Bulls late-bloomer Salmons blossoming as a scorer

 
 
  • Chicago Bulls forward John Salmons, right, drives past Orlando Magic guard Mickael Pietrus, of France, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Orlando, Fla., March 11.

    Chicago Bulls forward John Salmons, right, drives past Orlando Magic guard Mickael Pietrus, of France, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Orlando, Fla., March 11. Associated Press

  • Chicago Bulls' John Salmons is fouled by New Jersey Nets' Jarvis Hayes, right, during the fourth quarter of an game Feb. 25.

    Chicago Bulls' John Salmons is fouled by New Jersey Nets' Jarvis Hayes, right, during the fourth quarter of an game Feb. 25. Associated Press

Published: 3/31/2009 12:01 AM

Watching John Salmons in action the past few weeks, it appears the Bulls acquired a smooth and accomplished professional scorer.

His shots from long range have fallen regularly, but he drives to the basket equally well. The 6-foot-6 swingman has a knack for knowing how to get a good look at the rim, by either pulling up, fading away or driving to the hoop.

During March, since he stepped in at small forward for the injured Luol Deng, Salmons has averaged 21.3 points and shot an even 50 percent from the field.

Only four NBA players have scored 20 points and shot 50 percent for the full season, and two are guards (Chris Paul and Tony Parker).

The amazing thing about Salmons, though, is he never has done this before. The 29-year-old Philadelphia native averaged double figures for the first time last year, his sixth NBA season.

"I'm a late bloomer," Salmons said. "Some guys, they get it early. Some guys don't."

Salmons' rise in scoring is impressive but not unprecedented.

Two names turned up during an extensive search of the NBA Encyclopedia for players who took six years to average double figures, then scored as many as 18 points per game over a full season (Salmons is at 18.7 ppg, including his time in Sacramento).

One is Antoine Carr, who is best known for doing the dirty work for those Utah teams that lost to the Bulls in the 1997 and '98 Finals. He averaged 20.1 points for the Kings in his seventh NBA season.

The other is George McCloud, who wasn't much of a scorer until exploding for 18.9 ppg in Dallas during his sixth season.

Both players could be considered flukes, though. McCloud never averaged more than 10.3 ppg the rest of his career, and Carr's next-highest average was 13.1.

There have been a couple of all-stars who took five years to reach double-digit scoring - Steve Nash and Jermaine O'Neal. But Salmons is swimming in some rare company.

"I remember commentators saying, 'By your second or third year, you are what you are,' " he said. "I knew I wasn't the player that I was then. I knew I could play better than I was playing. I just needed a chance."

Late-bloomers are more common in the NBA with so many players leaving college early. But Salmons spent four years at the University of Miami. He didn't attract much attention until his junior year of high school but was heavily recruited and visited Connecticut.

Perhaps the best explanation is opportunity. Salmons entered the league with his hometown 76ers in 2002 and didn't get many shots or minutes working behind Allen Iverson.

He played well enough when Iverson was out of the lineup to attract suitors when he became a free agent in 2006, and he signed with the Kings.

Stan Jones, now associate head coach under Leonard Hamilton at Florida State, helped recruit Salmons to Miami and has followed his career for more than a decade.

"This year when Ron Artest was traded and Kevin Martin got hurt, people got to see he's much better than a role player," Jones said.

"Ever since I've known John, he's been the kind of player who's never smirched on efforts to work on his game, work on his body. He's always had a quiet confidence, a quiet competitiveness. The other thing that drives him is he hates to lose."

Salmons demonstrated Saturday that pressure situations are not a problem when he hit tying and go-ahead 3-pointers in the final three minutes of a victory over Indiana, the Bulls' opponent Tuesday night in Indianapolis.

Jones told another story that Salmons, after his freshman season at Miami, was told by coaches he had earned the right to be a starter, and they wanted him to be a leader.

"He said, 'The only way I've made it is to have to beat out someone else,' " Jones said. "He didn't want to be told he was a starter; he wanted to be told who he had to beat out to become a starter.

"When you hear that as a coach, it doesn't surprise you that he keeps advancing in his career."

Bulls vs. Indiana Pacers at Conseco Fieldhouse, 6 p.m.

TV: Comcast SportsNet

Radio: WMVP 1000-AM

Update: The Pacers (31-43) have fallen out of the playoff race but still are 15-5 at home since Jan. 1. They beat the Bulls 98-91 on Feb. 22 at Conseco, which was the first time John Salmons, Brad Miller and Tim Thomas suited up for their new team. Indiana C Troy Murphy piled up 27 points and 14 rebounds in the Feb. 22 game but has missed the last three contests with a knee strain. SF Danny Granger scored 32 in the Pacers' 112-106 loss at the United Center on Saturday.

Next: New Jersey at United Center, 1 p.m. Saturday