In Defense of Jose Calderon

Posted on September 7, 2009 | 7 Comments

Jose CalderonNo other Raptor, except for maybe most of the others, inspires more debate among Raptor fans than Jose Calderon. When former GM Rob Babcock, in possibly his best move, signed a little known PG from Spain in the summer of 2005, it made barely a ripple among Raptor fans. Not much was expected of this 24 year old that was not even on the radar of most fans. Mostly due to peoples low expectations, Calderon surprised many by not only getting on the court, but starting 11 games. He showed almost no semblance of a shot, but had an uncanny ability to find the open man and run an offense, probably something overlooked by most casual fans. Still, no one, including new GM Bryan Colangelo, thought that Calderon was destined to be anything but a backup PG in the league. That’s why the trade for TJ Ford seemed so important.

The next two seasons, Calderon made monumental developmental leaps. He went from a shaky shooter to being a deadeye shooter.  In his second season, his shooting percentage increased from an uninspiring .423 to an incredible .521 which made him the second best shooting guard behind the previous season’s MVP, Steve Nash. The next year he finished 11th in the league in 3 point shooting. Not bad for a guy whose biggest weakness his first year in the league was his shooting.

Jose standing up to the big guy.

It was not a surprise that what caused these improvements in Calderon’s game were an intense drive to succeed and a very strong work ethic. This is what caused him to quickly gain the respect of his teammates and coaches. It made changing his status to permanent starter that much more of a necessary move.

It was evident to most that Calderon had supplanted Ford as the Raptor’s best PG, and Ford’s history of injuries, and his attitude problems, made him not only expendable, but someone who needed to go. Sure, having the two of them on the same team made for a dynamic 1-2 punch, but both players were good enough that they both needed to start and play big minutes. That wasn’t going to happen unless they were on separate teams.

Something I found quite puzzling is so many fans questioning whether Calderon was durable enough to withstand playing starters minutes, as if he’d had some sort of history that made this question relevant. It wasn’t. Calderon played 82 games his third season while playing the most minutes of his career, 30.3 mpg.

Calderon's pre-game meal.That being said, at some point during last season, Calderon suffered a hamstring injury. He kept playing, but every facet of his game suffered. As any athlete knows, especially basketball players, a hamstring injury can be devastating. It can takes months to heal and greatly effects your mobility, especially laterally. The fact that Calderon was able to average the numbers he did, and miss as little time as he did, is a testament to his drive.

Of course, the average Raptor fan isn’t the most enlightened when it comes to this area. There were many who felt that Calderon was a great backup, but should not be a starter on a good team. The fact that he would start for more than half the teams OVER their current starting PG didn’t seem to sway these fans who probably know as much about the NBA as Richard Jefferson does about marriage.

Jose CalderonThe problem with Calderon is not that he should be a backup, it’s that his game isn’t what the average fan wants to see. He’s a pass-first PG that rarely turns the ball over and plays mistake free basketball. When you’re raised on ESPN highlight shows, something as boring as running an offense or making the right pass, not the flashy one, isn’t going to excite you. You see, PG’s like Mo Williams or Devin Harris can score in bunches, and that’s what fans want to see. The problem with those guys, and others like them, is that they’re not exactly great at running an offense. Harris scored 21 ppg (first on the team), but also shot a rather pedestrian .438 from the field, including an awful .291 from behind the three point line.  There were also rumours of his teammates often getting frustrated with his shoot first mentality. Not surprising.

Mo Williams shot much better, but that comes from playing alongside LeBron James, and he averaged less than half the assists Calderon did. Of course, since LeBron is a better passer than Mo Williams will ever be, that’s okay. Williams is basically playing the SG position on a team with two of them.

I’ve also heard the ridiculous notion that Detroit PG Rodney Stuckey is a better player than Calderon. This, I’m guessing, coming from fans who rarely get to see Stuckey, who had a very disappointing season, shooting poorly and forgetting to pass the ball to his teammates. In more than 30 mpg, this “point guard” averaged less than 5 apg. That’s like being 7 feet and not being able to average 6 rpg. Oh, wait…

The Raptors watch teammates not play defense.The biggest complaint I’ve heard about Calderon, on the offense end, is that he doesn’t take enough risks and won’t run the fast break. As for running the fast break, I’ve seen Calderon run many fast breaks, so I know that’s not true. The fact that the Raptors didn’t run much can’t be blamed on Calderon, though. For a team to get out and run, they need either stops on the defensive end or rebounds. Considering that the Raptors are near the bottom in both categories, is it any wonder the Raptors didn’t run much? Hard to blame Calderon for that. When his hamstring healed and Marion started to find his place, the Raptors scored a lot more.

Besides, taking more risks and running more isn’t necessarily going to make Calderon a better PG. It’s not as if teams that run more win more. In fact, the ability to run the half court offense if going to get you more wins. Another player who was criticized for not taking enough chances and and for running a half court oriented team made it to the Hall of Fame doing it.

Doing the John StocktonNow, Jose Calderon is certainly not in the same class as John Stockton, but they are similar players. Both came into the league with questionable shots, but ended up being high percentage shooters from the field and from behind the three point line. Both had/have high assist numbers with low turnovers. Both played conservatively, but could/can run if it was called for. Both were/are gritty, tough players that would never back down, belying their appearance.

