The Ultimate Raptors Rankings are the RaptorBlog editors’ attempt to rank the top 30 Toronto Raptors of all time. These rankings are obviously somewhat arbitrary and endlessly debatable, but they’re based on each player’s contribution, performance and longevity as a Raptor, and on how beloved they are by Raptors fans. We’ll count down a new Raptor every Wednesday on this blog.

Jose Calderon’s Raptors résumé:

- Most assists in Raptors franchise history (2969) & shares record (with Damon Stoudamire) for assists in one game (19)

- Third in All-Time Raptors games played with 427 & Fourth in All-Time Raptors minutes played with nearly 12,000

- Sixth in All-Time franchise points (4180) and Sixth in All-Time franchise field goal percentage (48.6 %)

- Eighth in career P.E.R.  with the Raptors and third in career win-shares

- Holds second-longest free throw streak in NBA history with 87 straight makes in 2008-2009

He is currently the longest tenured professional athlete in Toronto (of the major sports), but no one could have predicted the success Jose Calderon would find when he was just an unassuming, barely noticeable Spanish rookie in 2005-2006. Calderon was a bench player for a 27-win team. He put up okay numbers for a rookie who had to adjust to life away from home, but outside of his free throws, his shooting was ugly.

16.3 per cent from three-point range as a 24-year-old. Seven of 43. Who would have guessed that six years later, we’d be talking about “Numero Ocho” as one of the top-10 greatest Raptors of all time?

The turning point in Calderon’s career came in his sophomore season, when he helped the Raptors to their second-best season in franchise history. Calderon and T.J. Ford combined to form one of the best point-guard tandems in the NBA, and Raptors fans though they had the position figured out for the next five-to-10 years.

Calderon put up 8.7 points and five assists in about 21 minutes per game that season, backing up Ford and even starting 11 games when T.J. wasn’t available. The real stunner though, was Calderon’s jump in field goal percentage – from 42 per cent as a rookie, to an astonishing 52 per cent in his second season. And he did it despite taking nearly 200 more shots and 32 more three-pointers.

Thanks in part to Calderon’s unexpected improvement and the contributions of Chris Bosh and newly acquired players, the Raptors went on to a 47-35 season that ended with the first and only division championship in franchise history. If there is one knock I have on Jose that season, it’s his costly turnover in Game 6 of the playoff series against the Nets, which effectively ended the Raptors season.

Sure, it was a great athletic play by Richard Jefferson on the defensive end, but Jose’s nonchalant attempted pass to Bosh still plays on repeat in every Raptors fan’s mind. That play signaled the beginning of Calderon’s reputation, in my eyes, as “the anti-clutch.” He’ll put up good numbers and have some great games, but when it comes to the big moments in big games, Calderon usually folds up like a tent.

One of the rare occasions in which Jose actually came through in the clutch in a big game came the following season. It was 2007-2008. The Raptors were struggling to live up to their new-found expectations, T.J. Ford’s on-again-off-again injury problems handed Calderon the starting job, and there was a new bully in town in the form of Boston’s newly minted “Big Three.” In the previous meetings between the two teams that season, the Celtics were 3-0, with a couple of those wins coming in blowout fashion.

Then in meeting No. 4, in Boston, this happened:

The Raptors stunned the eventual NBA champions in their own barn, and for a second, gave fans a glimmer of hope that the Raptors could be a force come playoff time. Toronto, of course, crashed out in the first round again (in five games to the Magic), T.J. Ford was traded to the Pacers for Jermaine O’Neal, and Calderon was given a five-year contract and the full-time starting job.

From there, the Raptors quickly faded back into a perennial lottery team, Calderon went from a player many saw as under-rated to a player everyone saw as over-paid, while also became a walking band-aid. Various injuries, mainly a hamstring problem, have limited him to just 68 games in each of the last three seasons since signing that $40-plus million contract. In total, Calderon has missed 42 games over three seasons, after missing just 13 total games in his first three seasons.

He’s lost his starting spot, at various times, to guys like Jarrett Jack and Jerryd Bayless. He was almost traded to the Bobcats last summer, if not for a change of heart by Michael Jordan. In many ways, Calderon’s NBA/Raptors career has been a tale of two halves.

In the first half, he was an under-the-radar, up-and-coming young point guard just waiting to be unleashed. In the second half, an over-the-hill offensive specialist who has become a defensive laughing stock in NBA circles.

Looking at the numbers, Calderon still puts up stats worthy of elite point guard status. He is a pass-first offensive floor general who can keep defences honest with his lights-out shooting and make teammates better with reliable passing. He also takes care of the ball at an amazing rate, ranking in the NBA’s top-four in assist-to-turnover ratio in five of his six seasons, including finishing first in that category three times.

Unfortunately for Calderon and the Raptors, Jose’s porous defence, his nagging injuries and his reputation as a player who folds under pressure held him back from ever becoming that truly elite NBA point guard.

None the less, at the end of the day, no matter what the doubters (which often includes myself) think, the fact is that Jose Calderon is one of the most beloved Raptors of all time, and when you couple that with the impressive franchise ranks above, and that fact that he contributed to one of only two successful periods in franchise history, you see why Calderon is a worthy Top-10 candidate in RaptorBlog’s Ultimate Raptors Rankings.

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