Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry. It’s a decision. It’s depth at point guard. It’s internal competition. It’s flexibility for head coach Dwane Casey. But it’s not a controversy.

The word controversy implies there’s a problem. When a backup is pushing the starter for more playing time or possibly his job, it creates a lot of positives, even if one player is miffed by the bench role. There’s also no way it can be a controversy if one of these players is a far superior talent.

The big knock on Kyle Lowry is that he’s played selfish basketball at points this season. As we talked about on Monday’s podcast, the selfishness on defence when Lowry jumps passing lanes gambling for steals is far more egregious than his occasional pull-up threes. In a tie game against the Kings with two minutes left, Tyreke Evans hit two consecutive wide open three-pointers as Lowry was floating around the paint looking for steals. Evans is a piss-poor shooter, but he makes a much higher percentage when left all alone. Lowry’s commitment to the team was a big enough issue that he was reportedly called out by one or more of his teammates in a players-only meeting after Toronto’s humiliating loss to Utah.

We have to be careful when using the term selfish for Lowry – we’re not talking about Ricky Davis here. Lowry is not a selfish player, he just has a couple of selfish tendencies. Assist rate is a statistic that gives us an indication of how selfish a player is on offence. For his career, Lowry has an assist rate of 41% – meaning if you total his field goals, free throws, turnovers and assists, the assists make up 41% of that total. The average assist rate for point guards this season is a 27.15%. This season, Lowry’s assist rate sits at just 25%.

This career-low appears to be selfishness on the surface, but after looking at Calderon’s assist rate this season, we can conclude that both point guards are playing with more of a shoot-first attitude than ever before. Calderon, who sports a career-assist rate of 65%, sits at just 40% this year. Both point guards are taking on a larger scoring load than usual because they are the primary ball-handlers on this team and nobody in the supporting cast (although DeRozan is improving every day) has strong ball-handling skills. The onus is on Kyle and Jose to create everything.

Whatever bad habits the 26-year old Lowry may have, they are easily offset by one of the most well-rounded skill sets among NBA point guards. He is currently one of three players in the league averaging 15+ points, 5+ assists and 5+ rebounds. The other two are Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. At his best, Lowry is a force at both ends of the floor. He can’t be contained off the dribble due to his tight handle and great upper body strength, he’s one of the best rebounding point guards in the league and he’s extremely active on defence – making deflections and covering up for his teammates.

When stacking up their games side by side, there are just two areas in which the 31-year old Calderon is clearly superior to Lowry. The jump-shooting is easy to quantify. Jose is a career 38% shooter from three-point land. Lowry is a career 33% shooter from downtown, but he’s improved in recent years. Calderon is also a superior distributor. Jose has evolved his passing skills - changing from primarily making safe passes around the perimeter in his early years to attempting higher difficulty passes for layups in recent years. He deserves credit for doing this without upping his turnover rates.

Calderon is a more talented passer but does that necessarily make the offence he runs more efficient than Lowry’s? The answer is no. This season, the Raptors are averaging 1.04 points per possession with Lowry on the floor. They average 1.01 points per possession with Calderon on the floor. Last year, Calderon was good for 1.04 while Lowry posted 1.06 with Houston. Two seasons ago, Calderon was 1.08 while Lowry led the Rockets at 1.14.

The difference between their shortcomings is that Lowry’s issues can be fixed – it’s a decision he must make and hopefully has already made after the players-only meeting. It’s worth fighting through Lowry’s bad habits because his ceiling is so much higher than Calderon’s.

Calderon’s vices can be masked and improved upon, but never fixed. He lacks the foot speed and the lateral quickness to be one of the elite point guards in the NBA. This weakness is usually exposed on defence, as his resemblance to a turnstile has become well known throughout the league. The foot speed issue also hurts him on offence, as Calderon doesn’t have the ability to beat his check off the dribble. He puts his teammates – namely DeRozan – in low percentage situations when he swings a pass their way with less than eight seconds on the shot clock because there isn’t enough time to run a screen and roll.

Both point guards have had stretches of four to five games this season where they played at an incredibly high level, but it’s irresponsible to judge either player based on those minuscule samples. Many players in the NBA could average 14 point and 11 assists (Calderon’s numbers from the past 5 starts) as the primary ball-handler against the defences of Houston, Dallas, Detroit, Brooklyn & Cleveland. Kyle Lowry went on an incredible tear of his own through the first four games of the season, leading the NBA in adjusted player efficiency rating. Lowry currently sits 12th in adjusted PER at 22.83. Calderon currently has an adjusted PER of 17.09. Although adjusted PER is the most commonly accepted measure of a player’s overall worth, we shouldn’t draw final conclusions from these small samples.

However, it is another sign that Lowry is the better option.

