It’s no secret that over the past few seasons, Jose Calderon and Amir Johnson have been thought of as an awesome tag-team combination for the Toronto Raptors. While each player individually has had his ups and downs, the one constant has seemed to be their ability to play well together.

And it makes sense intuitively – Amir sets good screens, dives to the rim hard, and is a capable enough mid-range shooter, while Calderon is excellent at setting up teammates from the pick-and-roll. Additionally, Amir is a strong help defender who could conceivably provide a bail-out when Calderon is beat by quicker guards.

Johnson with Calderon
This was on display in Wednesday’s game against Dallas, as Amir had a season-best performance of 18 points, 11 rebounds, and three assists, with Kyle Lowry out of the lineup and Calderon playing 33 minutes. This isn’t anything new, as through five games, Amir is shooting 58.3% when Jose is on the floor with him and just 37.5% when Calderon sits. His Net Rating (the difference in points scored per 100 possessions and points allowed per 100 possessions) is also 16.4-points better with Calderon than without, a huge margin of difference.

This is a small sample, of course, so I went back to last year as well. Last year, Johnson shot the same overall percentage (57.6%) with or without Calderon on the floor. While this doesn’t back up what we seem to believe, what is of note is that with Calderon on the floor, Johnson took 59.3% of his shots at the rim, compared to just 54.8% when Calderon was off. Basically, Amir settles for mid-range shots with a greater frequency when he’s not playing with Calderon. In addition, Amir’s Offensive Rating was much better (102.8 to 96.2) with Jose on the floor than without, and his Net Rating (1.2 to -0.3) was better as well. For whatever reason, Amir rebounds more and turns the ball over less when Jose accompanies him. One possible explanation is that Calderon gets him closer to the basket where offensive boards are easier to grab, and gets him the ball in situations where he has to handle it less, causing fewer turnovers.

When I looked back to 2010-11, this trend didn’t hold, as Johnson shot better and closer to the rim with Calderon out of the game and had roughly the same Net Rating with or without him (he was actually worse offensively with him but significantly better defensively, reversing last year’s trend). In 2009-10, Johnson shot better (63.8%) with Calderon than without (60.8%) and took slightly more shots at the rim, while having a much better rating at both ends of the floor.

So overall it does seem like Johnson plays better with Calderon. With the exception of 2010-11, his Net Rating is generally stronger with Calderon accompanying him.

Calderon with Johnson
I also thought I’d switch the analysis to see if Calderon performed any better with Amir on the floor with him. My assumption here would be that Amir’s success offensively could both improve Calderon’s assist rate while also improving his mid-range shooting, as Amir would, in theory, open up more space on the pick-and-roll. In addition, the help Amir can provide on defense could hide some of Calderon’s shortcomings at that end.

So far this season, Jose’s assist ratio has been 5.3% higher with Johnson on the floor, while his Net Rating has been an astounding 37.6-points better. Jose’s shooting from all areas has also been better, but we’re again dealing with a tiny, 114-minute sample, so let’s look at previous years.

Last season, Calderon was a ludicrous 10.6-points better in terms of Net Rating with Amir by his side, showing a drastic improvement on both ends of the floor. His assist rate shot from an elite 39.4% to an otherworldly 46.3% when Amir joined him, and his shooting percentage increased for shots at the rim, shots from 15-19 feet and three-pointers (it decreased for 20-24 footers).

In 2010-11, the year where Johnson didn’t seem to need Calderon, Jose still needed Amir. His Net Rating was seven points better playing with Johnson, the gain being entirely from the defensive side of things, though his assist ratio was no different and the changes in his shooting percentages were negligible. In 2009-10, Calderon was a ridiculous 14.4-points of Net Rating better with Amir, once again almost entirely from the defensive side.

In total, it seems that Jose is equally capable offensively with or without Johnson. However, the drastic improvement to Calderon’s Defensive Rating with Johnson on the floor with him is both consistent and significant. Whether Amir is just a strong help defender or the other bigs Calderon has played with were especially weak is unclear, but the evidence is stark that Calderon generally needs Johnson so be part of an effective defensive unit.

The Team
So, it means nothing if Amir is better offensively with Jose and Jose is better defensively with Amir if it doesn’t change anything at the team level. So using NBA’s Advanced Stats Tool, I looked at the Amir-Jose two-man combination compared to the team norms for the past few years. The table below shows the differences.

Here we see that for every single season, Amir-Jose lineups have outperformed the team as a whole. They’ve also been better at both ends of the floor.

So far this season, Jose and Amir have played 67 minutes together, while Jose has played 47 without Amir and Amir has played 28 minutes without Jose. It seems drastic to pair two players together exclusively, but the evidence seems to show that these two should be deployed together whenever possible. In particular, the trio of Jose, Amir and Andrea Bargnani has been especially productive on the offensive end this season (Offensive Rating of 136.4) and that trio was also successful last season with a Net Rating of 6.2 as well.

