It’s buyout season in the NBA, meaning that washed-up, out-of-favor or otherwise disgruntled veterans have begun to make their way to contenders. Specifically, Deron Williams and Jose Calderon have (or will soon have) new teams. Williams appears to be headed to Cleveland, where he’d become the latest in a long line of faded stars and aged role players to team up with LeBron, while Calderon seems likely to wind up in Golden State.
Neither move would likely change how deep Cleveland or Golden State goes in the playoffs, but both players could fill key roles for the defending finalists.
Williams, who has already cleared waivers and has reportedly informed the Cavs that he’ll sign with them, has had a rough year in Dallas, being displaced in the rotation by Seth Curry, Devin Harris and Yogi Ferrell. He’s averaging 13.1 points and 6.9 assists in 29.3 minutes on the season but has seen his role cut considerably since January. But even though Williams’s overall stats remain down and he clearly isn’t the player he was earlier in his career, there’s a chance that he’ll fill the specific needs of the Cavs.
LeBron James has publicly called for Cleveland to add another point guard to its roster after the departure of Matthew Dellavedova to restricted free agency, and the stats bear out the claim: The Cavaliers have only three players with an assist rate over 10 percent:1 LeBron (41.9), Kyrie Irving (30), and 21-year-old backup point guard Kay Felder. This season, Williams has a 40 percent assist rate, which may not be the best gauge of point guard play on its own but could be a good indicator that he can help the Cavs.
While the Cleveland offense is known for ball movement and numerous 3-point shooters, it also relies on having a player initiate the offense using ball screens and drives. That’s what draws the defense’s attention away from the other, off-ball actions that spring Kyle Korver or Richard Jefferson open. Williams should help to keep those skills on the floor when James and Irving take a rest. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Williams scores 89.9 points per 100 possessions as a pick-and-roll ball handler (this is fairly good) and outperforms Felder in nearly every scoring category.
Williams obviously won’t solve all of the Cavs’ problems — for that, Kevin Love and J.R. Smith will need to return healthy and ready for the playoff run, and Andrew Bogut, who has secured his release from the Philadelphia 76ers and is expected to sign in Cleveland, will have to help hold down the fort until they return. But if Williams can do even a passable job at alleviating the playmaking deficiency that’s forced James into long minutes, he may prove just as crucial as either of those players.
Calderon was waived by the Los Angeles Lakers and is reportedly leaning toward the Warriors as his preferred destination. Calderon would be the Warriors’ third point guard, behind Stephen Curry and Shaun Livingston, so his role would be smaller in Oakland than Williams’s would be in Cleveland, but adding shooting off the bench is key for Golden State, which has surprisingly few dead-eye shooters on the roster behind Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant.
Calderon has never been a lockdown defender, and rarely even a serviceable one, but he’s always balanced that out by being one of the most efficient offensive players in the game, picking up a 50-40-90 season along the way. This season, his shooting numbers are all way off of his career norms — 41.6 percent from the field, 35.3 percent from three, and a 50.8 true shooting percentage — though he’s also played fewer than 300 minutes on the season.
During his longest stretch of extended action — an eight-game run in November and December during which he was pressed into starting — Calderon looked more like himself, posting a 60.2 true shooting percentage and 34.6 assist percentage. He also put up a 116 defensive rating to a 107 offensive rating, and the Lakers dropped five of those eight, so he wasn’t exactly a game-changer. But in a spot-role for the Warriors, he wouldn’t need to be.
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