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.