Calderon a Historically Significant Playmaker

If his tenure with the Raptors will end in the next couple of months, please appreciate what we have while you can.

With Jose Calderon playing unbelievably well at the offensive end of late, running the Raptor offense with efficiency and improving the level of “team” basketball being played, I spent some time looking at just how special a player Calderon is.

Now, I know he’s not strong defensively. I also know that’s about as big an understatement as saying “DeMarcus Cousins has some issues,” but it’s also not the point here. I just want to take a holiday moment to appreciate Numero Ocho.

A Model of Efficient Team Management
Since entering the league in 2005-06, Calderon has been a model of offensive efficiency at the point guard position. Consistently racking up assists without turning the ball over, Calderon also adds a three-point stroke and a near-perfect free throw shooting percentage to make for a quality package even despite a low usage rate by point guard standards (he’s currently 45th among qualified point guards in usage rate, per ESPN).

Despite the low usage rate and coming off the bench in 15 of his 28 games, he’s ranked 10th among point guards in ESPN’s Value Added metric, which measures points a player produces above a replacement player (say, Ben Uzoh). To be a top-10 offensive point guard in a split-role without an adjustment for teammate quality (I think) is pretty impressive.

Assist Machine
Where Calderon makes his hay and, if you’ve ever watched a Raptors game, where he obviously excels and adds the most to the team, is in the passing game. He’s seventh in the league in assists per game with 7.5 despite playing under 29 minutes a night. If you look at his 15-game sample as a starter, his 11.3 assist per game would trail only Rajon “I’ll pass up an open layup to make sure I get 10 assists every game” Rondo.

But this is all old hat. We know Calderon is an assist machine and his numbers take a huge jump as a starter. For his career, he’s averaged an assist every 3.8 minutes as a starter and an assists every 4.4 minutes as a reserve, averaging an excellent 9.1 assists per 36 minutes for his career. That rate is tied for the 12th highest all time and the fourth highest among active players.

Historical Significance
All of this is to say that Calderon is a very good distributing point guard. How good? Well, Assist % on B-Ref refers to the percentage of teammate’s field goals a player assists on while on the floor, and is generally a way of pace-adjusting assist rate (though assists are still a somewhat flawed statistic, since they can’t measure when Kleiza bricks an open three, for example, or when Jonas gets fouled diving to the rim and shoots free throws instead of a field goal). Still, if we use Assist %, we see that Calderon is the fourth best in the league for the season so far, assisting on 43.9% of Raptor field goals while he’s on the floor.

What’s additionally impressive about that rate is that it’s the fifth time Calderon is above 40%, which is generally considered a “near-elite” threshold. Calderon would be only the tenth player to ever have five seasons crossing that barrier (John Stockton did it 18 times, eight more than anyone else, just for your information). For a player in just his eighth season in the league, he’s already joined some pretty elite company.

His career Assist % of 39.8% is currently the eighth highest of all time as well. Rarified air, this Calderon sits in. Of course, he gets torched defensively, so people consistently want his head or want him dealt, but there’s something to be said for just setting up teammates better than, you know, almost anyone ever.

The Turnover Factor
Oh yeah, and Calderon doesn’t turn the ball over, either. This season, his assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.89 ranks fourth in the league. Among all players with a career Assist % of at least 35%, his 16.7% career turnover percentage ranks 11th best out of the 29 players (did you know Stephon Marbury rarely turned the ball over? Weird, eh?). Among the 23 players with a career assists per game mark of 7.0 or higher, he has the second best assist to turnover ratio, trailing only Muggsy Bogues.

So What?
So what? It’s the 23rd of December and the team is off for four days. Thanksgiving is gone, but I wanted to thank Calderon, perhaps my all-time favorite Raptor. Also, Jose Calderon’s name is bound to be thrown out in trade talks the next few months given he’s an expiring deal with a sizable contract and could be of huge value to a contending team with point guard and/or floor spacing issues.

Nobody is going to argue that Calderon doesn’t give back some of his value on the defensive end of the floor. At the same time, though, I think people have let that narrative dominate the discussion about Calderon too often.

He truly is a unique and special offensive player. I don’t want to see him go, but teams would certainly be intelligent to inquire, and if he goes, I’ll miss his all-world playmaking. I’m sure his teammates will, too.

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