How Good Has Jose Been?

Behind the sparkling play of Andrea Bargnani, the inconsistent play of DeMar DeRozan and the teasing play of Amir Johnson, few have realized that the Raptors best player through two weeks and nine games of this condensed season might just be Jose Calderon.

In years past, Calderon has often been the target of my criticism. I always thought he was a decent point guard who took care of the ball, but I also thought of him as a fragile “anti-clutch” player who folded in the biggest games and the biggest moments. In truth, I always believed Raptors fans overrated Calderon.

But over the last couple of years, I’ve slowly warmed to Jose, and began to realize that perhaps Raptors fans don’t overrate the Spanish point guard. Maybe the rest of the basketball world just doesn’t appreciate him enough.

With the numbers he’s putting up early on this season, I don’t see how others around the NBA won’t notice him. Calderon’s on pace for a career year, which says something for a pass-first point guard who has had some already impressive statistical seasons in the past.

In nine games, Calderon is averaging 12.6 points (just 0.2 off his career high), a career-high nine assists per game and a career-high 3.7 rebounds per game. Jose’s willingness to fight and bang with bigger players for rebounds and loose balls, as well as his vast improvement from his previous pylon-like defence has been evident early this season, and it’s both a surprising and welcome addition to his game.

Calderon’s also shooting over 50 per cent from the field for the first time in four seasons, and is just 0.6 three-point percentage points away from being on track to hit the elusive 50-40-90 mark (50 per cent from the field, 40 per cent from three-point range, 90 per cent from the free throw line) for the second time in his seven-year NBA career. The only players to achieve that feat multiple times in their careers are Larry Bird and Steve Nash.

As if those numbers weren’t enough, Calderon is currently fifth in the NBA with a 44.8 assist percentage and has a Player Efficiency Rating above 20 (21.25).

But I’ve saved the best for last. We all know that Calderon’s greatest strength, outside of his offensive efficiency, is how well he takes care of the ball. He manages to post sparkling assist totals while limiting his turnovers, and that’s a measure of point guard competency that should factor in to deciding which point men are considered elite.

In the important measure of assist-to-turnover ratio, Calderon has led the league twice (in 2007-2008 and 2008-09) and has finished in the NBA’s top-four in each of the last five seasons. But what he’s doing early on this season is truly special.

Right now, anything over a 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio would put a player in the top-eight in the NBA. Anything over 4.0 would put them in the top-four. Second place (Tony Parker) is 4.92. Jose Calderon currently leads the league with a remarkable assist-to-turnover ratio of 6.23. If Calderon continues on this ridiculous pace, it would be the first time anyone’s cracked 6.0 in 10 years, and the first time any player has cracked 5.0 since Jose, himself, did it in 2007-2008 (5.38).

If you’re wondering, the NBA began keeping track of assist-to-turnover ratio in 1988-1989, and the highest ratio ever recorded in a single-season was 6.14, by Timberwolves point guard Terrell Brandon in 2001-2002. The catch though, is that Brandon only played in 32 games that season.

As I’ve written often in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been paying attention to early numbers and stats this season more than any other season, because in a shortened campaign, numbers that seem inflated have a higher chance of standing than they would in an 82-game season.

Whether Calderon can keep up this superb level of play or whether the 30-year-old can remain healthy and fit over the course of this sprint of a season obviously remain to be seen. But for now, we should respect and appreciate what “Numero Ocho” is doing in Toronto.

He may not be the flashiest player, he’s definitely not the loudest or the brashest, and he probably won’t do anything that will make you jump out of your seat or yell “wow.”

But Jose Calderon is quietly going about putting together another one of the NBA’s most efficient seasons in history for a point guard, and it’s a shame that despite that, he still rarely gets the attention and credit that he deserves.

He’s playing in a Golden Age of point guards in the NBA, and yet I don’t think you could name 10 point guards playing at a higher level right now.

Comments (5)

  1. I’d really like to see Jose Play the remainder of his career in T.Dot

  2. With Jose making 9.75M this year and on the books for 10.5M next year, it’s interesting how he’s gone from being considered an amnesty target to someone who’s not unreasonably paid for his production so far. You just can’t get a high-quality pass-first PG right now without paying a very high price. Imagine what a player like Jose would do for New York, Sacramento or Washington (even with Wall) right now. I think they’d all be FAR better. I also think the Raptors would be far worse without him. Jose is a big part of the reason why Toronto’s offence has been halfway decent despite Casey’s admission that they haven’t really finished implementing their system yet. Jose is good enough to run the offence in the absence of having a full offensive system in place.

  3. Yes, Calderon has been playing well on offense lately. But his defense has been pretty poor, too. Your co-blogger Blake had him second-worst on DRat versus the Timberwolves, for a net of -0.1/36min.

    http://www.hoopsinstitute.ca/MIN20120109.pdf

    I’ll be interested in seeing Blake’s stats for the season, once he recovers from his sickness and compiles them.

  4. Remember that time Jose dunked? Would like to see one of those this year…. Then I’m back on bandwagon.

  5. I’ve always liked Calderon, and never felt he really got his due respect among Raptor fans. It’s true his defense has never been very good, but it wasn’t as bad as many made out who don’t seem to realize that most NBA PGs can’t keep their man in front of them most of the time (especially with the current rules). I also think his lack of flash and understated game had many believe he was not as effective as he was. He’s always been one of the best Raptors, in terms of having a positive effect on the team.

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