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Lakers Rank: José Calderón will emerge as L.A.'s backup point guard

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Los Angeles' may have been able to acquire him in a salary dump, but the Spanish floor general will bring value on the court.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

#9. José Calderón

Average Rank: 8.9

The newest addition to the Los Angeles Lakers, José Calderón, was likely the team’s most praised veteran acquisition this summer. The problem is, the deal was celebrated more for the assets Calderón brought with him from Chicago rather than Calderón himself. Two second-round picks for a one-year, $7 million rental seemed like a pretty good haul for a rebuilding team that still owes several draft picks heading forward.

Nevertheless, the Lakers haven’t recently used their cap space to acquire future assets only. Just as with Jeremy Lin or Roy Hibbert in the past two offseasons, Calderón figures to factor into the team’s rotation if the front office made the effort to acquire him. The 34-year-old point guard (who will be 35 by the time the season starts) has seen better days, but he should have a positive impact on the Lakers in ’2016.

Calderón started all 72 games he played at point guard with the New York Knicks last season. He played 28.1 minutes per game and averaged 7.9 points and 4.2 assists on 45.9 percent shooting from the field, including 41.4 percent shooting on threes. Calderón is also a historically great free throw shooter. He holds the NBA record for free throw percentage in a single season (98.1 percent in ’08-’09) and once made 87 consecutive free throws, the second-longest streak in league history. The ’15-’16 Lakers were last in the NBA in field-goal percentage, making a shooter of Calderón’s caliber a welcome addition.

By all accounts, Calderón is a great teammate – DeMar DeRozan once called him his best ever – and a positive veteran presence. He has familiarity with a variety of offenses through his international and NBA stops, including the triangle, and should be able to readily execute whatever scheme Luke Walton asks of him. Even as the Knicks slogged through a 32-50 campaign last year, Calderón had an offensive rating of 114 (meaning the Knicks scored that many points per 100 possessions while he was on the floor), well above the league average.

However, there’s also the other side of the court, where Calderón doesn’t add much value. His career defensive rating is 111, and the Spanish veteran doesn’t figure to improve in his 12th NBA season, particularly on a team already lacking in stopping power. His understanding of the game ensures that he knows where to be on defense, but he doesn’t have the athleticism or lateral quickness to keep guards in front of him. That’s one reason why Calderón didn’t see the floor for the Spanish national team during the Olympics.

Those defensive deficiencies also apply to Marcelo Huertas, another Laker point guard who will be competing with Calderón for minutes behind D’Angelo Russell, which leads us to a significant question for Walton and his staff: Calderón or Huertas? Many people assumed (myself included) that Calderón’s acquisition signaled the end of Huertas’ time in Los Angeles, but both guards will be on the roster next season vying to be Russell’s primary backup (assuming that Jordan Clarkson doesn’t assume the role of sixth man and play point guard on the second unit).

Calderón and Huertas both are offense-first guards who will get burned on defense. Calderón’s strength is his shooting, although he is incredibly the all-time leader in assists for the Toronto Raptors, while Huertas is better known for his passing. Their playing time could be determined by which skill Walton determines is more valuable for his reserve unit. It’s hard to glean much from Walton’s previous stop – the Warriors used a non-shooting backup point guard in Shaun Livingston, but Golden State almost always played with one or two historically great shooters on the court.

I'd wager that Calderón will win those backup minutes, and our staff agrees, having significantly rated Calderón ahead of Huertas in our rankings. His wealth of NBA experience and one standout skill make him a solid addition to the Laker backcourt. And if you need further proof, just look at what he did last time he played in Los Angeles. Lakers fans will enjoy having another Spanish stalwart in purple and gold.