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Atlanta Hawks Season in Review: José Calderón

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The veteran point guard made an impact in his short time in Atlanta...

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

“We need to send a little thank-you note to the Warriors... We feel fortunate that Jose considered us and obviously chose us.”

These were the words used by Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer after Atlanta’s Game 4 victory against the Washington Wizards when asked about José Calderón’s game-changing performance.

The comments referred to the interesting turn of events that led Calderón to Atlanta in early March..

Calderón was the victim of the NBA’s unpredictable nature. Calderón agreed to sign a deal with the Golden State Warriors — following his buy-out from the Los Angeles Lakers — when a knee injury to Kevin Durant put the Warriors in a difficult position regarding their depth at small forward. The Warriors suddenly needed a small forward to consume some of Durant’s minutes, not a backup point guard. Having agreed a deal with Calderón prior to the injury, the Warriors — admirably — stayed true to their word and signed Calderón to the deal he was originally promised, before waiving him two hours later to free up the roster needed to need to sign an emergency small forward. As part of the deal and the unfortunate nature of the situation, Calderón still got paid in full for his brief time with the Warriors.

The Hawks wasted no time and claimed Calderón off of the waiver-wire, making absolutely sure that he wasn’t picked off by another playoff team.

“We feel fortunate to be able to add a player of José’s caliber at this point in the season,” Budenholzer said in a statement at the time of Calderón’s signing. “His unselfish nature and ability to shoot with range fits our style of play and his experience will add to our locker room.”

Calderón has been a high volume shooter everywhere he’s been in his 12 season NBA journey. For his career, he shoots 47.3% from the field and he’s a 40.9% three-point shooter. The guy is clearly a good shooter, of that there is no question.

But things didn’t start too well in Atlanta. In his first 10 games as a Hawk, Calderón averaged 2.5 points per game on 29.6% shooting from the field and 13.3% from behind the arc. In four of his first six games, he was scoreless, his only notable outing was his 14 points performance in Memphis, which were all scored in garbage time against the Memphis Grizzlies.

It didn’t make sense why one of the better three-point shooters in the league since 2007 was struggling the way he was. After all, he had averaged 41.4% from three the previous season with the Knicks. Even José himself was confused.

“...The ball is not falling in the basket,” said Calderón in late March. “Why? I’m not sure. I’ve never missed so many shots in my life. It happens sometimes.”

Despite his struggles, coach Bud stuck with José as the Hawks — initially — would play Calderón for a stretch of games ahead of Malcolm Delaney, then Malcolm would get his stretch in while Calderón was held out. But that didn’t last for long. José would outright become the Hawks’ backup point guard as the season closed and the playoffs drew near.

It didn’t make a lot of sense as to why Calderón was receiving minutes ahead of Delaney. To many, the only reason why you would have Calderón on the court over Delaney would be for shooting. If José wasn’t hitting those shots — which he wasn’t — why would Bud continue to stick with him when Delaney is such a better defender?

But there was method to Budenholzer’s madness, which was the word used by some people to describe the situation. Calderón possess a lot of qualities that Bud likes, all of which were showcased in his short time in Atlanta.

Firstly, he’s a veteran who knows how to play the game. Similar to Mike Dunleavy, you can just plug José in and he’ll understand what to do/how things are run/where to be. He’s been around the game long enough. He’s fiery too, always talking. His passion for the game and its finest details is so clear and you can see it when he’s on the floor.

Secondly, he’s a great facilitator. He gets people involved and doesn’t care about his own numbers — just wants to make the right play. This play from Game 3 illustrated both of these firs two points — knowing where to be/how the Hawks’ offense runs and getting his teammates involved.

Thirdly, he’s a great person to have on your team. By all accounts from every team he has been on, he’s a great teammate. Even after he was traded from the Toronto Raptors to the Detroit Pistons in 2013, he was still helping his former Raptor teammates before departing for Detroit. I honestly don’t believe you’d find one player out there who didn’t think Calderón was a great teammate.

When the Los Angeles Lakers (the team Calderón began the season with) jetted north to José’s old stomping crowd in Toronto, head coach Dwane Casey and DeMar DeRozan tipped their caps to the person and teammate José was in his seven-and-a-half seasons with the Raptors, DeRozan going as far to say he wouldn’t be the player he is today (a three-time All-Star and Toronto’s all-time leading scorer) without José Calderón’s impact on his career.

Like any good coach, Budenholzer also sees a lot of worth in José, even if he isn’t always shooting the ball well.

“José has such a good spirit,” Budenholzer said after a loss against the Brooklyn Nets in early April. “He does the right things that may not show up in the boxscore. He makes the right pass. He makes the right screen.”

Budenholzer also described Calderón as "...just an incredible human being and teammate...”

And it’s not just Budenholzer and the coaching staff who have taken kindly to Calderón, his teammates have too.

“José gives us an edge,” Paul Millsap said after the Hawks’ Game 4 victory. “He’s got a little spice to him. When he brings that intensity from a veteran position, he knows how to play basketball the right way.”

Despite his early struggles shooting the ball to begin his life a Hawk, Calderón shot 47% from the field and 40% from three to finish the season as he made the role of backup point guard his own.

In the playoffs, Calderón was a little outmatched by Brandon Jennings (Washington’s backup point guard) but did have an incredible Game 4 in which he scored 10 points and registered a plus/minus rating of plus-29. This performance was actually more impressive than it looks on paper. Calderón basically saved the Hawks during the first half of this game after Dennis Schröder picked up three fouls in the first quarter as the Hawks. Calderón’s high level of play meant the Hawks not only broke even (as such) when Dennis was on the bench, but actually took the lead and extended it to 11 points at the half having trailed by seven after the first quarter.

After the Hawks’ season ended, Calderón made it clear that he would like to remain in Atlanta. When asked that question, Calderòn responded, “Yes, yes. Like I said, this organization treated me really well. I enjoyed the group of guys. I was telling them if I could have been here from the beginning of the season. I really enjoyed it.”

Of course, with Calderón being the pro that he is, said he is dedicated to helping younger point guards in the NBA, including Dennis Schröder.

“I want to keep playing out there, helping and backing up some of these great point guards in the league,” Calderón added. “It was perfect for me how it was going here the past two months.”

Say what you want about Calderón as a player but the fact of the matter is this: He improved the Atlanta Hawks in his short time at the club. Even if you don’t value what he brings on the court, what he provided/can provide off of it is substantial.

With Dennis Schröder still developing a young point guard, the best thing the Hawks could do for him is to bring José back in the summer. The Hawks have invested long-term in Schröder. When you invest long-term into anything, you should do whatever it takes to protect that investment. For the Hawks, that would be re-signing José Calderón. As a foreign point guard who possesses so much experience, has been a starting point guard for most of his NBA career and knows how to be effective, Dennis would learn an awful lot from Calderón in a full season.

Although he arrived late, José Calderón — as he has done wherever he has been — has made a lasting impact with the Hawks.