With Ish Smith sidelined for the next three to six weeks, after suffering an adductor muscle tear on Wednesday night in Milwaukee, the Pistons’ already flimsy backcourt rotation becomes substantially more fragile. This injury occurs at the most inopportune time so far this season, as Detroit is currently in the midst of an already brutal December schedule - with the Sixers (again) Celtics (again), Bucks (again), Timberwolves and Pelicans all up in short order.
No matter how Detroit tries to remedy this situation, they won’t be able to reproduce Smith’s token freelance offense. His jitterbug style of play - penetrating the paint with ease and pushing the ball in transition, finding easy looks for himself and others - is uniquely his. There are guys on the Pistons who play fast, but there’s not a player on this roster that can reproduce what Smith provides for the Pistons second unit.
The traditional approach to replacing Smith is to give the bulk of his minutes to Jose Calderon, the fourteen year vet who was signed this past offseason for this exact situation - an injury to one of Detroit’s two point guards. Let’s look at the good and the bad of Jose Calderon, backup point guard.
Calderon is an aging, unathletic guard, who’s unremarkable at best on the defensive side of the floor. He’s shooting career low numbers both from the three-point land, and from the field entirely. Calderon’s 16 percent three-point shooting this season, is thirty (THIRTY!) percentage points lower than his three point shooting percentage last season, and twenty four percentage points lower than his entire career.
Perhaps his shooting last season should not be seen as his standard - it was a career year playing alongside LeBron James in Cleveland, a player who has boosted his teammates shooting numbers on almost every team he’s been a part of.
With that being said, no one would blame you for being concerned that a 37 year old point guard (who’s seemingly falling off a cliff this season, as 37 year old players tend to do), is being given the bulk of responsibilities on the second unit.
For Calderon’s entire career, he’s always taken care of the rock. He boasts a career 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. This year, he’s averaging 3.6 assists for every turnover, which ranks him 12th for guards in the entire NBA.
About that three point shooting: Should you be concerned about his current shooting percentages? Yes. Is there hope, or better yet, evidence, that this will turn around? Yes.
Last season (Calderon’s three point percentage career year), in the 23 games where he played less than 15 minutes per game - he shot 42 percent from the floor and just 28 percent from three. In the 35 games where he played more than 15 minutes, he shot 50.3 percent from the floor and 47 percent from three.
Calderon is only averaging nine minutes per game this year, and hasn’t even played in six of the Pistons’ 23 games. Smith is averaging twenty-four minutes per game as the team’s primary back-up. Perhaps Calderon is a player that simply needs more minutes to find his shooting groove, and Smith’s injury will give him the opportunity needed to turn his season around.
It should be noted that Calderon as the primary backup is just one of Detroit’s options to replace Smith. They could task Luke Kennard or Stanley Johnson with point guard duties. They also have Langston Galloway, who started his career at point, on the roster, and have given Bruce Brown Jr. a look now and then to bring the ball up the floor. Initially though, expect Calderon to be the first PG off the bench.
Your turn, DBB - who would you want to see run the second unit?