Where is Jose Calderon?
When Jose was re-signed by the Raptors last summer it was because he had led a stellar charge in the absence of T.J. Ford that season that nearly nabbed him an All-Star selection. His heady play, combined with unbelievable statistical efficiency, got him league-wide media attention and a permanent spot at the helm of the Raptors offense. A year later, though, and Calderon not only looks unrecognizable as a floor leader, but he doesn't even seem to fit in with the plan of attack Colangelo, Triano and co. are preaching to the assembled masses.
Before we delve too deeply into these waters, though, let's open with the admission that some (though certainly not all) of his troubles can be attributed to his wonky hamstring that has handcuffed most of his season. In time he may find himself fully healthy and returning to his former glory.
Until that time, however, one has to wonder how much of that former glory is even on the horizon. Last night was a horror show for Calderon, a thorough (and shocking) demonstration of a point guard with a complete lack of control over his team's offense. He managed just three assists in that contest, tied for his season low and by far the lowest he's had after playing more than 30+ minutes this year. He routinely missed Shawn Marion wide-open around the basket, insisted on running the offense through Graham and Kapono instead of Marion and Andrea Bargnani and despite nearly a week of preaching up-tempo after Marion arrived via trade, he and the team only managed 69 shot attempts, ten shots BELOW their season average (78.6).
All of this is distressing for several reasons. The first is that in a game like last night, when the team's scoring anchor (Chris Bosh) is out, the responsibility falls to the point guard to keep the offense humming.
It's up to him to make sure the right people are getting the ball in the right spots on the floor to be effective and that the team's attack maintains a nice, effective rhythm. However, last night the offense looked absolutely wretched as Bargnani was left wanting at the high-post and Marion was being looked off in transition for Kapono and Parker jumpers. While Bargnani's foul trouble made it hard to get him into a good rhythm during the game, Marion was in no such trouble. In fact, one would figure that keeping an eye open for the team's second-best player would be a smart offensive tactic, regardless of how new he is to the team. After one or two missed chances you'd figure that it wouldn't take a genius to know HE'S UNDER THE BASKET. Instead, none of Calderon's three assists fed Marion, and many easy opportunities around the basket were missed as a result.
It's a particularly concerning issue, too, despite post-game excuses. While Calderon and Marion played down the on-court sleights to a lack of familiarity, Calderon was known miss Jamario Moon in several similar situations over the last two years, both on backdoor cuts, lob opportunities and in transition. Not too much was made of it at the time (though it was noted) because of the infrequency with which Moon made himself available in those spots, however this blip is part of a larger trend in Calderon's game that was made to marginalize Marion's offense last night. Jose is a deliberate player, he likes to make the safest pass (which is usually a horizontal pass on the perimeter or a feeding a big man posting up) and he is often slow to make that pass – especially when it is going towards the basket. He is going to have to break his habit of looking to the perimeter players first because that will make Marion an entirely useless offensive player for the next two months as he looks to get open at the rim. Calderon's going to have to pick up the pace with regards to his decision-making, too, because Marion is only going to be open so long before his man realizes he's been shed.
The most concerning element of last night's loss, though, was the simple fact that Calderon simply didn't seem in control of his team's offense. Despite promises of pushing the ball on misses and turnovers, he rarely did. Then, on the few occasions he would, he typically stopped short of actually making a play in transition, before he had even attempted to penetrate the defense or probe with a pass. He simply ran up the court and stopped at the three-point line and waited for everyone else and set-up a half-court play. His commitment to running has been rumored more than displayed in '08-'09 and with his newfound inability to get his own offense off that makes him a much less dangerous guard given his already lamentable defensive liabilities. The question that needs to be asked is what advantage does he offer to the team at the point guard position right now? His passing has become too slow and deliberate, harming his teammates chances of getting/staying open, he rarely penetrates anymore (probably a result of his hamstring), he rarely looks to hurt team's with his own scoring and since he's come back from injury he's been shooting at a very poor clip, anyway (.418 in his last seven games). His defense remains a well-documented liability and if he's not going to help the team push the pace then what is it that he offers the Raptors as an advantage most nights? He can rack up big assist nights (though he hasn't broken double-digits in February), but if his assists aren't leading to a functional, rhythmic offense as a whole what use do the numbers make?
Most can easily remember what it was that made him special enough to ship out T.J. Ford; his ability to get to the basket, his fantastic (and utilized) shooting percentages, his master puppeteer's-like control over the offense. Today, though, he just doesn't appear to be the same player. Friday and Sunday's contests against the Knicks and their high-octane offense will be interesting because aside from the Raptors having a full compliment of players (minus a suddenly-needed Kris Humphries) the Knicks play a pace that is the extreme version of what the Raptors would like to institute. Perhaps the pace of the opposition will seduce Calderon, make him more apt to push and probe rather than just wait and wander. While this season has been a colossal bust, it would help Colangelo immensely if he could go into the summer with an idea of what this team is actually capable of, and much of that attack starts with the ‘real' Calderon returning to the Raptors from wherever he may be.