There’s no official word yet on if Kyle Lowry will be good to go for Saturday’s home game against his hometown Philadelphia 76ers. If he’s not, there’s evidence here to suggest Amir Johnson should be in for a big chunk of minutes with Calderon manning the controls. And if, Shuttlesworth willing, Lowry is able to play Saturday, rest assured we have a very capable duo at the ready off the bench.

Oh, what’s that Alan Anderson?…You’re just going to take the ball and take all the shots? Well then…nevermind.

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  • what the

    primo pasta and nilankas boy gary forbes together and watch the offence FLOW

    • Nilanka15

      Don’t forget about your boy, Gary Forbes. 

      (I figured a nonsensical reply would be appropriate for a nonsensical post).

  • FAQ

    I suggested on another topic thread that Casey might ‘platoon’ the Raptors with a Jose-5 and a Kyle-5… because Kyle just doesn’t set up well with Bargs or Amir.

    Perhaps it’s because Kyle is not a P’nR style PG.  He’s a hybrid 1-2 who hogs the ball a lot.

    Oily Jose and watery Kyle just don’t mix well with this roster… so obvious.

    • FAQ

      How about this?:

      Jose’s Men:
      PG – Calderon
      SG – Anderson
      SF – Kleiza
      PF – Bargnani
      C — Johnson

      Kyle’s Fab 5:
      PG – Lowry
      SG – DeRozan
      SF – Ross
      PF – Davis
      C — Valanciunas

      Third Shift – Lucas, Fields, McGuire, Acy, Gray.

      (FAQ for Coach?!)

      • BlakeMurphy

        The issue with “shifts” is that you don’t want those units playing equal time…you want Lowry playing more than Jose, Bargs more than Davis, and DD more than AA. I’d say the only way to incorporate “shifts” is when Casey deploys the bench to keep those units in mind (btw I’d flip Kleiza and Ross).

        That said, a 10-man rotation is almost never a great idea. I’d say simply making sure to optimize the bench’s usage to have Jose/Amir/Bargs play together as much as possible is a good start.

        Balancing the wings, however, with AA shooting everything, Fields struggling (and hurt now, too, apparently), Kleiza absent, etc…is messy. I don’t envy Casey in that regard.

        • BlakeMurphy

          When I say “almost never a great idea” I should reword…I don’t like it. I don’t have stats to back it up, it just seems like teams with tighter primary rotations, or teams with a clear top-8 or top-9, can better maximize their potential in terms of substitution patterns and the like.

          • FAQ

            Blake… I just wanted to illustrate the disparate nature of this Raptor roster of players who cannot play optimally with each other.

            You just can’t slap together a bunch of pieces and make an effective team.  Remember the first season Heat with Wade, Bosh, and what’s-his-name?  They struggled to jell.

            The Rap roster is disjointed talent-wise… so how does the coach mitigate the problem.. try to mix-and-match… or just admit it’s like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole.

            Stats will not be the saviour for this floundering team.

            • BlakeMurphy

              I didn’t really disagree with you…I just said you can’t deploy shifts in that way. Some of the pieces fit well together and some don’t, as with most teams. I don’t think “stats will be the savior” but I certainly don’t dismiss them…all information can help (e.g. in this case, the stats back up what we see about Jose/Amir, so we can be more confident in deploying them together).

              • FAQ

                Old stats are static while the players and teams change dynamically going into the future.

                My question to the forum is how does KL as a PG, productively fit in with the existing players.

                So far, I see him as a street-balling ball-hog who excludes other players when he decides the set play  is broken and must do the scoring.

                He is  going to get injured again and again with his bravado performances that get all the t.h.f.’s worked up.

            • FLUXLAND

               “You just can’t slap together a bunch of pieces and make an effective team.”

              Paging Byran Colangelo! Paging Bryan Colangelo!

      • Nilanka15

        This isn’t hockey!!  Ya think???

        • FAQ

          Toronto Maple Raptors …. why not …??!!!

  • wes mantooth

    i mean whats the deal with anderson?? he thinks hes carmelo!! thats bad coaching in my opinion. its blatantly obvious that he has motives other then his team winning when hes out there and it costing the raps! casey needs to address this ! cant allow him to take shots from other players.. i feel like we couldve come back against dallas  if it wasnt for him

  • Methayusking

    i think the real question is, do the stats translate into wins?

    • BlakeMurphy

      Well yeah, they do. I mean, the team win totals haven’t been great, but the stats show that Jose-Amir units consistently score more points than they allow. They can’t do it themselves, but there’s no way to twist that to suggest it DOESN’T lead to wins.

      • FAQ

        So why is Casey trying to force KL into the mix, knowing that his style of play is more self-centred and freewheeling?  Do your stats confirm the worse for the current roster too?

