Crosshair: Jose Calderon

Next up is Jose Calderon.

There’s plenty of good things to say about Jose Calderon, his play has been a breath of fresh air for every Raptors fan regardless of which side of the TJ/Jose fence you’re on. Calderon has developed an ability to lead a team through his smart decision making skills, greatly improved and highly accurate outside shooting, uncanny ability to turn the corner on high screens and most of all his passing which always finds the man most eligible for the shot.

This year he upped his scoring by 2.5 points while increasing his assists by 3.3 and still shot better than 50% from the floor, one of only three point guards to do so, the other two? Steve Nash and Deron Williams. He also happens to be ranked #3 in PER for PGs. His play when TJ Ford went down with injury was one of the main reasons along with Chris Bosh that the Raptors were able to make the playoffs. What makes Calderon a highly effective point guard for the Raptors is that he understands who his teammates are, you’ll never see him throw a pass which he knows the recipient can’t handle, he rarely takes a risk on the break and always looks to get his teammates setup early in the shot-clock. As he’s coming up the floor his first option is to find any trailers that might be open in the form of Andrea Bargnani, Jason Kapono, Anthony Parker and even Carlos Delfino. He’s a selfless point guard that wants to win and help make his teammates better and is willing to sacrifice numbers and playing time as long as it means team success.

There’s been plenty written about his league-leading 5.38 assist to turnover ratio which gives the correct impression that Calderon is careful with the ball and handles each possession with care. In the mid-season stretch when TJ Ford went down, Calderon was the driving force behind the Raptors. He increased his offensive output and became a legitimate scoring threat which the defense had to respect and that opened up options for everyone else. His clutch fourth-quarter 3-pt play in Boston was the apex of his season and during that stretch he proved that he should be the starting point guard for an NBA team.

If you’re a Calderon critic you might point out his conservative offensive play as being a reason why the Raptors struggle to get easy points on the break. This is a true criticism of Calderon who tends to pull back the offense on 3/2 or 4/3 breaks and doesn’t “force the issue” if it isn’t there. That is partially the reason why his AST/TO numbers are so high but it happens to be a double-edged sword. The Raptors don’t have great athletes or finishers who run the break and TJ Ford’s play is evidence that running the break with this Raptor crew isn’t exactly a great idea. Calderon recognizes this and values the possession more than the chance at easy points, maybe this will change if Ford is gone and Calderon feels he’ll need to make-up for Ford’s “pushing” style of basketball to some extent. I don’t believe by any means that Calderon is protecting his league-leading AST/TO ratio by any means.

The main reason Calderon is so much more dangerous this year is because he’s improved his 15-19ft game. Last year he was primarily a threat to drive off the high screen but this year he’s shown that he can step a few feet inside the arc, rise, and drain the jumper. This has made him a dual threat which NBA defenses have to respect and given Calderon’s intelligence in these matters, he’s been able to translate that into high assist numbers while keeping the decisions intelligent. Given the Euro stylings of the Raptors, Calderon’s patience, leadership and high basketball IQ appear to be the perfect fit for the team Bryan Colangelo’s trying to build. Whether you agree with his team-building method is an entirely different issue.

Calderon plays hard and with his heart on his sleeve, he can shoot, finish, can setup teammates and this season he showed he can do it while playing extended minutes. Something we didn’t know before this season and something that will weigh heavy on Colangelo’s mind as he decides whether to bring TJ Ford back.

Just like every other Raptors perimeter player, Calderon’s defense is below-par. He is extremely guilty of allowing dribble-penetration and has trouble fighting through screens and contesting shots. He’s a victim of Sam Mitchell’s half-ass defensive strategy and you can often find him double-teaming players for odd reasons allowing his man to knock down the open jumper. At 6′ 3″ and long arms he should be a good defender especially given how hard he plays, but so far in his NBA career we haven’t seen anything from Calderon that might indicate he can hold his own on the defensive end.

The Orlando series exposed his defense to some degree as he couldn’t contain Jameer Nelson or Keyoon Dooling from getting in the paint which allowed the Magic guards to pick out shooters. His lateral quickness isn’t great and one would think he should play the offensive player for the shot instead of the drive, a far safer option. If there is a knock against Calderon it is his defense, this also happens to be one of the core problems with the Raptors. Allowing penetration at the point-of-attack is something no NBA team can live with, either the Raptors need to adopt a better defensive strategy or Calderon needs to tighten up his defense or there needs to be the sufficient interior defense that can tolerate Calderon’s man getting into the paint. He played 30 minute a game this year which was up 9 minutes from the previous year, we expect this number to only get higher and its paramount that we don’t suffer defensively as his minutes increase.

Calderon’s a restricted free agent and Bryan Colangelo has already said that he’ll match any offer for Calderon. By all indications, he’s here to stay and we have to work with what we have – an intelligent, hard-working point guard with a very reliable outside touch and a tendency to take it to the rim when the opportunity presents itself. Not bad at all. You know his offensive game has nowhere to go but up and as long as he can improve his defensive game he’s going to be a mainstay in Toronto.

The new season is over 5 long months away but I’m already looking forward to how Calderon will improve next year. He’s a player that you want on this team and are willing to live with his flaws as long as the coach can do an average job of hiding them.

I’m off to Dubai for a week long vacation, I’ll do my best to keep the crosshairs coming. Maybe give you guys a snapshot of the man-made city while I’m at it.

As for the present today, its one of my favorite scenes from Reservoir Dogs where Steve Buscemi (Mr. Pink) is trying to get out of tipping.

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