Don’t Overlook Jose Calderon
With too little fanfare, the Raptors starting point guard Jose Calderon placed his stamp on the team’s record books on the road last week when he recorded 3,000 career assists. The next closest Raptors are Alvin Williams (1,791) and Damon Stoudamire (1,761). The team announced the achievement during play at their next home game versus the Cavaliers.
“I didn’t know,” explained Calderon. “It was a nice thing but I was really concentrating so I couldn’t just say thanks to everybody. I appreciated it.”
It has been a bumpy road for the Raptors’ veteran in recent years. Injuries have limited Calderon to just 68 games in each of the past three seasons, point guard controversy has been the norm during his tenure, and Raptors’ President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo almost traded him to the Bobcats at the start of last season, but the Spanish guard continued to produce for his team throughout it all.
“He’s our floor general,” explained Jamaal Magloire, the former All-Star and only Canadian to have ever played for the Raptors. “He has been here for seven years. He is the only player in all of our Toronto (professional) teams who has been here this long. That speaks to his character and the fact that he is well liked and he has been doing a good job for us.”
“Jose has been here a long time, the longest of anybody here,” confirmed Andrea Bargnani. “He has great experience and has won world championships. He is one of the best point guards in the league and its good playing with him, it’s easy.”
Calderon has played in more games (437) and more minutes (12,185) than any other active Raptor, and over his career, he has averaged 495 assists per season while turning the ball just 122 times for an assist to turnover ratio of 4:1, one of the best in the league.
The 30-year-old guard reached this new milestone while putting up some of his best numbers. Now 10 games into the 2011-12 NBA season he is shooting 50.5% from the field, 36.1% from three, and 93.3% from the line for 12.1 points per game, plus career-highs of 8.9 assists and 3.8 rebounds. The always reserved Calderon doesn’t acknowledge the improved play and credits his teammates for any personal success.
“I don’t see myself as better than other years,” said Calderon. “When the team is working better and everything is good, it’s all about the team. It’s easy when everybody is on the same page and everybody is doing the same thing. I think it is just that. You cannot be alright when your team is not doing well, that’s impossible.”
Perhaps a better explanation of Calderon’s fast start and strong play comes from head coach Dwane Casey, who defined roles for the Raptors’ players before the start of the season and implemented a style of play taking advantage of his best players’ strengths.
“(Calderon) He’s our leader,” said Casey. “He’s our guy. I made a decision to make him our starting point guard and he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder. I think he plays with confidence from that standpoint. He has done a good job. Jose is who he is. He has limitations but he has a lot of strengths and his strengths really fit on our first unit. I am really pleased with how he has been playing and he has done an excellent job for us as far as being a leader, knocking down three-point shots and defending. I think our defensive system has helped him to defend better. I am really pleased with Jose’s play.”
There seems to be no doubt Coach Casey’s defensive system has been helping most of the Raptors to defend better, however anyone who has watched Calderon play with his national team at the Olympics and FIBA tournaments will have noticed that his apparent defensive limitations were not as noticeable there. Minnesota Timberwolves rookie point guard Ricky Rubio – Calderon’s understudy on the Spanish national team – was genuinely surprised that anyone would question Calderon’s defense.
“He is a great defender,” said Rubio. “He plays defense very well. He knows how to defend. He is smart on offense and defense. He is strong and can guard everybody.”
Possibly this perception comes from having the Gasol brothers and now Serge Ibaka guarding the rim for Spain and that most European teams are known for the packed in defense that somewhat resembles what Casey is running.
While the season is just getting underway, Calderon’s early success is likely to continue and may even improve as the team adjusts to Coach Casey’s system and eventually implements the rest of the offensive package that had to be deferred due to a shortened training camp and limited practice time.
Already Calderon has a big target to work off of with Andrea Bargnani, who is playing at an All-Star level.
“This is our sixth year together,” said Bargnani. “He knows where I am after the pick-and-roll, how I like to receive the ball, what I can do on the court and where I can score. He knows me better than anyone else.”
Calderon’s assist numbers can only go up as the rest of his teammates start to rediscover their offensive games.
The Raptors have been focused on developing Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan as the faces of the franchise going forward, but the success of these young developing players still hinges on the ability of the team’s point guard to put them in situations where they can be successful. Although he has been easy to overlook, no point guard on the Raptors has been able to facilitate the team’s offense better than Calderon over the past five years and he will continue to be the one who makes things happen for the team this season.