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How much of an upgrade is Jose Calderon?

Jose Calderon is a much better offensive point guard than Raymond Felton. How does he compare defensively?

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Jose Calderon will assume Raymond Felton's old position as the Knicks' starting point guard, a move that's been praised almost universally. But how much of an upgrade is Calderon on both ends of the court?

On offense, the difference is obvious. According to Basketball Reference, Calderon's career offensive rating (which can be murky, but through nine years worth of evidence, is reliable) is 119 compared to Raymond Felton's career 103 offensive rating.  Calderon also has a career 57.9% TS to Felton's 49.7%, and he's a career 41.1% three-point shooter who's had one season of 50-40-90 shooting and several other campaigns where he came close to that mark.

Calderon, for all his benefits on offense, is statistically on par with Felton on defense. His career defensive rating of 112 (to Felton's 109) means he's largely a hole on the other end of the court. This past season, the Mavericks ranked 22nd in the NBA in defensive rating, allowing opponents to post 105.9 points per 100 possessions. With Calderon on the floor, the Mavericks' defensive rating fell to 108.2, and it jumped to 102.2 with him off the floor. Comparatively, the Knicks' 106.5 defensive rating fell to 106.9 with Felton on the floor and was 106.1 with him off the floor.

However, those are team defensive numbers, which can be misleading. According to Synergy, Calderon ranked higher than Felton in several individual defensive plays.

Calderon % Time Points Per Possesion Rank
Overall 100% .90 251
Isolation 10.2% .90 192
Pick-and-Roll Ball-Handler 40.6% .78 97
Spot-Up 30.1% 1.09 305

Felton % Time Points Per Possession Rank
Overall 100% .91 280
Isolation 8.1% .72 65
Pick-and-Roll Ball-Handler 48.5% .90 205
Spot-Up 23.6% 1.16 343

Although Calderon ranks higher in defending pick-and-roll ball-handlers and spot-up shooters, his rankings are hardly applaudable. His pick-and-roll defense on ball-handlers is OK, but the rest is below average to terrible, frankly.

To get a better understanding of Calderon's defense, I talked to Tim Cato, editor of Mavs Moneyball.

Scott: What are Jose Calderon's major defensive flaws?

Tim: Jose Calderon has been a slow player ever since he entered the league, and the years haven't done any favor. He just can't keep up. His footspeed is often several steps behind the player he's guarding. There's nothing he can do about it; he's just isn't a quick or athletic enough defender to keep up with the elite athleticism of NBA guards.

S: What does he do well defensively, if anything?

T: He tries hard, hustles a lot and is often in the right position for help defense and transition opportunities. Unfortunately, opposing players often blown by him anyway, whether he's in the right position or not. But it's at least encouraging that he's making the most of his defensive abilities. That way, when he lets John Wall fly by him yet again, you don't feel angry at Jose -- just sad.

S: Synergy ranked Calderon 97th in defending pick-and-roll ball-handlers last season, which isn't terrible. Is this accurate of his skills in that category, or is that a misleading stat?

T: You're right, that's not terrible. It surprises me a little, although I would imagine his technically sound defense probably was better in pick-and-roll situations. The Mavericks also had a bad habit of letting the roll man kill them, which isn't counted for Synergy's pick-and-roll ball-handler ability.

S: Do you believe he can defend well in a proper defensive system, and can he be hidden if he's surrounded by a solid wing defender (like Iman Shumpert) or a defensive big (like Sam Dalembert)?

T: The Mavericks tried that last year, with Sam Dalembert as center and Shawn Marion as their solid wing defender, and it didn't work too well. Now Shumpert is a better defender than Marion (he was 36 last year and you could tell) and might do a better job there, but Dalembert won't. I really liked Dalembert last season and I think you guys will enjoy him as well (the correct hashtag for when he takes a 20-foot jumper is #DALEMDERP, by the way). However, he's not incredibly mobile on pick-and-rolls and isn't suited to cover for Calderon's defensive shortcomings in a temporary help defense situation.

