NCAA underachiever, NBA success story is The Dagger's countdown of players who didn't live up to expectations in college yet are currently flourishing in the NBA. For an explanation of the criteria used in compiling this list, check out our introductory entry. Up next on our list is No. 7: Miami's John Salmons.
In his Idiot's Guide to the NBA Draft originally published on the eve of the 2002 event, ESPN.com's Bill Simmons categorized Miami's John Salmons as a college underachiever that a pro team will select too high.
"Did you ever watch a Miami game over the past four years and say, 'Boy, that John Salmons has pro written all over him?'" Simmons wrote. "Now he might crack the Top 20. Go figure."
Salmons eventually proved skeptics wrong, but in Simmons' defense, nothing about the 6-foot-6 guard's good but unspectacular college career suggested he'd ever be more than a marginal pro.
In four years at Miami, Salmons never scored more than 13 points a game, never showcased a consistent outside shot and never led the perennially underachieving Hurricanes to an NCAA tournament victory. His versatility and scoring ability as a slasher were somewhat intriguing, but Philadelphia's decision to dump No. 16 pick Jiri Welsch via trade and then send Speedy Claxton to San Antonio in exchange for the draft rights to Salmons was universally panned.
"Salmons isn't a great athlete or scorer, but he has the size and court vision teams want in their point guards," wrote ESPN.com's Chad Ford, who gave the 76ers a draft-day grade of C-minus. "Still, can you name the last 'big' point guard who excelled in the league? Claxton, apparently, was too much like Iverson. They would've been better keeping Jiri Welsch."
Fast forward eight years and Welsch has long ago washed out of the league and Salmons has become one of the NBA's more productive swing-men.
Mired on the bench his first four years in Philadelphia, Salmons began to blossom in Sacramento during the 2007-08 season because the Kings finally gave him a chance to play consistently. He averaged 18.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game in Chicago in 2009 and then after a midseason trade to Milwaukee following a brief slump, upped that to 19.9 points per game.
An improved mid-range jump shot and ability to finish at the rim have been the catalysts for Salmons' progress since college. He may never become a full-fledged star in the NBA, but he's far eclipsed the marginal expectations for him that existed when he left Miami eight years ago.
"He's unbelievable," Bucks coach Scott Skiles told ESPNChicago late in the season. "He just fit right in. He's played good defense. He's scored for us, obviously. He's shot the ball well. He's been able to handle it late in games and make big plays for us. Made his free throws. Just all around, he's been very, very good."
NCAA underachiever, NBA success story countdown:
No. 10: Jrue Holiday
No. 9: DeAndre Jordan
No. 8: Andre Iguodala