic improvement in Moute’s play this month. Everything good is way, way up.
So, in summary, while it may be tempting to point to John Salmons as the reason behind the Bucks “surge”, the evidence suggests the “surge” was already well on track before he ever arrived. And while his presence and the absence of others may have had a positive substitution effect for the team, it is actually Scott Skiles bold move inserting Luc Moute in the power forward position that has actually propeled the team’s turnaround.