Aside from trying to retain Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks didn’t really have anything to look forward to in the offseason. They only had the mid-level exception to spend on free agents, and Phil Jackson’s front office reign was still pretty much on standby. Then, Phil went ahead and traded away Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler to the Mavericks and got Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington, and two second round picks in this year’s draft (it’s still mind-blowing that a team wanted Felton at perhaps the lowest point of his career in the first place).
Knick fans will probably have their eyes on Melo this year the lion’s share of the time for many reasons; he’s the offensive cornerstone, he’s the franchise player (in terms of money and talent), he’s the $120 million almost-max deal man and, ultimately, he’s Carmelo Anthony and we’re not.
But probably the most underrated piece of the puzzle, as well as being the most overlooked piece of the starting five (at least in my eyes), is Jose Calderon, a beloved favorite of mine ever since he set foot in in Toronto. Ditto to when he was with the Mavericks last year (and the Pistons being a trade piece in the first Rudy Gay trade) with my other spirit animal (as it says in my bio), Monta Ellis.
Knick fans should be very elated that they have a point guard with a first-rate distributing skill, a sweet three point stroke, and an impossible-to-miss free throw shot, because Calderon is all of the above. That’s what the Knicks miss; a competent point guard that can perform his duties correctly.
We, as fans, know how not having a decent point guard feels. Felton grinded everybody’s gears, got into austere legal troubles, completely forgot how to distribute and shoot, and pretty much everything else in between. People, including myself, labeled him as quite possibly the worst starting point guard in the league last year. I wrote a season review on him a few months ago and researching his stats was nothing short of disgusting; Exorcist-esque projectile vomit levels of disgusting.
However, one thing that Calderon and Felton are definitely not polar opposites on is the defensive end. Calderon is a dreadful defender with his sluggish speed and footwork, but he actually tries his best when defending. Felton on the other hand would either plow himself right into a screen or stay on his man for about a nanosecond and then get incinerated by the opposing ball handler. That’s why I always begged and pleaded for Mike Woodson to have Iman Shumpert defend swift point guards all the time. That came to fruition, but barely, because Woodson would never do it last year. However, let’s not discount Calderon’s 112 DRtg from last season, which was worse than Felton’s (it’s a rarity to have someone do something worse than Felton at this point).
As bad of a defender as he is, Calderon does make up for his defensive lapses with his offensive skill sets. As I said above, his distributing is something to be excited about. He is as pass-first as you can get. He’s had many seasons in which he has averaged at least 8 assists a game and 39-40+% AST%’s. He has accumulated 50-40-90 numbers back in 2007-08 and has come close on many other occasions. One would think that’s pretty good.
Although his assist totals were the lowest since his rookie year, due to Rick Carlisle giving Monta Ellis carte blanche as the primary point guard 95% of the time last season (also regarded as one of the best pick and roll ball handlers), everyone should guarantee seeing Calderon back at his traditional point guard position this upcoming season.Unless Derek Fisher has other interesting stuff in store, Shane Larkin will be backing him up (reunion tour!).
Calderon is a prime example of a spot-up three point shooter that can drain at massively high rates. While Ellis took over the point, he just hung around on the line, kinda like how Jason Kidd did with the Knicks during their 54 win season (seems so long ago now). Last season, he shot just below 45% from downtown. His 3PAr was .568, which means that almost 57% of his shots came from the three point line alone, blowing away his old career-high of 44%. His TS% almost amassed 60%, probably because of his insanely high three point rate. Now that’s efficiency.
Calderon averaged 11.4 points and 4.7 assists a contest last season while starting as Monta Ellis’s one-two partner, posting a 120 ORtg and a 15.2 PER in 30.5 minutes a contest. That’s not bad for someone that didn’t play at his comfortable position.
Based on the history of triangle offense point guards, particularly Derek Fisher and Ron Harper, they were typically guys that just hung around on the perimeter. With Derek Fisher implementing the triangle offense in full swing, Calderon really is a perfect fit for the system and an offensive initiator.
Calderon is also surrounded by pick and pop options like Jason Smith, who’s a knockdown shooter from mid-range, and Andrea Bargnani (why they have him in the first place, I have no idea). His vision on the pick and roll is great, and with Amar’e Stoudemire, he’ll have a post option to look to. Again, if he doesn’t feel like distributing or he can’t find anyone to dish to, he’ll lurk around the perimeter off the ball and try to knock down the open shot, preferably a three pointer.
Jose Calderon is certainly not a sexy name by any means, but who cares? His all-around game, along with being the main facilitator and an anti-turnover man (he ranked 4th in assist to turnover ratio last season), will fit well with the direction Derek Fisher is going in.