Below is a list of things I figured were more likely to occur than me writing the above headline:
- The Cleveland Cavaliers trading Iman Shumpert for Anthony Davis, straight up.
- Replay reviews showing Jason Kipnis’ Game 7 foul ball actually landed fair, resulting in the Cleveland Indians winning the 2016 World Series.
- I become the Week 1 starter at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.
OK, these may be slight overstatements. Still, here we are. Somehow, signing Jose Calderon, a move which was met with unanimous negativity last summer, has ended up having one of the biggest impacts on Cleveland’s season.
This is coming a day after the 36-year-old guard outplayed Kyle Lowry en route to another win over the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors. In a game where Toronto’s All-Star guard notched more turnovers than made field goals, Calderon scored 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, hitting his first six shots of the night.
Perhaps the most shocking part of Calderon’s night is, frankly, how unsurprising it was for anyone who’s followed the Cavs this year. In fact, as of last night, the team is 23-9 when starting the journeyman at point guard.
It’s safe to say this wasn’t exactly what anyone predicted when Cleveland signed him in July.
At the time, the team was in flux, trying to find a replacement for David Griffin after the former GM parted ways with owner Dan Gilbert. With the Cavs having just come off a lopsided finals loss against the drastically more talented Golden State Warriors, fans were anxious to see them make improvements and close the gap with their Western Conference rivals.
So, when the team announced Calderon as its first signing of the summer, literally minutes into the opening of NBA free agency, many around the league couldn’t help but laugh. Cleveland had just been scorched in five games by a team featuring Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, and its first response move was signing a player who likely would’ve been available months later. This was how the Cavs were going to assemble their roster heading into LeBron James‘ final year under contract?
While Calderon’s play likely won’t be a determining factor in James’ impending free agency decision, it’s very clear he’s exceeded all expectations. Simply put, Cleveland plays better when he’s getting significant minutes.
Remember, his move to the starting lineup helped shake the Cavs out of their October funk, as they eventually went on to win 18 of 19 games after starting the season looking like a disjointed mess. Last week, when starting guard George Hill hurt his ankle against the New Orleans Pelicans, it was Calderon’s presence which seemed to spark Cleveland’s fourth-quarter comeback.
What’s remarkable is his ability to improve the Cavs’ play without doing anything particularly flashy. Calderon facilitates the offense, keeps the ball moving and takes shots only when they’re given to him. It’s a stark departure from the point guard play we’re used to seeing in Cleveland. At the same time, nobody can argue with its effectiveness.
This isn’t to say Calderon is helping the Cavs solely by choosing to pass more often. He’s seen notable upticks in his offensive production this year, as his shooting percentage is the highest it’s been since 2012 (.511). Also important is his ability to take care of the basketball, highlighted by his averaging a career low in turnovers per game (0.7).
Again, who saw this coming? In a year where the Cavs have started former All-Stars Derrick Rose and Isaiah Thomas at point guard, who honestly thought they would look their best when Calderon is running the offense?
I know I didn’t. Nor did I imagine we’d come to a point where a player many thought wouldn’t crack the rotation at the beginning of the season would play well enough to merit serious consideration for postseason minutes. However, that’s where we find ourselves today.
In a season filled with chaos, in-fighting and sloppy play, Calderon has been a consistent bright spot. Somehow, his play has helped the Cavs right the ship on multiple occasions, and also has them clicking as we near the playoffs.
As a result, it sure looks like Cleveland jumping to sign Calderon as free agency kicked off wasn’t as bad a move as we initially thought.