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MMB Player Review, 2013-14: Jose Calderon

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Reviewing the 2013-14 season of Spanish Sensation Jose Calderon.

Chris Covatta

Looking Back

After losing out on the big fish of the 2013 offseason (namely Chris Paul and Dwight Howard), the Dallas Mavericks had to move on to Plan B, and fill out their roster with second and third tier veterans. They began by signing 31-year old-guard Jose Calderon, an eight-year pro who had been linked to Dallas several times in years past.  Calderon's experience, savvy, and shot-making ability made him an obvious fit with the Mavericks, and his decision making was specifically cited as a major plus in the wake of a season that saw the Mavericks struggle to move the ball with point guards Darren Collison, Derek Fisher and Mike James.

Calderon arrived in Dallas with a reputation as a terrific pick and roll player, making him a potentially potent mix with star Dirk Nowitzki.  As the offseason went on, however, the front office continued to make moves that seemed to push Calderon into more of a supplementary role.

Calderon had averaged over eight assists per game as the captain of the Toronto Raptor offense, but in Dallas the additions of Monta Ellis and Devin Harris took the ball out of Jose's hands.  Calderon posted a career-low assist rate, and finished fourth on the team in assist percentage, behind Gal Mekel, Ellis and Harris.  You would have won a lot of money if you'd bet on that before the season started.

Jose still did a great job of taking care of the ball, posting the fourth best assist/turnover ratio in the league (the previous three years he had finished either first or second).  Also, while he did less assisting, he compensated for at least some of that with extra shots, keeping his usage rate in line with his career norms.  Only once in the previous six seasons did he average more field goal attempts per 36 minutes than in 2013-14.

Of course, anyone can take shots.  What made Calderon such an attractive free agent was his ability to make them.  After leading the NBA in three-point percentage two seasons ago, Calderon finished fourth last year, converting a whopping 44.9 percent of his long bombs, and he took a greater share of shots from behind the line than he ever had before.  His true shooting percentage was good for third in the NBA among point guards, and his offensive rating of 120.1 was seventh.  It may surprise some people to know that it was Calderon who was second to Dirk in win shares on Dallas, instead of some of the more headline-grabbing members of the team.

2013-14 Grade: B-

Looking forward

Contract: $22 million through 2016-17

I must admit, I have a difficult time figuring out what Jose Calderon's role is going to be on the team going forward.  Prior to last year I had always been a fan personally of Jose.  He shoots well, doesn't turn the ball over and his passing acumen seemed like it could work really well with Dirk.  Plus, and I feel I should say this before I get to any negative stuff, by all accounts Jose is a super nice guy and a great teammate.

Most of that is true.  However, there are rubs.  Athletically, Calderon -- never an especially explosive guy -- is experiencing a steady, gradual decline.  Calderon's free throw rate approached Jason Kidd-levels, as he visited the charity stripe less than once a game(not easy to do when you start and play 30+ minutes a night).  What that number suggests was backed up by watching Calderon play: he wasn't quick enough to beat his man off the dribble.

This was also the reason the majority of pick and roll possessions went to either Monta Ellis or Devin Harris, players quick enough to force the issue after the screen.  Late in games, Calderon became relegated exclusively to spot up duty.

Where Calderon's lack of athleticism also hurt Dallas was on the defensive end.  Calderon's defensive reputation was well-established already, but it's worth stating that Calderon was every bit as bad as we'd been led to believe.  Dallas allowed nearly seven points per 100 possessions more with Jose on the court, and he allowed opposing point guards to put up a PER of 17.5, well above the league average.  Individually, Synergy put him outside the top 250 in overall points per play (PPP) give nup.

Calderon's defensive shortcomings could be mitigated with the right players around him, but that brings us to the next problem: the players around him.  While Monta Ellis has the foot-speed and quick hands to theoretically make him a solid defender, his effort appears to lack greatly, and the data on him has consistently placed him among the league's worst.  One might have hoped Rick Carlisle could have coaxed some extra "try" out of Monta, but so far no such luck.

This writer's opinion is that a defensive backcourt of Monta and Jose is untenable, at least for a team with championship aspirations.  Conventional wisdom would say that given Monta's tweener size and length, he might be best utilized in the bench gunner role Jason Terry thrived in, leaving Dallas to put a pair of athletic defensive specialists next to Jose.  However, I suspect it won't play out that way next season, for reasons I will expand on in Monta's player review tomorrow.

Based on the way the team deployed their guards, Jose would seem to be the more likely candidate to be benched, a concept discussed over at ESPN Dallas.  Calderon would be an outstanding backup point guard, though perhaps an overly paid one.  If Calderon is benched, I'm not sure if Devin Harris is the perfect replacement, given both he and Monta are not tremendous floor spacers, but it will be interesting to see if Dallas has plans to address this position.

Supplemental Material

Here's a cool video with Jose discussing his native country of Spain.

An introductory interview with Jose a few weeks into the season.

Jose teaches his teammates Spanish.

This is what I wrote about Jose shortly after he'd been signed, and an article from the preseason expressing concern over how well he and Monta could play together.