Will John Salmons be the starting small forward for a third straight year?
The roster and projected lineup is nearly set for the Sacramento Kings. However, the team's unsettled at small forward. Considering the position has been a thorn in its side for quite some time, Sacramento needs to weigh its options before coming up with the optimal solution for manning the 3.
As it currently stands, there are really only two viable options for starting small forward: the incumbent John Salmons and the newly acquired Luc Mbah a Moute. Sure, Travis Outlaw plays the 3 and he's still on the team. But unless the Kings want to make a push for the No. 1 pick in the draft, they'll make sure to limit Outlaw's run to small doses.
Of the two choices, each player has their own strengths and weaknesses, and in this case, those advantages and deficiencies differ.
Between the two, the Kings should be able to play matchups to maximize production from small forward. But the key will be deciding which one deserves the lion's share of playing time and the starting spot.
In order to come up with the best option, let's break down the different categories and see who has the advantage.
Neither player could really be categorized as a good scorer. Earlier in his career, Salmons was pretty effective. However, he's taken a nosedive over the past two years. Yet at least Salmons had the ability to put the ball in the basket at one time. Mbah a Moute, on the other hand, has always been lacking in this regard.
For his career, Salmons averages 9.9 points and 13.0 points per 36 minutes. He's seen his scoring as high as 18.3 and his points per 36 minutes at 17.6 (in 2008-09). Since he returned to Sacramento, however, he's seen those numbers dip to an 8.3 average and 10.4 points per 36.
Mbah a Moute boasts a career 6.9 average and 9.8 points per 36 minutes. Yet he topped out at 7.7 points and a per-36 average of 11.9 in 2011-12. Last season the Cameroonian posted tallies of 6.7 and 10.5 per 36 minutes.
When it comes to shooting percentages, both Salmons and Mbah a Moute weren't very effective in 2012-13. Salmons posted a line of .399/.371/.773 (FG%/3P%/FT%). His counterpart was fairly similar, coming in at .401/.351/.571).
Salmons has a clear advantage in free-throw shooting and three-point shooting. Granted, Mbah a Moute's .351 three-point percentage isn't far off from Salmons' .371. However, Mbah a Moute's career three-point percentage is .290 compared to .364 for Salmons.
Ultimately, Salmons is a better scorer than Mbah a Moute. He averaged slightly more points per game, and he's a much better shooter. Still, neither one is even average in this regard, so making the decision solely on scoring isn't the way to go.
To be clear, by efficiency we're not just considering shooting percentages. If we were, there'd be no point in going further as Salmons clearly has the upper hand there. What we're looking at is all-around offensive ability.
In this regard, there are a few metrics that'll tell much of the story. The first one is offensive rating, which measures a player's points per 100 possessions. In this category, Salmons has a huge advantage, posting a 106 in 2012-13 compared to 92 for Mbah a Moute.
Beyond that, we can look at player efficiency rating. After all, if we're looking at efficiency, player efficiency rating is probably a good barometer. Once again, Salmons has an advantage (10.2 to 9.1), only this time it's there's not such a wide gap separating the two.
The last thing to look at is ball protection, or how many turnovers each player commits. Salmons is also superior here, boasting a 2012-13 turnover percentage of 11.4 percent to Mbah a Moute's 13.9 percent.
The overall gap between the two in efficiency is larger than the difference in scoring ability. Since Salmons has the upper hand in both areas, it's safe to assume he's the better offensive player. Yet it's also important to remember that even with this in his favor, neither player is an offensive force.
The ability to bring in rebounds is a key component for a small forward. It becomes increasingly important if you're not providing much in way of offense.
Their respective work on the glass is one aspect in which Mbah a Moute clearly separates himself from Salmons.
The 26-year-old averaged 7.0 rebounds per 36 minutes last season. He also posted an offensive rebound percentage of 7.0 percent, a defensive rebound percentage of 14.0 percent and a total rebound percentage of 10.4 percent.
Salmons, on the other hand, brought down only 3.3 boards per 36 minutes. Beyond that, he boasted an offensive rebound percentage of 1.6 percent, a defensive rebound percentage of 9.0 percent and a total rebound percentage of 5.2.
The separation between the two only makes sense. The Cameroonian is 6'8", 230 pounds and has logged minutes at both power forward and small forward throughout his career. Meanwhile, Salmons is only 6'7", 210 pounds and has spent the majority of his career bouncing between shooting guard and small forward.
So not only is Mbah a Moute the bigger player of the two, in height and in weight, but he's also more accustomed to playing positions that put a premium on rebounding ability.
Advantage: Mbah a Moute
The Kings have been one of worst defensive teams in the league over the past two years. Therefore, Sacramento clearly needs to consider who brings more defensive value when deciding its starting small forward.
As we've seen, neither player provides a ton on offense. Mbah a Moute, however, is a very good defender. According to 82games.com, opposing small forwards posted a PER of 10.0. Considering 15.0 is league average, Mbah a Moute is tougher to score against than your average defender.
In the same category, also from 82games.com, Salmons held opposing small forwards to a PER of 13.9. Compared to your average defender, Salmons wasn't too bad. Yet he doesn't stand up to Mbah a Moute...at least not in this category.
Beyond their ability to slow the opposition, there's also the ability to cause turnovers. Since neither player is much of a shot-blocker, this mainly consists of their ability to steal the ball. In this area, Mbah a Moute is also superior, posting a steal percentage of 1.7 percent compared to Salmons' 1.1 percent. The Cameroonian also averages 1.1 steals per 36 minutes to Salmons' 0.8.
The final barometer worth considering is defensive rating. It measures the number of points allowed per 100 possessions. Mbah a Moute only allowed 107 points per 100 possessions. Salmons' defensive rating was 115.
As in the rebounding department, Mbah a Moute has the advantage. Also like with rebounding, the gap between the two is pretty vast.
Advantage: Mbah a Moute
Both Salmons and Mbah a Moute are better than each other in two different areas. Salmons is the better offensive player, both in terms of scoring and overall efficiency. Mbah a Moute is the superior defender and rebounder. Therefore, deciding who's better of the two isn't such an easy proposition. It's likely to come down to team needs.
Considering the Kings were an average offensive team and one of the worst defensive teams, they obviously need more help on the defensive end. This would seemingly make Mbah a Moute the more attractive option.
Furthermore, as was shown in the statistics, while Salmons is better on offense and Mbah a Moute is better on defense, Mbah a Moute's superiority on defense and rebounding is greater than Salmons' advantage in scoring and efficiency. This would also point to him as the better choice.
Ultimately, it wouldn't be surprising to see Coach Malone mix and match the two in the starting lineup. Yet even he decides to stick with a uniform starting lineup, we can probably expect to see fairly equal playing time for the two.
Since what both players provide is different, there will be times when Salmons' skill set helps more than Mbah a Moute's and vice-versa.
But if it were up to me, I'd have Mbah a Moute start. His abilities help fill the team's biggest deficiency: defense. He'd also set the tone at the start of games by slowing down the opposition. Then, if the offense is lacking with him in there, Malone could always bring Salmons in to help provide a spark.