Raptors fans haven’t been spoiled much over the past few years but thanks to Jose Calderon, the backup point guard spot was always a position of strength on a team without many. Now, for the first time since 2005 the Raptors enter a season without Calderon, long a safety net behind everyone from T.J. Ford to Kyle Lowry. This year the spot will go to D.J. Augustin or Dwight Buycks, so Lowry's health will be paramount, to say the least. In a preview for ESPN.com in which the Raptors were picked to finish 37-45 and seventh in the East, Tom Haberstroh agreed:
"If Lowry goes down, the season can spiral out of control quickly."
Looking forward, where will the team miss Calderon most and will Buycks or Augustin be able to fill his shoes?
This one's obvious, but hard to overstate. In a recent article on Grantland, Kirk Goldsberry introduced a metric he calls ShotScore. To summarize, ShotScore likes Jose Calderon. A lot. The idea is to rank shooters based on how much better (or worse) they were than the league average from any spot on the floor. For example, Goldsberry found that LeBron James had the best ShotScore (+231) in the league, meaning James scored 231 more points than expected based on where his shots came from.
Where does Calderon come into this? Well, according to ShotScore he was the best shooter on outside shots last season, producing 25% more points than expected per 100 shots. Bottom line: Calderon is one of the very best perimeter shooters in the league. Augustin is a career 37% shooter but has been trending down over the past few years. Buycks shot 38% last year in France but replacing one of the league's premier shooters will be almost impossible.
For a player with limited athleticism (I can remember only one dunk during his time in Toronto) Calderon was also an effective finisher at the rim. According to Hoopdata he has consistently shot at or above league average at the rim over the career, doubly impressive coming from a point guard. You want some icing on the cake? How about 88% from the free throw line for his career, including an obscene 98% in 2008-09, when he missed three of 154 free throws? Holy hell this man can shoot.
Calderon has averaged more than seven assists per game over his career, but raw numbers sell him short. Since 2006-07 here's the complete list of players who have posted a higher assist percentage than Calderon: Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo. That's it. Surprised? You shouldn't be. Never flashy but always effective, Calderon made everyone from Sonny Weems to Amir Johnson look better. Here's a video of Calderon dropping 19 assists against the T-Wolves in 2011.
It's likely none of those assists made the nightly highlight shows, but that was the beauty of Calderon's low-risk, high-reward approach. Always posting a stellar assist-to-turnover ratio, Calderon didn't sacrifice effectiveness at the altar of creativity.
Outside of one season in Charlotte, Augustin has been a decidedly below average passer, with his assist percentage falling to a career low last year in Indiana. Buycks is a bit of an unknown on this count, though his assist numbers at Marquette were don't offer much hope.
General human decency
I'm sure that D.J. Augustin and Dwight Buycks are good men, loved by family and friends alike. I'm equally sure that neither of them will be as beloved as Calderon was during his time in Toronto. One of the last (and best) vestiges of the Rob Babcock era, Calderon is second all-time in games played as a Raptor, behind only the equally admired Morris Peterson. He played 525 games in Toronto and only saw 11 playoff games. He toiled in relative obscurity on a forgotten team, often playing behind players he was better than. He never complained about anything and even volunteered to come off the bench behind surly teammates like T.J. Ford and Kyle Lowry. He went through the good, the bad, the really bad and the ugly, and came out on the other side. For a franchise notorious for losing players, it seemed like Calderon never wanted to go. If you doubt that, watch this interview. Calderon had just been traded to Detroit.
"It's tough to leave behind a lot of friends." I mean...what can you say? Sometimes it's hard to believe athletes when they describe their teammates as "friends". With Jose, there was never a doubt. Both on and off the court, the Raptors will have a very hard time replacing Calderon. The golden age of backup point guards is over, Raptors fans. Pray for good health for Kyle Lowry. There's no other option.