The discrepancy in won-loss record between Lowry and Calderon is a very misleading stat. Toronto currently has a 6-6 record with Jose as the starter and a 2-13 record in games that Lowry has started. Lowry played all of his games during the toughest portion of the schedule, as Toronto traveled out west. Calderon had the good fortune of playing against some very mediocre competition and he hasn’t been dragged down by Toronto’s space cadet – Andrea Bargnani. Lowry’s record as the starter is also not helped by the fact that Jose hasn’t done anything off the bench. As a starter Jose is averaging 14 points and 11 assists in 36 minutes per game. As a reserve, he’s contributing eight points and just four assists in 22 minutes per game. The shooting percentages for Calderon as a backup are ugly as well – 39% from the field and 40% from deep as a reserve as opposed to 47% from the field and 48% from three as a starter.

There is no doubt Jose Calderon is playing some of the best basketball of his career right now as the starter. It’s a shame, but this recent spurt is showing us that he still hasn’t reached his potential at age 31. He arrived in the NBA at age 24 and the language barrier limited the Spaniard’s development in early years. He was then transitioned to the terrible defensive principles of head coach Jay Triano. By the time Dwane Casey had the opportunity to work with Calderon, he was already on the back end of his basketball career. Credit should be given to Calderon and Casey for making improvements at this stage of his career. If Jose had been given the proper coaching at an early age, he would be an all-star in this league.

Calderon’s improved play gives Bryan Colangelo a tough decision. There will surely be plenty of suitors looking for his services, even if Toronto does manage to climb back into the East playoff picture. If given a handsome return of prospects and/or draft picks, it would be hard to turn down the offer, considering Calderon could very well walk out the door this summer. In the meantime, Dwane Casey needs to force the two-point guard lineup out there. There will only be certain situations in which he can play this combination, but Casey must find a way to get both these guys as much playing time as possible.

A multitude of factors suggest Kyle Lowry should be the starting point guard for Toronto when he returns from injury, but the great play of Jose Calderon should be put into context and used as a positive. The Raptors have two point guards playing at a very high level and there is nothing controversial about that.

Comments (28)

  1. Nice article. I agree for the most part, but I’m still not sold on Lowry. If he was such a stud why would Houston and Memphis let him go? Numbers are important but there are a lot of intagibles that a PG brings to the table.

  2. While I agree that it’s a bonus to have two PG’s of the quality of Lowry and Calderon on the roster, I really don’t see a point in keeping Jose around if, like the author suggested, Lowry is going to be the starter. It’s obvious that Calderon is not the type of PG that can come off the bench and anchor a second unit, he really needs to start and get consistent minutes to be an effective player. Even though I think he’s a great player, we might as well trade him away and try to shore up some of the other holes this roster has.

    Also, for the record, I don’t think Lowry is the PG this team needs.

  3. Lowry hadnt really developed while in Memphis, he evolved while in houston to be a very good PG with room to still improve… GM Morey in houston was trying to build up his chip stack for a D Howard trade that is the reason we got him on the cheap..He just needs to develop more court vision & hopefully the time on the sidelines helped him see what Jose does best! theres nothing wrong with starting either of them though Just PLEASE dont go back to playing them both never worked

  4. It’s a shame Lowry isn’t 10-20% bigger, he’d make a great shooting guard. Solve a lot of problems.

    Anyway, it’s great that Calderon finally has some competition that actually deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as him, unlike the pretenders people have been hyping during his time here.

  5. this article is dead f^ck’in on! Covers all the corners on this situation with extreme depth – rite on boss!
    Since the team meeting, Lowry has been hurt. He deserve the chance to start and play with a team (who is Grabnani-less) and who is playing better collectively. If anyone (like Doug Smith) thinks that this team is all of a sudden better “alla-ka-bam!” just like magic because Calderon is starting, is a joke!

  6. I think that the pg position should be Calderon’s to lose now with the way he is playing not many other players in NBA better in the past 4 games.

    • 4 games is way too small a sample size to go by to make a decision like and we’ve all seen this story with Calderon before when a new PG comes in and for whatever reason he gets to start for awhile and goes off….it never lasts.

      Lowry is way more talented and can take over down the stretch. I want to see what the team looks like with Lowry starting and no Bargs in the line-up.

      • Four games might be too small of a sample size (seems like people love that term on here) but you don’t change a winning team either. You don’t bench a PG who’s playing as well Calderon is playing right now in place of another PG who is coming back from injury and will probably need a few games to find his game again.

    • you obviously didn’t read the article


  7. lowry should come of the bench, because he isnt a true pg he is more of a sg. it does not look to me like he knows how to run an offence he just does what ever HE needs for HIM self to score. good player who knows how get on the line and can shoot the three, but really is there anything else to his game ? he gets steals every now and then but most of the time he risks stupid fouls . i wanted him to lead us but i dont think he knows how to run an offence . maybe he will prove me wrong.

  8. I don’t know where you guys see the “upside” in a 26 year old point guard that has to rely on athletic ability to have success in the NBA. One who has a history of injury issues. The reality is that point guards like Lowry don’t have a long shelf life in the NBA. You want to see point guards that have long careers, look for point guards who can take care of the ball make good decisions and shot. Lowry has peaked in Houston and is already on the decline. He will be more injured and hampered by the physical limitations that come with age.

