Frank: On Calderon

New point guard becomes immediate starter; Knight starts at his side

Pistons head coach Lawrence Frank gives his take on the trade that netted guard Jose Calderon.
Ron Turenne (NBAE/Getty)
When the Pistons played at Toronto in December, Jose Calderon carved them up with 17 assists and just two turnovers. Since the 1985-86 season, only one other player has given the franchise such a game: Isiah Thomas.

He was pretty good, wasn’t he?

The Pistons aren’t expecting 17 assists out of Calderon on a regular basis, but his history suggests the occasional big number overlaying a steady output of ball distribution against a backdrop of meticulous care of the basketball. For his career, Calderon averages 7.2 assists and 1.7 turnovers; this season indicates not a trace of dropoff with 7.4 assists and 1.7 turnovers. If the guy was any steadier, he’d be a metronome.

Frank is deeply respectful of all NBA players – he knows that even the last guy on the worst team’s roster ranks among the 99th percentile of basketball players across the globe – but it struck me last month, both before and after the game, how glowingly he spoke of Calderon, mildly scolding the Toronto media for what he perceived as their underestimation of the player in their midst.

“I don’t know why you guys are surprised,” he said. “You guys have watched this guy for eight years. This guy is a damn good player. Think about his international experience, playing for Spain. I’ve seen him in playoff performances. He’s got great moxie. Just over time, having been in the same division with him (when Frank coached New Jersey), I’ve always had a great deal of respect for him. He’s a super competitor, has great moxie, really plays at a great pace. He’s had a number of competitors over the years and – look – he’s still here.”

Here’s what he said Friday about Calderon and the ripple effects of his acquisition on the team overall.

  • On how Calderon fits in with a four-guard rotation that also includes Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum – all of whom have spent the bulk of their careers as point guards:

    “When you look at our team now, we have four guards that can all come with a basket-thrust mentality – we can attack. Jose has proven it over the course of his career. He has a really good feel for putting guys in the right position and he can make any pass. Looking along those lines, from (Atlanta’s Jeff) Teague and Devin Harris, to (New York’s) Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd, to (Denver’s) Andre Miller and Ty Lawson, I think we’ll be along those lines. We’ll be able to put four guards out, different combinations, where we’ll have to do our part on the defensive end, but offensively we’ll be able to attack from both sides.”

  • On whether Brandon Knight will spend most of his time at shooting guard now. (Frank confirmed that Calderon will start as soon as his visa issues are cleared up – that likely won’t be before Monday’s game at New York – and that Knight will be the other backcourt starter.)

    “My experience having coached a guy (Jason Kidd) who’s going to be a first ballot Hall of Famer, he never referred to himself as a point guard. We’ve got guards. So we get a rebound, either guard – if it’s Jose, Brandon, either guard, and Rodney and Will – whoever’s open, outlet it, attack. What this trade does to us, the adjustments will be – if we can defend – we’ll be able to get out in the open court more. We’ll run more multiple pick and rolls because we’ll always have two guards on the floor and we’ll be able to run more catch-and-shoot offense in terms of the realities of where our roster is at.”

  • On whether, in an effort to get more minutes for the four guards, Rodney Stuckey will see time at small forward:

    “Yeah, that can definitely happen. Without a doubt. Some matchups may be tougher. Our rebounding, our defense, because if you’re small all across that perimeter, you’re going to have to figure out some ways to make up for it. But, no doubt, Rodney is going to be in a position to play three positions for us – one, two and three.”

  • On the value of having Calderon, with his 90 percent free-throw accuracy and his vast experience in the world’s biggest international competitions, on the floor to close out close games. And how Calderon, in those moments, can become the security blanket that Tayshaun Prince was – the guy Frank often put the ball in the hands of in clutch situations.

    “(Besides foul shooting), the other thing that helps at end of games is we play Cleveland tonight and in their game against Cleveland, he had the bucket that was going to be the game-winner bucket. High pick and roll, good stop and go, right hand. Unfortunately, Kyrie Irving drained a 29-foot three, walk-off home run. Confident free-throw shooter, plus he’s played in unbelievably big games, international competition, for a team that at times, especially for us late in games, sometimes we get a little bit taken out of our comfort zone. He can make all the plays.

    “We’ll adjust. Any time you make a trade, you go through the sorrow of losing the teammates and then there’s a rebirth, quick, like 24 hours. So we’ll see how it plays out. We’ll learn a lot about different guys. When you remove and trade a guy, the goal stays the same – we’re trying to win – but the roles may change. Some guys, their role may enhance; other guys, their role may shrink. But I’ll say this in terms of late in games: We’ve added another guy that has been there. Whether he makes the shot or the pass, he’s done that. He ain’t gonna go 100 percent – no one does. But he has poise in those situations and it’s another guy we can add to the mix.”

  • On what games like Calderon’s 17-point, two-turnover night against the Pistons mean for drawing the best out in teammates.

    “It’s no different than in football when you’ve got a quarterback – and it’s no knock on anything we have – it’s just that Jose is really elite at it. He understands how to get guys the ball in the right spot at the right time. That’s his instinct. His instinct is to give, his instinct is to get everyone involved. You almost have to tell him to shoot – remember, he’s shooting 43 percent from three – and he just plays with a great spirit and flair.

    “I coached against him in a playoff series. Just the fight he brings. The last time we were in Toronto, they were talking about him because (Kyle) Lowry was out, (Andrea) Bargnani was out and you track his history. They always bring in someone to beat him out – from Jarrett Jack to T.J. Ford to whoever it was – he always won. There’s probably a reason behind it. We want that reason here and it’s going to help everyone, it really will. When that’s your gift … who doesn’t like to play with a guy who likes to share it? Everyone does. I’ve never seen a guy, ‘No, no, no, no – don’t pass the ball too much.’ That’s a really good quality to have.”

  • On helping young big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond in their evolution on the offensive end.

    “He’s going to help all of them. If those guys screen and they get proper separation, whether they roll or pop, he’s going to get them the ball – on time, on target. He’s shown it. We’re talking about a guy who’s done it. As much as we’re talking about Jose and there’s always hoopla when there’s a trade or someone new, by no means is this an indictment on Brandon. This comes down to the fact that Jose is elite at doing what he does and this is going to be really good for our team. I think it’s going to be really good for all our guards. Once you start seeing things and every day in practice going up against it, all of a sudden it’s a little bit easier to pick up. I think this is going to be a really good thing for our group.”