There have been some pretty bleak pictures painted about the Toronto Raptors next season.
-Missing the playoffs.
-35 wins tops.
-Last in the East.
And on and on.
How could the drop-off be mitigated to a certain extent?
Well a break-out season by Andrea Bargnani around the area of 22 and 8 a night would be a start.
And another step forward by the "Young Gunz" wouldn't hurt either.
However there's one player remaining from Toronto's playoff teams, one player whose play was instrumental in the team's past success, that really could prove to be a difference maker.
None other than the point guard the team appears to be trying to push out the door right now; Mr Jose Calderon.
When Jose was on top of his game, he was a sight to behold, rarely turning the ball over, splashing shots from all over the court, and even making the odd "tricky lay-up" or two. He went from virtual unknown under Rob Babcock to borderline All-Star in only a few short seasons.
However since his high-point of 2007-08, things haven't been so pretty.
Check the stats:
Calderon 2007-08 - Wins Produced - 15.68, PER - 20.5, AST% - 42.3%, TS% - .607
Calderon 2008-09 - Wins Produced - 11.91, PER - 18.7, AST% - 41.0%, TS% - .613
Calderon 2009-10 - Wins Produced - 5.8, PER - 16.5, AST% - 33.8%, TS% - .569
Are we seeing a trend here?
Since his third season in the league, Calderon statistically has been on a decline, and really, it's been across almost all categories.
I picked the metrics above because I felt they did the best job of truly looking at key areas of Jose's game that have dropped off.
Let's look first at Dave Berri's metric, "wins produced." Wins produced rewards players who gain and keep possession for a team, as well as turn the ball into points as efficiently as possible. These factors have been proven to correlate with team success.
Jose Calderon was always a high "wins produced player" because he was such an efficient shooter, and he also had traditionally one of the lowest turnover rates in the league. Point being, he was extremely helpful to his team because he was a lethal shooter from all over the court, and didn't cost his team extra possessions very often with sloppy decision-making.
Wins produced is thus a very effective metric to evaluate Jose by because the decline in his WP score indicates declines in his areas of strength, shooting and passing. Calderon was never known as a lock-down defender, so it was his amazing offensive abilities that helped boost this and other stats (such as his PER.) However as we saw last year, when those offensive pieces were out of wack, paired with his consistent defensive struggles, Calderon barely looked like an NBA player at times. And his wins produced score echoes this fact to a large degree. I mean, Jose produced nearly 12 of the Raptors' 33 wins during that 2008-09 season, that year, more than even Chris Bosh, who produced a shade under 10!
It wasn't even close.
PER, another view of player efficiency by John Hollinger, shows a similar trend as Jose's score continues to slump towards the league median of 15.0.
And finally, I grabbed two metrics which I thought emphasized Jose's strengths, assist percentage and true shooting percentage. Assist percentage attempts to estimate the percentage of baskets that came as the result of Jose Calderon's passes while true shooting percentage emphasizes shooting accuracy from 2pt and 3pt range, as well as the free-throw line.
These stats too have declined although interestingly, Jose's true-shooting percentage during the 2008-09 season actually jumped up. (This was due to his otherworldly free-throw shooting percentage.) The big drop-off though in both metrics comes between this past season and the previous one. While a true shooting percentage of .569 isn't abysmal around the league, it did represent a career-low for numero ocho. For some reason, Jose couldn't hit the broad side of a barn door last year.
And of course the assist percentage is hardly stellar either.
While it still put Jose ahead of guards like TJ Ford and Chris Duhon, to put it in perspective, point guards without much of a rep for being "pass-first typses" like Baron Davis and Raymond Felton either surpassed that mark or nearly equalled it, and the 33.8% was the lowest mark of Jose's career since his rookie season.
So what gives?
Did Raptors' fans see the best of Jose two seasons ago and are simply going to be watching his decline going forward? (Provided he isn't traded of course.) He will be 29 years old this season, an age where many an NBA player starts to decline thanks to the years of wear-and-tear on the body. And he's struggled with nagging groin and other injuries over the past two seasons as well. Perhaps then it would be advisable for Colangelo to ship Jose out as soon as possible to ensure as high a return as possible?
As discussed yesterday in my "Sunday Thought," let's hope said return is not TJ Ford, but if there's nothing out there, would it actually make sense to keep Jose?
It might and here's why.
For all the stats above, many are heavily influenced by two factors; coaching and teammates. Metrics like "Wins Produced" and "PER" try to take teammates out of the equation, but there's no question that getting more open looks from teammates helps a player's true-shooting percentage, and if your players aren't converting on your passes, no matter how nice the passes are, then that hurts your assist percentage.
And of course if Jay Triano wants the team to get out and run and spend as little time as possible setting up an offence in the half-court, then Jose, who is more effective one would argue in the latter, will be negatively affected by that as well.
I turned to Synergy's technology to try and see just how Jose was used last year. (Disclaimer, SB Nation has provided us with a free Synergy account.)
During 45% of the time on offence, Calderon was used as the pick-and-roll ball handler, and 23% of the time he was the spot-up shooter on offence. Those two roles were by far the most abundant in his offensive schema. After that, 12% of the time he worked in isolation and only 2.4% of the time was he the one converting off the screen-and-roll at the basket.
The most glaring stat though?
Only 8.6% of the time did he attack in transition.
Jarrett Jack in contrast did 15% of the time, almost double Jose's mark, and considering Toronto played at a medium pace by league standards (they were 13th out of the 30 teams last year in this rating), this I think speaks volumes as to one of the reasons Jose was ineffective. With the team looking to get out and run more, Jose's best skill-sets, running the pick-and-roll from a set offence perspective and getting open jump shots via ball-movement, were somewhat negated.
Backing this up is a look at the Raptors' pace-rating two season ago, Jose's statistical high-point.
That season, the Dinos played at the league's 8th slowest pace!
And it's not as if Jack's transition percentage was even that high.
And Chauncey Billups, not known as a speedster really, had 18% of his offence come via transition thanks to Denver's up-tempo style (5th fastest pace in the NBA last year.)
The point here is that if Jose sticks around, the coaching staff needs to make a few tactical decisions.
If they want to get out and run more and take advantage of their newfound athletes, then they should forget about Jose being a starter, and instead, use him off the bench with a second unit that can be much more effective in the half-court; a unit comprised of players like Linas Kleiza and Andrea Bargnani, and perhaps even David Andersen, who from reports seems to be a solid pick-and-pop option.
The problem though is that looking over the roster, there aren't a lot of "skill" players to team Jose with on this team anymore. Gone are the Anthony Parkers and Jason Kaponos, who could spread the court with excellent long-range shooting. The team never had and still doesn't have, a wing who can create off the bounce, thus also opening things up for Calderon. And the team now lacks a post-player who requires consistent double teams down low. (No matter how much of an Andrea fan you are, admittedly it's "wait and see" in this respect.) It's simply going to be very tough I'd argue to get the most out of Calderon, and that's a shame because when used correctly on offense, he can still be an extremely valuable piece.
So perhaps BC holds onto him until the season gets going and teams come to grips with their situations at the 1. Calderon I'd argue would be a great fit on a team like Orlando, backing up Jameer Nelson, a yin to his yang in many ways, or, gulp, Miami where he could take advantage of the many open looks provided by LeBron, Wade and ironically, his former team-mate Bosh..
He's not done, in fact he should look at Chauncey Billups as an example of how to prolong an NBA career as a point guard who doesn't rely on athleticism to be effective, but if he stays a Raptor for the length of the upcoming season, the pressure is on Triano and co to get the most out of number 8.
And no, that does not include consistently playing him with Jarrett Jack...