The big difference, at this point, is that Stockton was much more adept at driving the ball and was a much better defender. This is where the problems arise with Calderon, as well as with his critics.

Calderon is certainly not the defender Stockton was, but the question is, is Calderon a bad defender? Watching him last season, the majority of fans would say an resounding YES! There’s a slight problem with that fact, though. It’s not entirely accurate. No, Calderon is not a great defender, but anyone who watched him in previous years would see he’s not nearly as bad a defender as he showed last season. He’s always had a problem guarding the quicker PG’s, but that’s not a problem only with Calderon. There’s a reason Chris Paul is so dangerous. NO ONE can guard him, including Calderon.

Calderon defendsThe biggest problem Calderon had last season was not his defense, but his hamstring. As someone who has played basketball with a hamstring injury, I can verify that it’s almost impossible to play good defense with it. Good defense is played with your legs (and feet) and if you’ve got a bad hamstring, you’re already at a disadvantage. You can’t move quickly, especially laterally, and that’s exactly what you need to do to play good defense.

Now, I’m not saying that Calderon is ever going to make the All-Defensive team, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if he suddenly makes a massive “improvement” in that area over last season. Being healthy will do that. It should also help his drive to the basket, which also suffered last season.

And considering that Calderon has had one injury in four years in the NBA, there’s no reason at all to believe he can’t stay healthy all season long.

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Comments

  • Swirsky’s Soldier

    Amen brother…. I’ve been saying this same thing all last season (and in part the year before). People have never given Jose enough credit for what he does. Effeciency perfection. 50% from the field, 40% from 3, nearly perfect from the FT line, best Assist:turnover ratio for 3 years running.

    As for his D, nobody complained about it until ater his hammy injury, and I’m talking NOBODY!

    But thats ok… if some Raps fans were looking for a scapegoat for last year… Jose seemed the easy target I think….. if/when they have a good season this year you won’t hear those complaints anymore

  • http://www.wearingfilm.com Tim W.

    Ya, the short memory of Raptor fans is a little frustrating. I thought, before this season, that Calderon had the makings of an above average defensive player. Obviously, as I mentioned, he struggled against quicker guards, but his length and smarts certainly help in on that end of the court.

    What boggles my mind are the people who say he’s really just a backup PG. He’s the second best PG the Raptors have ever had, yet he’s just a backup. John Hollinger ranked him as the 12th most productive PG last season (with his injury), yet he’s just a backup. Ya, sure.

  • SkyJ

    Great post. It frustrates me to hear some of the short-sighted comments from fans. The people complaining about Jose’s efficiency (!?) would probably be the same people calling him a me-first ball hog who coughs up the ball too much. And if you’ve ever had a hamstring injury, you’d know that what he accomplished was still pretty remarkable.

  • Ragu

    Thank you.

    I remember watching @ the ACC when Rafer was a Raptor, and hardly anyone cheered when he made a subtle spin or cross-over because no one (ie Raptors media) had appointed him as “the man” to cheer for.

    TJ vs Jose? All I remember was people makin TJ out to be an “AI” clone–and that was/is a good thing?

    There are STILL a WHOLE lot of believers out there who are entranced with the flashy, me first, “I”-before-team “point guards”, who would have NEVER given a player like Stockton any credit.

    Where is “AI”, Steve”ie” “Franchise”, and “Starbury” playing now? Ask 70% of Raptors “fans” and they would trade Jose for AI in a second. It’s sad really.

    I am just happy that there are people out there like you who are giving Jose credit.

    Thank you.

  • http://sbrother.wordpress.com brothersteve

    No one should have to defend Jose!
    Unfortunately, it seems people have very short memories.
    Hollinger said Jose was ripped off of an all-star berth 2 seasons ago due to a lack of name recognition.
    Last season, if the team had played better, he might of had a shot even with the injury. Mo Williams and Jameer Nelson got consideration based on their team play – neither of those guys actually ran the offense.
    If the Raps perform well and Calderon plays up to his ability, he will have a legit shot at an all-star berth this season.

  • Jeff

    Thank you. When the Raps drafted Calderone, I remember one GM commenting that he was a potential steal. I had seen him play once or twice for Spain and was impressed. His dramatic improvement in shooting % is also no surprise – he came to the NBA not speaking very good English and had to adapt to the NBA “style” of ball.

    I have always believed he was talented (and I believe that Roko Ukic may eventually make me remind people of this)and had the ability to be a top flight point guard. He may nnot be able to guard Chris Paul, but Chris Paul cannot shoot like Jose8.

  • http://www.wearingfilm.com Tim W.

    Jeff,

    Calderon was signed as a free agent. He was never drafted. As for Ukic, I don’t see the same things as I did watching Calderon. While Ukic can get to the basket, is a good ball handler and has the physical ability to be successful, as a PG, he’s pretty awful. What I mean by that is that a PG needs to pass and run an offense. That should be his primary function. Ukic has never shown to have even average abilities in this area. Players don’t suddenly start making good decisions. It takes years to learn how to do so.

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