I'm not trying to be a harbinger of mean Jose Calderon comments -- I really liked him last season. He's not a good defender, but he more than makes up for it on offense. He never backs down from an open shot and plays an incredibly controlled game that should fit really well in New York. However, his defense being bad is just something you'll have to live with, just like J.R. Smith taking fallaway 3-pointers (love you J.R.). Keep in mind that the Mavericks also started Dirk and Monta Ellis, who are also bad defenders for different reasons. If you can cobble together a lineup with three or four average to great defenders, Calderon should be more than manageable.

To look for the kinds of things Tim explained in his analysis of Calderon, I turned to the video. And much of what Tim said is true -- Calderon is slow, and his lack of speed often betrays him. However, his positioning can be good, and when he's attentive and positioned right, he does an alright job of guarding ball-handlers.

Other times, however, he can be both inattentive and too slow, resulting in defensive collapses. Both of those traits are on display in this failed pick-and-roll defense vs. the Miami Heat

Calderon's positioning is poor to start with. He's too far below the three-point line to defend someone like Mario Chalmers. Chalmers fakes left and runs Calderon right into a solid screen set by Chris Bosh. Calderon trails behind the play, and Sam Dalembert switches to cover Chalmers's drive. As Chalmers goes up for the layup -- which Dalembert swats off the backboard -- note Calderon's position; he's too far behind Chalmers to even contest the lay-up, and he's behind Bosh, too, so he can't even box out. Bosh grabs the offensive rebound, and Dirk Nowitzki makes a nice rotation over to block the putback.

Another example, similar to what Tim explained. Calderon's positioning is OK when the play begins. Once Jameer Nelson begins driving to his right, you could even say Calderon does a decent job avoiding getting caught up on Jason Maxiell's butt. However, in a few dribbles, Nelson has gotten a step on Calderon and easily gets to the basket for a layup. There's no help defense, either, which Calderon angrily points out to his teammates after the basket.

On other occasions, Calderon uses solid positioning and maintains enough speed to play solid defense. In the clip below, he anticipates a Steph Curry drive, bodies him along the perimeter, and forces him to give up the ball.

Calderon reacts well to Curry going the opposite way of Bogut's screen, and he does a nice job of bumping Curry and keeping him from turning a corner into the lane. After Curry gives up the ball, Calderon also does well to prevent a backdoor cut, though in doing so, he doesn't give Shawn Marion much help in covering Klay Thompson. Either way, solid initial defense from Calderon.

In this play, Calderon does a nice initial job of contesting the entry pass, and he actually gets a hand on it, nearly forcing a turnover. Afterwards, as Lin moves to the weak corner, Calderon gets a little lost, confused between rotation to help Monta Ellis (who doubles Dwight Howard) and denying Chandler Parsons's cut to the basket. However, after a shitty cross-court pass from Dwight to Lin, Calderon recovers and does a nice job cutting off the baseline, then bothering Lin across the lane and contesting the fadeaway jumper.

All of this is to say that Calderon certainly has his defensive issues, but in the right situations, he's not a total negative on the defensive end. Raymond Felton's defense last year was worsened by the Knicks' hapless defensive scheme. Felton never knew when he was going over or under a pick, switching or recovering onto his man.

Calderon has about the same defensive chops as Felton, but he might even be a step slower. However, under Derek Fisher, the Knicks figure to have at least a more sensible defensive system, so the mishaps might not be as frequent. Additionally, with Iman Shumpert on the wing and two pesky defenders in Shane Larkin (who's looked the part in Summer League) and Pablo Prigioni, the Knicks might be able to hide Calderon a little bit more on defense.

Combined with his offensive virtues, Calderon figures to be a pretty solid upgrade over Felton. Calderon's shooting ability, playmaking, and ball protection make him such a large plus on the offensive end, that if the Knicks can minimize defensive situations in which he'll be exposed, they may really reap the benefits of the trade with the Mavericks.