The NBA’s 30 Men Of Intrigue: José Calderón

(Editor’s Note: To kick off our coverage of the 2015-16 NBA season, we’re profiling the most intriguing player on each NBA team. What makes players intriguing? It could be their talent, quirkiness or the unknown — it doesn’t matter. Follow The NBA’s 30 Men of Intrigue series here with us at TSFJ, as our friends and family join us for another awesome basketball campaign.)

José Calderón (José!)
2014-15 New York Knicks: 17-65

We picked Calderón because though the Knicks will eventually hand over the starting point guard job to rookie Jerian Grant, a far more talented team than last year’s will help the veteran point guard thrive as a starter or second-unit floor general.

Look, we know that the 2014-15 campaign was the worst in franchise history, at least based on record alone, although most Knicks fans will tell you that we’ve been through far worse in the 2000s. And yet as previously discussed here, the purging of past management sins was beyond necessary. There’s a wounded sense of pride when you go through such a horrendous season, especially when you were injured for a majority of it.

Calderón is intriguing in that he was forced to try to become something he never was while dealing with nagging leg issues. Between the superbly bad habits of J.R. Smith, the disappearing acts by Iman Shumpert and the stubborn plateauing from Tim Hardaway Jr., New York truly did not have a second option on offense at all last season. There was no one truly available to take the scoring load off of Carmelo Anthony before the star forward was shut down for the season after the All-Star Game. In a league that now emphasizes three-point shooting, the team basically had not one reliable shooter on the roster after Melo, even if that was the calling card of Hardaway, who was traded to Atlanta in June for the draft rights to Grant.

Yet, even the idea that José! had to kick up his offense was a faulty one as he had never been much more than the third or fourth option on the floor at any stop in his career. When he was traded to the Knicks from the Dallas Mavericks in the summer of 2014, there was the vision that he could be one of those pick-and-roll point guards that works in concert with Anthony and whatever was supposed to form as the second option between Smith/Shumpert/Hardaway or Amar’e Stoudemire/Andrea Bargnani. More importantly than melding into the Triangle offense or feeding the rock to Carmelo was a secondary pursuit; team president Phil Jackson and head coach Derek Fisher looked for Calderón to cull something out of Bargnani again as the former No. 1 pick of the 2006 Draft was not-super-terrible when both were in Toronto.

We all know how that ended up.

When healthy, Calderón is one of the better three-point shooters among all point guards, which was something the Knicks were hoping to see plenty of last season. Beyond that, Calderón is still one of the better lead guards in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio, as with the exception of his rookie season and last year, he has always been in the top four. Interestingly enough, he alternated the No. 1 spot a few times with Chris Paul. That he missed the first 13 games and only suited up for 42 because of various leg issues made what was already a pretty bad season that much more unbearable for anyone to watch, let alone play in.

Say what you will about the Triangle, but regardless of what offense a team runs, a point guard that compliments above-average passing with baseline solid or good shooting is highly valued for his team. Despite some solid play so far in the preseason and raves about the rookie in training camp, until Grant proves that he can find his shot while quarterbacking a starting lineup of tested veterans, he will have to defer to Calderón for the time being. If Grant becomes the starter as expected, the benefit for the Knicks is turning Calderón into the steady hand for a very young bench, which becomes some sort of mix of Langston Galloway, the non-starting power forward between Derrick Williams or Kyle O’Quinn, Cleanthony Early and Laker God Sasha Vujacic. Even when New York brings out a small lineup, Fisher can keep Calderón in when Anthony plays the 4 in some spurts as the team needs all the shooters it can get when Melo is double-teamed in the post.

At worst, if he is traded during the season, some good play can net a decent return from a contender, provided the 34-year-old’s Achilles tendon cooperates this year.

Once again around here, this is a whole new team, but one with the best mix of experience and youth in a long, long time. Besides Anthony’s return and a deep frontcourt, most eyes will largely be on the rookies in Jerian Grant and Kristaps Porzingis. And while some prognosticators and trolling broadcasters are still wary of giving New York one of the bottom seeds in the East, this is a team that can snatch one of those playoff spots because someone like José Calderón won’t be thrust into desperate situations. He’ll have players around him who somewhat know what to do with the basketball when he passes it, as a pick-and-pop with Robin Lopez will be a lot more fun than a pick-and-pop with Cole Aldrich (no disrespect to Cole Aldrich).

And that’s what the New York Knicks need besides competence — a bit of fun. Let’s make José! fun, Knicks.

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