The Dallas Mavericks missed out on the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, but after much worry and fret, they have finally signed somebody (no offense to Gal Mekel): Spanish point guard Jose Calderon.
Calderon has long been on the Dallas radar: last June he was being discussed as an amensty or trade candidate. Then, at this year's trade deadline, Dallas turned down a chance to trade Vince Carter for Calderon, largely due to the issue of absorbing his contract and significant cap hold.
Now, Calderon is a Mav. So what exactly is Dallas getting with the soon to be 32-year-old former Raptor and Piston?
Simply put: he's the best passer not named Chris Paul.
Defining "best" may seem frivolous to some, but let me clarify my statement: when I say best, I don't necessarily mean the flashiest, or the most effortless-looking, or even the most prolific. Many passers in the NBA today can make highlight reels (your Rubio's), or rack up stunning raw totals (your Rondo's), but don't let your eyes fool you. Jose Calderon is better than those guys.
This is Calderon's ranking, yearly, in assist-to-turnover ratio, dating back to 2006-07:
That's remarkably consistent, and important, because it shows that Calderon not only can pass, but does so while avoiding turnovers, something last year's Dallas Mavericks could have desperately used, given their starting backcourt of Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo ranked 54th (out of 82) and 57th (out of 65) respectively in turnover ratio.
Making a sweet looking dish is nice and all, but most of the time just making the correct, simple play is better, and that's what Calderon does. His height, at a deceptively tall 6'3", and patience allows him to wait and scan the defense for the proper opening. His instincts and understanding of how to run an offense, having played eight years in the states and several more abroad, are nearly unmatched. Calderon annually rates as one of the most turnover-averse point guards in basketball, helping to maximize possessions and giving teammates like Dirk Nowitzki that many more chances at doing work.
Calderon is especially devastating out of the pick and roll, a staple of NBA offenses and something Dallas runs consistently. According to Synergy, Calderon averaged .84 points per possession (PPP) in PnR with Toronto, and .76 PPP with Detroit, placing him in the top 20% of the entire league in this category, and one of the absolute best among point guards.
Here's some video:
Skip to the :45, 1:46, and 2:13 marks for Calderon masterfully executing the PnR with Greg Monroe. Now imagine, instead of Greg Monroe, that it's Dirk Nowitzki. This is undoubtedly the dream combination the front office pictured when pursuing Calderon. Calderon lacks elite quickness, but he uses terrific hesitation moves and ballfakes to draw the hedging big man away from his teammate, and his long frame and low dribble helps shield the ball before making the precision pass.
Now, as good a passer as Calderon is, what also helps make him so deadly in this play is his shooting touch. A career 40% three point shooter, Calderon shot a white-hot 46% from downtown this past season, leading the league. Calderon also shot 46% on his long 2's, and has consistently been among the best in basketball from that range since entering the league. So, any defender who decides to go under the screen, or any big who decides to stay at home on Dirk, will be punished for doing so.
Calderon's shooting touch makes him an outstanding spot up player, as well. Infact, thanks to the hot shooting from deep, Calderon averaged an incredibly 1.71 PPP on spot ups, which led the entire NBA. Bet you didn't know you were getting the best spot up player in the league AND the second best passer, did you?
Of course, he has rubs. Any player who does this much well wouldn't be signed for just $7 million a year without them.
"The Matador" has a well-earned reputation as a bad defender, although it should be noted that Calderon was significantly better with the Raptors the first half of the year under former Mavs defensive guru Dwayne Casey than he was with the Pistons. Even so, the Raptors were still 2 points per 100 possessions better defensively with him off the floor. Calderon, who is 31 and has dealt with nagging hamstring injuries in the past, has very poor lateral movement. Though he often has a height advantage, he rarely blocks shots and gets most of his steals off of guile and foresight rather than quickness.
This same limited athleticism also hurts him as a finisher and generally confines him to long range shooter status. Roughly 15% of his shots are in the immediate basket area -- which is bad -- but for anyone who witnessed the final seasons of Jason Kidd's Maverick career, this won't be much of a shock.
Overall, Calderon is good value at this price. A player with both extreme positives and negatives, it will be up to the front office to put the right team around both he and Dirk (who has a fairly similar profile), where their positive attributes are accentuated, and their negative ones are mitigated. That likely means finding a rim protector, to cover up penetration, and a wing stopper, who can switch assignments occasionally. The big picture here is that Calderon is the "quarterback" that Donnie and Rick Carlisle talked about desperately needing at the start of the offseason. While he's not quite Chris Paul, Calderon can be relied on to run the show and create open looks for teammates. If the right pieces can be added to this puzzle, Calderon becomes a major bargain.