John Salmons’ experience and versatility certainly has not been lost on New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams.
Despite having not been very productive and thus not getting a lot of playing time, his ability to play small forward and shooting guard has helped keep him the mix. And with a big hole at small forward and starting guard Eric Gordon out injured, Salmons could be a dose of medicine for an ailing lineup.
“He can play both,” Williams said. “And in our system, (small forward and shooting guard) can be interchangeable.”
Except for size concerns. At 6-feet-6 and in his 13th year, guarding taller, younger, more athletic small forwards is even more of a challenge than it was when he was younger. He was brought in to strengthen the small forward spot, with Darius Miller, who has limited experience, and Luke Babbitt, who is a small, outside-shooting power forward, also playing there.
Miller got his first start of the season Tuesday against Sacramento, with Tyeke Evans moving from small forward to Gordon’s shooting guard spot. However, Miller didn’t score in 14 minutes, 22 seconds. He did not play Friday at Atlanta.
Williams then tried Austin Rivers as the starting shooting guard against the Hawks, and he, too, did not score, shooting 0-of-8. Salmons, however, may have provided a glimmer of hope, shooting 3-of-6 on 3-point attempts and scoring nine points in 25 minutes, with four assists, a steal and a blocked shot.
When Pelicans backup guard Jimmer Fredette has gotten into games, he hasn’t scored much. An excellent shooter, teams are always cognizant that’s the sole reason he is on the court, and they focus on not letting him get open shots.
So Williams said Fredette needs to do more to get playing time. He obviously has made attempts to do just that.
In the past two games, Fredette has been on the court when the Pelicans have made runs to get back in games. Against Atlanta on Friday night, he had a steal and two assists as the Pelicans came back in the second half and cut their deficit to single digits. However, he went 0-of-2 and didn’t take a 3-point shot.
He played 18 minutes against the Hawks, nearly double the time he got in the previous game against Sacramento, his former team. In that game, he shot just 1-of-3 but was part of the unit that started the Pelicans’ comeback in the second quarter, when they went from 14 points down to a tie at halftime.
He had two assists and another drop-off pass to Jeff Withey in the lane resulted in a miss. At the 8:52 mark, Fredette scored a three-point play on the fast break after Withey blocked a shot. That cut the deficit to 32-27, and it went to three on the Pelicans’ next possession.
Point guard Russell Westbrook’s return to the Oklahoma Thunder gave it an immediate huge lift in his first game Friday night against New York.
All of the NBA knew he was set to make his return after his right index finger had been broken on Oct. 30.
Pelicans guard Rivers had that in mind after the Pelicans lost at home Tuesday to the Kings, whom they’d beaten a week earlier in Sacramento.
It was a loss the Pelicans couldn’t have, because the difficult West was about to get even harder. Perhaps the second-best team in the conference when Westbrook and league MVP Kevin Durant are healthy, Okahoma City was 4-12 and 13th in the conference race entering the weekend.
“We’ve gotten off to a good start,” Rivers said. “I saw where Westbrook and Durant had started working out. When they get back, (the Thunder) will probably win 10 in a row.”
Durant was expected to return to the Thunder within the next two games after Westbrook came back.
Although the Orlando Magic has played 11 of its 18 games on the road, rookie Elfrid Payton, the former Ehret High School and University of Louisiana at Lafayette standout, is on his first extended road trip with the team.
The Magic, which began the trip Friday night at Indiana, is playing six games in nine days, five against Western Conference teams, a type of stretch Payton has never experienced.
“He has not experienced going from city to city and playing in different time zones, so this will be quite different for him,” said coach Jacque Vauhn, a former NBA point guard.
Payton was replaced as the starting point guard by Victor Oladipo when Oladipo came back from a facial fracture on Nov. 15. Payton, who like any rookie point guard was having difficulty mastering the plays, then saw backup point guard Luke Ridnour move ahead of him.
However, Payton’s performance was key in a victory against Charlotte on Nov. 21 when he scored eight of his 16 points in the fourth quarter.
By the way, the last road victory for Orlando against a Western Conference team was against New Orleans, 105-102 on March 4, 2013.