The New Orleans Pelicans have had an active first few weeks of free agency. The Pelicans finalized their trade for Omer Asik, after performing some maneuvering with the Cleveland Cavaliers to acquire Scottie Hopson and Alonzo Gee, as well as incorporating the Trevor Ariza signing for the Houston Rockets in a sign-and-trade. The final deal: Asik and forward Omri Casspi to the Pelicans, New Orleans’ 2015 1st-rounder and Trevor Ariza to the Rockets, and Melvin Ely and a trade exception to the Wizards.
The Pelicans will now waive Omri Casspi, partly because he’s not a good basketball player, and partly because they need to create room for their other move this week: The Pelicans have signed John Salmons to a one-year, $2 million deal.
Salmons is a seasoned NBA veteran, a 12-year pro who’s spent time with the 76ers, Kings, Bulls, Bucks, and Raptors. He spent last season with Sacramento and Toronto, averaging 5.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in 60 games for the Raptors after being involved in the Rudy Gay trade. Salmons was dealt to and subsequently waived by Atlanta in a deal to send Louis Williams to Toronto just prior to free agency, at which point he signed with the Pelicans.
The Pelicans have needed a guy who can be a true small forward, someone who can bridge the gap between the Pelicans’ shooting guards and power forwards in the wake of Al-Farouq Aminu and Darius Miller likely leaving the team this summer. Salmons, at 6’7″ and 210 pounds, fits that bill. He should play primarily as a three in most lineups for New Orleans.
Salmons primarily will provide some much-needed outside shooting. Salmons shot 38.7 percent from outside in 2013-14. Here’s his shot chart, via Nylon Calculus:
Salmons was most often used as a corner-3 shooter by Toronto, and he was lethal from the right corner, hitting 53 percent of his shots in that area. He also did damage from the left wing, hitting 58 percent from that area at a less frequent rate. Really, placing Salmons anywhere on the perimeter that isn’t the top of the key seems like a strong idea.
Salmons was a horrible rim finisher last season, hitting just 44 percent at the rim. Salmons was particularly bad on drives, failing to finish well against contact, hitting just 26 percent on drives per SportVU data and drawing just .126 fouls per field goal attempt. Salmons may have been one of the worst scorers in the paint last season, and it’s the biggest reason he finished with a better shooting percentage from three (38.7 percent) than he had overall (36.3 percent).
However, in New Orleans, Salmons will likely be called upon to exclusively be a spot-up shooter. With Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday, the Pelicans have plenty of slashing ability, and Monty Williams‘s system is built for the drive-and-kick. What the Pelicans need are players to kick to, and Salmons fits that bill. Salmons has always been a decent 3-point shooter, but thrives when he can get open looks in slash-and-kick offenses; after all, Salmons was at his best as a 3-point shooter when playing with the Derrick Rose-led Bulls. In the Pelicans’ offense, Salmons should be able to get close to matching the numbers he put up with Toronto last season, as he replaces Anthony Morrow, the Pelicans’ only consistent threat from the corners last year.
Salmons is also a decent passer for a wing, which will help the flow of the offense. He’s averaged 3.3 assists per 36 minutes for his career, and he has some decent creating instincts after primarily being brought up as a combo guard in college. The Pelicans seem to covet this given the amount of combo guards on the roster, and Salmons should fit in to give New Orleans a secondary ball-handler on the floor at all times alongside Holiday, Evans, and Austin Rivers.
Defensively, Salmons is a mixed bag. He benefitted from playing on a good defensive team with a solid system in place in Toronto, and he’s better operating within a system than on an island. Salmons was a decent pick-and-roll defender last year, and is solid when navigating picks on the wing and staying in front of his man. On the ball he can be a bit erratic, but he’s more likely to give up drives than threes in isolation, and with Anthony Davis and Asik behind him, his issues here should be lessened. The big issue for Salmons is weakside defense, where he can get lost easily and gives up easy looks from three.
The issue for the Pelicans defensively is that Salmons really doesn’t solve any issues for them. The Pelicans have long needed a player who can defend big wings without giving up either size or quickness, and Salmons will give up both to the Carmelo Anthonys and Jabari Parkers of the world. Also, in Toronto, Salmons primarily defended the weaker scorer of opposing wings, and Demar DeRozan or Terrence Ross took the stronger scorer. The Pelicans don’t have the greatest wing defense, so Salmons can’t be hidden, and his Sacramento numbers (Where he wasn’t in a strong defensive system) are far worse. Salmons is a mediocre defender overall, and he’s not going to help the Pelicans on this end.
In all, Salmons’s signing for the Pelicans should be a nice boost to their offense, and he should provide much of what Anthony Morrow did for the team last season. He’s a low-risk signing on a one-year deal, and his size allows the Pelicans to throw out lineups that won’t be abused when teams go big against them. That added flexibility will be helpful. Salmons should thrive as a reserve in the Pelicans’ offense, and he’s a good, cheap pickup for New Orleans.