After the dust settled on the trade with Dallas, and the unfamiliar high of receiving draft picks simmered down, one slightly unnerving reality kicked in: the length (three years) and cost ($22.21M) remaining on José Calderón’s contract, and the hearty bite into New York’s desired 2015 cap space. Though shipping Tyson Chandler and his expiring deal) back to Texas and extraditing the oleaginous mutta that is Raymond Felton netted the team a handful of assets, it seemed puzzling that the Knicks would be willing to accept the multiyear baggage attached to a guard approaching his 33rd birthday.
How difficult would it be to flip Calderón down the line? How does this affect Carmelo Anthony’s free agency? How would Calderón gel as part of the triangle offense?
These are all legitimate questions, though not before doing your due diligence on exactly what the scruffy Spaniard could bring to the Garden fold.
Calderón, whose 2013-14 season was his first and only with the Mavericks, boasts an elite shooting touch. A career 41.1% shooter from the outside, he ranked seventh in the league last season for made three-pointers, but finished fourth in 3PT%. His shooting numbers are insane across the board. He has eclipsed the 59.0 percent plateau for True Shooting in six of his nine seasons, and even enjoyed a 68-game run in 2009 where he converted 98.1% of his attempts at the charity stripe. Simply put, it’s very, very tough to find a level of sustained shooting excellence that is on a par with what José Calderón has produced throughout his nine seasons.
As a starter for 81 of the Mavs’ regular season games, he was a major factor in Dallas cobbling together an offense that tied as the second most efficient in the league. Granted, Calderón was flanked by the two-headed, Dirk-and-Carlisle offensive juggernaut, but his role in orchestrating the attack shouldn’t be dismissed. The Mavs’ scoring engine churned out 108.6 points per 100 possessions in nearly 2,500 minutes with Calderón on the floor, per NBA.com.
Dallas plugged Calderón alongside a ball-dominant, high usage guard in Monta Ellis, and the undersized duo (somewhat unexpectedly) proved to be a blessing for the Mavs’ offense. It’s hard to hide more than one player on the opposite end of the floor, however, and the move didn’t auger well for the team’s defense. For fans who grew tired of the Knicks’ switch-heavy, chaotic scramble of a defense last season, with Calderón on board, you might want to avert your eyes. Calderón is many things, though a league-average level defender is not one of them.
The Knicks’ self-inflicted anarchy under Mike Woodson’s scheme created headaches all season long. Calderón, on the other hand, has historically struggled to negotiate even a half-decent pick, and is too often found wandering in no man’s land on defensive possessions.
A quick glance at the stats and you might think Calderón is a respectable defender in pick-and-roll situations. He managed to rank in the top one-hundred defenders when guarding the ball-handler. In comparison, Raymond Felton came in at no. 205, allowing opponents to score on40.6% of his defensive stands, per Synergy Sports. Calderón’s opponents scored on 37.1% of their screen-and-roll plays, far from a humiliating mark. But it would be remiss not to consider the secondary effects of the Spaniard’s approach on the defensive end, where the bulk of the problems emerge.
The above example shows Calderón neither fighting over nor slipping under the Varejão screen, instead feigning activity and freeing Kyrie Irving for the regulation twenty-two footer. It’s a troubling bit of apathy on defense, but not exactly a criminal offense.
Calderón’s flaws are most exposed when the opponent is able to initiate a hint of ball movement, zipping the ball across the perimeter, and sending him into a tailspin. Here, moments after the Pelicans had swung the ball from one side of the floor to the other, and Calderón encounters a screen from Greg Stiemsma, he is visibly pointing for teammates to make a last ditch recovery on his opponent, Brian Roberts:
Again, elementary picks like this weren’t the worst outcome for Dallas. Things started to get a little nightmarish when the opposing point guard wasn’t necessarily the person to put up the shot attempt. A screen, a pass, another pass, and maybe another action, and you’ll get this:
This only highlights the closing moments of the possession, with the shot clock winding down. After a brief switch was forced earlier in the play, and Ellis was sucked over from the weakside on Jimmy Butler’s baseline drive, Calderón is caught ball watching at the top of the key, allowing Mike Dunleavy to break loose for the corner three. Plays like this constitute the less-than-ideal notion of having Calderón deployed as the “primary” defender on spot-up shooters.
Even if only due to his own absent-mindedness and curious positioning, Calderón cops the brunt of these defensive mishaps on the stat sheet. Nearly a third of his defensive plays resulted in covering spot-up gunslingers and, as Dallas quickly learned, it’s a slippery slope straight to scoreboard damage from that point on. According to Synergy, opposing players drilled 43.5% of their long range attempts with Calderón as the primary defender, contributing to his season average of 1.09 points per possession allowed.
