CLEVELAND, Ohio — Jose Calderon has never missed a shot in the NBA Finals. He’s never taken one, either.
Deron Williams didn’t make a shot (0-11 FG) in the first three games of the 2017 NBA Finals. After signing as a free agent with the Cleveland Cavaliers in late February, the then-new backup point guard shrunk on the biggest stage.
As of right now, it doesn’t appear that Williams, who remains a free agent, will return to the Cavs next year. In his stead, Cleveland signed the 35-year-old point guard Calderon to a one-year contract for the veteran’s minimum, $2.3 million.
Ahora es oficial!
Muy feliz de empezar este nuevo reto!
— jose manuel calderon (@JmCalderon) July 10, 2017
Calderon has spent the bulk of his NBA career with the Toronto Raptors, where he played from 2005 to 2013. In his time in Toronto, the Spanish point guard averaged over 8 assists per game in four separate seasons. Since leaving the Raptors, Calderon has played for five other NBA teams before his signing with Cleveland this offseason. Last season, Calderon split time between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Atlanta Hawks.
During the Finals, the Cavaliers lacked the requisite athleticism to keep up with Golden State. The perfect guy to fill the backup point guard role would be young and athletic. But unless Kay Felder steps up and seizes the spot behind Kyrie Irving, it’s Calderon’s job. And he is neither very young nor very athletic.
In transitioning from Williams to Calderon, the Cavs actually get about two years older at the backup spot. But the front office, currently being run by Koby Altman, is severely hamstrung by its salary cap situation. Signing Calderon to a veteran’s minimum contract was really one of the only options Altman and co. had.
Reports have linked Derrick Rose to the Cavs. If he signed, he would probably usurp the backup role from Calderon.
On paper, the Calderon signing doesn’t inspire much excitement. What can Cavs fans get excited about? What does the four-time Olympian from Spain do well?
EXQUISITE, ON-THE-MARK PASSER
Calderon has long been thought of as one of the better passing point guards in the league. In his career, he’s averaged 6.2 assists per game, more than Irving’s average of 5.5.
The Cavs’ front office has worked hard to surround LeBron James and Irving with quality shooting. Those shooters will work just as well with Calderon, a player who gets to the right spots in the floor to free up shooters, and then finds them well.
He also keeps his head up well at all times, allowing him to find open cutters. Maybe the skill that stands out most on film is his patience on the pick-and-roll. He never seems to rush, always knowing where to get to free up his man.
A team with guys who love to shoot can always use a player like Calderon. His patience with the ball also could allow the Cavs to be more effective in the half court, if necessary.
Calderon is not a highly regarded athlete, especially at this stage in his career. But he possesses strong ability in transition because of the way he advances the ball.
He almost never goes down the floor and dribbles by people. But if his team has space and a numbers advantage, he does a good job at getting the ball ahead to the open man.
Here, a transition opportunity slows down but he senses the trailer has an advantage and uses him:
He creates transition after a made basket with this pass:
The Cavs, following the philosophy of head coach Tyronn Lue, love to run in transition. Normally, the breaks are led by James and Irving. But having another option to outlet the ball to and go can only help the success of that transition game.
OFF THE BALL
The Cavs can sometimes fall into a pattern of watching James and Irving go to work and not moving without the ball. Calderon cuts hard off the ball, whether as part of a set play or not.
Here, Calderon just doesn’t stop moving:
With the amount of attention that James and Irving command from opposing defenses, it’s easy for help defenders to ball-watch. When that happens Calderon can take advantage by cutting backdoor and finding easy layups.
HE CAN SHOOT IT
Throughout his career, Calderon has shot the ball well. In his 17 games to end the season with Atlanta, he shot just 26.7 percent from three-point range. But for his career, he’s a 40.9 percent three-point shooter. And from the free-throw line he shoots it at 87.5 percent for his career. Not only can Calderon move well off the ball, he can spot up and make shots. Not to mention that the respect he garners, as the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll, for his shooting frees up just a little more space to make another good pass.
In the 2008-09 season, Calderon got himself to second place on an all-time NBA record list: consecutive free throws made. He cashed 87 in a row before missing.
Here’s a look at some of the different kind of shots Calderon can make.
The NBA is a shooters league these days. Cleveland shot the second most threes last year, at 33.9 per game, even more than Golden State. Calderon just adds another shooter to a stable of shooters.
CAN HE DEFEND?
Most of Calderon’s defensive plays that show up as highlights are steals. And usually they resemble the one below, where he just sticks a hand in at the right time.
A better way to get a grasp on Calderon’s defense is to look at his on/off ratings. Basketball Reference tracks these statistics. They are a measure of how a player’s team performs in different regards when a player is on and off the floor. To judge defense, we’ll look at the on/off statistic in regards to his opponent’s Offensive Rating. It shows how many points an opponent would score, per 100 possessions, with Calderon on the floor and off the floor.
With New York, Calderon hurt the team defensively. When he was on the floor, opponents had an ORtg of 109.3. When Calderon sat, opponents’ ORtg declined to 105.8. Per 100 possessions, Knicks’ opponents scored 3.5 more points when Calderon was on the floor. That would suggest he is a slight negative as a defender.
The Cavaliers needed a backup point guard. And the front office apparently decided that it wouldn’t be Deron Williams. Kay Felder, entering just his second year in the league, is undersized and more of a scoring player. Cleveland has no way of knowing how he will perform.
So the choice of signee was an experienced presence who would sign for the veteran’s minimum, a huge factor with the current Cavs’ cap situation.
Calderon brings 12 years of NBA experience, along with three Olympic medals, to the Cavaliers.
On very few possessions will Calderon’s first intention on the basketball floor be to score. He almost always looks to set up his teammates first. On a team with good shooters, Calderon will have an opportunity to thrive in backup minutes.
How successful he is could come down to the players on the floor with him. Because he wants to set his teammates up, the players around him need to be able to put the ball in the basket. Calderon will not pick up the scoring slack of James or Irving while they rest. But he provides the Cavaliers with another option to run the offense when those players have to take a seat or play off the ball.
If he’s proven one thing in his career, it’s that he can really pass the ball. Cleveland probably will be hoping that Calderon gets the opportunity to do that, and do that well, in next June’s NBA Finals.