  9. At this point in their careers, Jose is the better PG. Hands down!


  10. For some reason Jose steps up his game when challenging for that #1 spot, in fact I think he prefers to NOT be in the limelight. Lowry is the kind of athlete Torontonians have been waiting for, plays with heart. Injuries Occur every day in sports but this doesn’t mean you make trades because of it. As for Bargs … keep him but have him come off the bench and make him earn that starting position, trading him this year will be a mistake as far as return in value. Ed Davis has been a beast if a trade is made i’m sure that teams will be asking about E.D.
    Go Raps Go!

  11. Im tired of these fans being consistently fooled by calderon’s production. Kyle Lowry is the better pg in a league where your peak is reached by the age of 29 and we’ve seen what Calderon is capable of, yet we dismiss the guy who’s on new team, coming from a free range up tempo system to a halfcourt set with new teammates. Excluding the ridiculous early road schedule, so please spare me the cries for Calderon, stop making him sound so innocent the man makes more money than Nash, but I’ll give him a chance against San Antonio, he plays well then we have something.

  12. Here’s the thing, we’ve had jose around for a long time and we know what he brings. Kyle wasn’t healthy when he got back from the inuury this year and again he’s injured. But what we saw from him in the first three games of the season was a healthy all star caliber point gaurd the raptors needed. As for trade value, packaging him and andrea could get a lot back in return and jose’s great when starting. However, we haven’t seen enough of him to let him go.

    • Sort of like Bargs last year. Played really well until he was injured. Funny how one player gets a pass and another doesn’t. Lowry is a defensive liability which comes from his attitude. Attitudes are fixable and sometimes they are not.

  13. With better coaching the team wouldn’t have lost all those close games, which also includes how Lowry has been handled. Lowry should come off the bench to score for the Raptors, and Calderon should have been the starter from the beginning of the year (familiarity with team – probably would have assisted Bargnani as well with his ability to share the ball).

    Coaching has been poor, hopefully we’ve turned the corner in that regard with the team playing better. If Lowry want’s to be the starter he needs to earn it, Raptors should never have handed him the starting position right off the bat!

    Calderon has been a great team player for this team since day one, is loyal, Raptors should show some loyalty to him as well.

  14. Space cadet! That is awesome.

  15. Calderone is a “PURE” Pg…….triple dbls….18 asst, 17ast, best ast/to ratio year in and out. its an easy decision.

  16. Lowry is the closest thing we have to a star…I infact sometimes feel he should be more selfish on offense and take control of the ball in the closing minutes. Until he stays healthy for a while and gets used to his teammates here, we won’t see his potential. Calderon is good, but we see his D and how other pgs can attack him so easily. If his stock is so high right now, I would trade him for a good package. However that being said, it’s not like we have a pick this year either, so I don’t know the point of a partial rebuild.

    • “Lowry is the closest thing we have to a star ” really? Followed him awhile have you? What is your definition of a star? Based on what I have seen T Ross has more of a chance to be a star. DD is definitely more of a star and Calderon carries the towels. Calderon has shown over the years that he can play well. As far as his defence goes I don’t see what all the fuss is about. His defence has not looked out of place. I don’t recall one coach and there have been 3 saying that Jose’s defence was bad. Yet people continually refer to his bad defence like it is a fact. Reminds me of the Cavs game when their PG said he could defend Jose no problem. Yet at the end of the night Jose was the better player.

  17. You know BC has tried to find another PG ever since he joined the team. They just kept proving that they weren’t good enough to run the team. Undeterred BC goes after Lowry for a 1st pick to “fix” Jose, er the PG “problem”. BC like you believes that Jose has no upside. Despite all of that you write in your article to try to minimize Jose by saying that just this year Jose has started to make some good passes. Really? I’ve been watching Jose since he joined the Raps and he was an extraordinary passer from day one. I’ll just say this re: Jose. Time and again in sports I have witnessed players with either average or inferior talent excel in their careers due to heart and brains. You can’t look it up in the stats column but it is more important than all of the talent in the world. And that is where you and BC have missed the point. All you have to do is listen to Jose’s team mates over the years and without exception they love what he brings to the game. That’s why he plays and you write.

    • I think BC gave Jose a large dose of loyalty when he gave him a 5yr/$45 million dollar contract, You don’t hand out that kind of dough to a player if you plan on replacing him, so your argument in that regard carries no weight. And given Jose has always been known as a poor defender & the team never finished at or above .500 during Jose’s 4 years at starter, I don’t think Mgmt can really be faulted for trying to upgrade the PG position. The only problem with Colangelo’s attempts to upgrade the PG position is in the players he chose. Jarret Jack, TJ Ford, Bayless….. these are average players at best, so it’s no surprise they didn’t win the job.

      Yes, he’s been a great team guy, but the article is correct, for where this team is at & wants to achieve, Lowry’s ceiling is much higher. Jose holds more value as a trade chip, especially since there is no guarantee Jose will re-sign. Allowing sentimentality to influence player decisions would be a big mistake.

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