        • BlakeMurphy

          Well, to be clear, they’re not “my” stats…they’re from

          And Casey isn’t forcing KL in…KL has a different skill set that might be complementary with a different style of player. Just because he may not get the most out of Amir doesn’t mean he’s not good…he’s the team’s leader in just about every stat category, and his defense will play with anyone (e.g. Lowry’s Net Rating is 33 right now, which is huge).

          It’s also important to keep in mind that anything we see right now with Lowry, stats or visual, is an extremely small sample. He also hasn’t been getting the benefit of strong complementary play with the wings and AB playing poorly (save for DD, sometimes).

          I’m not really clear on what you were asking me there, but hope this clarifies. Lowry=good, Jose+Amir together=also good.

          • FAQ

            KL’s fantastic stats does not equate to team wins simply because the supporting cast of players are iced by Kyle’s fireworks.  Jose  tries to involve everybody into the offence.

            We saw this with TJ Ford and now we have Lowry.  The other teams will find ways to negate Kyle’s early performance.. they always do.  Meanwhile the rest of the team is trying to puzzle out how to play with KL.

            The coaches are likely grappling with this conundrum.

            • Me

              Man you need to move away from this, I love Calderon but he has taken this team nowhere, Kyle is by fan the best player on the team, If Amir & AB don’t fit we’ll then bye bye to them !

              • FAQ

                Kyle is injured, and if he continues his reckless style of play he will get injured again and again.. to the point of uselessness.

                Kyle is just another streetballing ballhog.. and t.h.f.’s only want to look at the ball going into the basket.  They don’t understand ‘team’ basketball because all they want is a ‘hero’ to love love love and buy his jersey in their make-believe world of total delusion.

                • p00ka

                  Or the “t.h.f.’s”, as you so maturely call them/us, are just fans who see following a basketball team with intentions of entertainment and escape from the many actual serious things in life, thus do tend to look through rose coloured glasses and look for positives and promise, rather than attempting to be expert critics of the team, focusing on what’s wrong. In the real world, there’s enough more serious wrongs that people face each day, that many don’t see any value in ranting about the team’s faults every fn day, even if they had your “erudite guru” expertise.

                  That someone with as much self-perceived expertise in the game as you, and capable of being as articulate as you, would be here every day, not only putting down the team (hey, everyone has a right to an opinion), but constantly insulting large groups of fans, is nothing but pathetic. You have too much command of the English language to be a child, so I wonder what kind of void in an adult’s life would spur them to need to act towards others in such a mean spirited manner on a daily basis. Are you so oppressed in the real world that you need to build your self-esteem through this kind of childish aggression on the internet? My sympathies go out to you,,,,, not.

                  Cue the entry of cop/sheriff Fuxhand to give us all another senseless rant about cop/sheriff. Another internet punk that obviously has a fair share of brain cells, but gets lost in rage and doesn’t use them very well while exercising his need to feel like an erudite basketball guru on the internet. 

            • Beaverboi

              His stats aren’t equating to wins because the rest of the team just isn’t that good. You think if KL had an all-star or two playing with him his stats would be what they are? Like it has been said before, he drives the lane and sees Landry Fields open in the corner. If you were KL would you kick it out to him?

  • Kutthroat

    id be excited to see these two start a game.

  • Nilanka15

    So any NBA GM reading this article will want Amir and Bargnani in a Calderon deal?  I can live with that….

    • Aroravive

      Agreed! Do you know if we can amnesty Bargnani (yes, this is a serious question)?

      • BlakeMurphy

        Yes we can. THe question becomes if we could use that $10M to something more valuable, or if it’d be used on another overpay.

      • FAQ

        If Bargnani was amnestied, it would be seppuku-time for BC.

        However, Bargs is still a valuable asset because if his shots fall, that will spread the opponents defense… and nobody else can do that on this roster.

        BTW… amnestying Bargs would cost $33 Mill to the end of his contract.

        I feel sorry for Bargs because he is trying to keep up his offence while tiring out on defence. Some games he sucks on both ends.

        Playing 7 seasons on a shitty team has got to be demoralizing even with the money.

  • Destro

    Funny about Amir and Jose it sometimes can be the most detrimental pairing on this team along with Jose and Bargnani….Part of my issue with Calderon as a PG and part of the reason i think his ability to run a team is completely overblown is the fact he gets into “synergies” with certain players and looses focus about who really needs to have the ball at certain times in a game….

    His love affair with setting up certain players is detrimental in the flow of the offense alot of times…

  • Destro

    Btw the chemistry they have is exaggerated obviously…They arent guys you count on to win you games….Id be more excited if Jose would show some courage and actually drive to the basket on a fastbreak…how bout his fckn synergy with a fastbreak let me see that…

  • Scottbbaird

    I doubt would hook those two up together.  They run the pick and roll well, but if Jose/Lowry would look up, so does Valanciunas and Davis…

  • FAQ

    I guess that wraps up this incisive topic for all the erudite and anonymous gurus… except for Blake who dares tread where few venture.