Getting to Know You

Calderon sees daily progress as he, teammates feel each other out

Jose Calderon is already getting acclimated to his teammates' playing styles.
Dan Lippitt/NBAE/Getty Images
When you think of players who run up gaudy assist totals, the mind wanders to Magic Johnson’s no-look dishes for dunks or Steve Nash’s bounce passes that elude a maze of arms and legs to feed a layup.

“You’re not going to see a lot of spectacular passes from me,” said Jose Calderon, who has seen just eight other NBA players dish out more assists since coming to the NBA for the 2006-07 season. “I’m not behind-the-back, between-the-legs or no-look. If the pass is there, the pass is going to get there, but easy passes. If it’s not there, I’m not going to risk it. I’ll throw lobs, but no fancy stuff. That’s not the way I play. I’m not that kind of guy.”

The Pistons got glimpses of what Calderon offers in Wednesday’s game with Brooklyn, especially during Calderon’s seven-assist third quarter. Imagine what he can do after logging his first practice with the Pistons, which came Thursday afternoon.

Calderon felt more comfortable Wednesday than he did in his debut against the Knicks on Monday – starting despite being cleared to play just six hours before tipoff – and felt more progress was made in Thursday’s practice.

“Even today in practice, they’re looking every time,” he said of teammates learning to keep their antennae up. “I hit the guys for a few passes, ‘OK, the ball is coming.’ I think I surprised Moose a couple of times yesterday. It’s OK, the ball is going to get there. Even if he’s late, keep looking for it. I’ll be looking.”

Calderon’s message to his teammates is to run the play as it was intended to be run, don’t just go through the motions because you might rarely be on the receiving end of a pass for any particular play.

“Run the play,” he said. “Don’t just run the play because it’s the play. It’s because you can receive the pass at any time. It’s not just with me, it’s with them. They’ve got to change a little bit – not the way they play, but the way they’re able to run those plays sometimes.”

“All of a sudden, every cut you weren’t making before and maybe you weren’t getting the ball,” Lawrence Frank said, “now you’re going to see guys – watch – they’re going to start ducking in harder, they’re going to start cutting harder. It’s running stuff with a purpose.”

Frank appreciates the simple efficiency of Calderon’s passing, calling to mind what Jason Kidd gave him in his first career head coaching opportunity.

“It’s hitting singles,” Frank said. “At the end of the day, it’s getting the job done. It’s funny watching some of these younger players and then you watch some of the older players, how efficient the older player is. I was blessed. I coached arguably one of the greatest point guards ever. And the amount of just regular meat-and-potatoes plays vs. sensational plays, meat and potatoes far outweighed it. It’s being efficient. It’s just substance; it’s not style.”

The substance of Calderon extends to his very visible leadership skills. Calderon rarely lets a dead-ball situation go without (a) using the opportunity to impart or receive information, either with a teammate or a coach or (b) taking the time to pick up a teammate after a mistake or congratulate him for a success or (c) both.

“I talk a lot,” he said. “I’m gesturing all the time, trying to get everyone involved, even if I’m on the bench. Everybody’s got to be ready. I just talk. Whatever I see, I just say it. I talk to my teammates about being open the next time. Because it’s going to happen – we’re going to run a play and I’m going to miss somebody, for sure, but if they tell me, I’ll say, ‘I see you but I see you late. Keep doing the same thing and I’ll get you next time.’

“I want to get them to trust me like they’re going to receive the ball. Right now, I’m thinking too much about plays to see where they’re going to get the ball. When that goes automatic, it’s going to be easier for everybody.”

“When you go through this, everyone puts their toe in the water and it takes time,” Frank said. “The big picture, we’re going to go through some short-term pain – we are. Whether that’s wins or losses, there’s still going to be pain involved. Because you’re asking guys to do different things. But potential long-term gain.”

Calderon’s investment in the process at every level should shorten the “pain” term and accelerate the “gain” term. In his four days with the team, he’s already started compiling mental catalogs of who looks the ball where and what to look for in particular situations.

“You’re going to be more comfortable every day,” he said. “It’s about time, it’s about working together, it’s about knowing my teammates. I knew it was going to be a period of time. You’re going to have some balls go out of bounds and some passes aren’t going to find each other. But it’s normal. This is about being together and knowing each other so I can talk to the guys.”