Trotting out Calderón with anything but a defensive stalwart by his side is a major gamble, and one that can only be micromanaged in the most extraordinary of circumstances, a la with Dirk in tow. But before you pound your head to the desk at the prospect of one, two, or three seasons of this caliber of backcourt defense, take a moment to understand why an organization like the Mavericks would be willing to doll out a pricy, four-year deal to a player of this mold.
Last season in particular, Calderón was lethal on the perimeter. Scorching hot. He nailed almost two and a half triples per contest, shooting 44.9% on 425 total attempts. As futile as it seemed having Calderón within a five mile radius of opposing wings, he can dazzle with his own deadly jumper. Crack open an extra inch or two of space by setting a high screen, and he will gleefully fire away.
Check the film of José and Dirk running the pick-and-roll, and you will likely find yourself drooling at the thought of him doing with same with Melo (provided that Anthony re-signs). The threat of a capable shooter and/or stretch four fanning out onto the wing or popping out to the top of the key, with armed and readied shooting hands, poses a scary threat to the defense. That’s a choice that nobody wants to have to make–wrestle over to try to corral Calderón, or scurry away to a tough crossmatching scenario.
Few teams are going to be willing to punt on the opportunity to cover Calderón with the knowledge that he comfortably splashed 46.6% of his three-point attempts as the setup man in pick-and-rolls. Of course, shooting–if used correctly–creates bonus opportunities, leaves opponents scattered, and opens avenues that maybe you never even knew existed.
Part of the reason why the Mavericks were able to get away (for the most part) with the Calderón-Ellis tandem was what happened when teams deliberately looked to shun the screen-and-roll situations. What’s the best way to deal with above defensive dilemma? Avoid it altogether? Perhaps, but then you’re faced with the problem of tossing too many eggs into one ball-stopping basket.
Ellis’ slashing game shouldered a decent load for Dallas, and Calderón was one of the primary beneficiaries. With the Spanish veteran, though, it doesn’t even require a stream of high voltage hurls into the paint to free him up on the outside. He connected on 45.9% of his catch-and-shoot attempts from distance, courtesy of NBA.com. A basic action, balancing of the floor, and another draw card or two in the lineup is a tantalizing recipe for unchaining Calderón around the arc.
Tim Hardaway Jr.’s trigger happy hands are streaky, useful tools from time to time, but the transition from guards who were either not willing (Prigioni), able (Felton), or confident (Shumpert) to launch from beyond the arc to heavier minutes for the deadly Calderón is an overdue adjustment. That change, in the shadow of the triangle offense, figures to be smooth.
Calderón only has to look as far as, say, his new head coach Derek Fisher for inspiration on how to yield sharp shooting as a weapon within the parameters of the triangle. Having the team’s new point guard outside the arc, with Carmelo Anthony–again, in the event that he stays–or another agile frontcourt player functioning through the “pinch post” role would be a nice start. It’s not worth delving too deeply into the mechanics of Calderón in the triangle until the makings of the supporting cast are a little clearer, suffice to say that he is the model lead guard to slot into the system with Anthony either on the block, or cutting from the weakside.
He was also one of the premier protectors of the ball among all point guards last season, turning it over on just 11.7% of his possessions, an invaluable commodity in a system that’s based on fluid passing and well spaced quarters. Calderón deserves to be viewed as more than just a cap-clogging relic, and his serious defensive weaknesses can be skewed and lessened with the aid of a cohesive system. He is, for now, the Knicks’ starting point guard, and if you’re itching to see him clad in blue and orange, it’d be worthwhile watching him suit up for Spain in the FIBA World Cup (in September).
It’s also worth mentioning that he does have some serious mileage on his legs (almost 19,000 minutes, including playoffs), and–depending on your belief in the real plus-minus measurement–you could argue that he finished 2013-14, defensively, as one of the ten worst players in the league that spene any time at the point guard position. Calderón’s contract is more palatable than some have suggested, given the current market for perimeter players with a jumper of his caliber, and the showpieces of his skillset (vision, passing, shooting) should fare well with age.
Trading Tyson Chandler brought a close to one “era,” (for lack of a better term), and reaped a basket of returning goodies. Rather than panning his inclusion in the deal, it may yet prove easier to shade José Calderón as one of the chief assets gained in the move that began a welcome changing of the guard.