Derek Fisher needs to play rookie Jerian Grant over Jose Calderon — not later in the season, not next year, not next week.
Five games into 2015-16, the New York Knicks have gotten absolutely nothing from the 34-year-old Spaniard, who genuinely looks like he’s 54 out there.
The veteran journeyman, in his second year with the ‘Bockers after the Tyson Chandler trade, has gotten the starting nod every night. In 22 minutes per game, he’s averaged 4.6 points, 2.4 assists and 1.4 rebounds a night while shooting — hide the women and children! — 27.6 percent from the field.
Of 67 point guards who’ve checked into a game this year, Calderon ranks 61st in scoring, per ESPN. In assists, he ranks 52nd.
Can we just chalk this up to a rough start? Maybe. Last season, he averaged 9.1 points (41.5 percent), 4.7 assists and three boards. Perhaps, with time, he’ll get it together and give NYK some decent numbers.
Thing is, the Knicks don’t have a lot of time.
This league has quickly become dominated by All-Star, freaky athletic, superstar point guards. Look at all the best teams, and you’ll find top-notch production from the 1-spot.
According to NBA.com, Calderon is allowing opponents to shoot 5.9 percent better from the field than their average. From three-point land, that number skyrockets to 14.2 percent higher.
Put more bluntly: If Calderon is guarding you, you’re in for a fun night.
Can we really blame the player, though? It’s not his fault he can’t stick with Jeff Teague, John Wall and Tony Parker:
But Mo Williams and Michael Carter-Williams? C’mon — when those guys are lighting you up, the problem needs to get addressed.
Fisher needs to start Grant. Development, building for the future, yadda yadda yadda — that’s all great. Grant has been rock-solid off the bench, and as noted by ESPN’s Ian Begley, has the best plus/minus numbers of anyone on the roster.
In fairness, that stat alone can be deceiving. So instead, let’s look at some big boy numbers (all via Basketball Reference):
- Grant is averaging eight points (45.2 percent), 3.4 assists and three rebounds per game.
- There are five Knicks lineups averaging plus-50 points per 100 possessions. Grant is in all five. Calderon isn’t in one.
- There are four Knicks lineups averaging minus-49 points or more per 100 possessions. Calderon is in three of them.
- Grant, not Calderon, is in each of the team’s top eight four-man combinations.
- Grant, not Calderon, is a part of the team’s top five three-man combinations.
- Grant, not Calderon, is in every one of the team’s top three two-man combinations.
By now, the trend should be jumping off the page and smacking you in the face. Apparently, Fisher can’t feel the impact through that grizzly beard of his.
“He’s a good young player,” the second-year coach said on Mike Francesa’s radio show Thursday afternoon. “But I do think that everyone has to kind of earn what they get out there on the floor.”
Right now, Grant (22.8 minutes) is actually playing more than Calderon (22 minutes). They shouldn’t be splitting the minutes right down the middle, though. Grant should be getting closer to 30 as a starter, and Calderon should be getting closer to 15.
“I think Jerian has earned the minutes that he’s gotten so far, and if he continues to grow, he has the opportunity to earn more as the season goes along,” Fisher continued. “I don’t think he has a problem with that. I think he, in a similar way to Kristaps (Porzingis), is a hard-worker, has high character and he’s going to do whatever it is we need him to do in order to help us win. But he’s also shown some confidence and belief in his own abilities. And he’s comfortable out there on the floor.”
Look, Fisher isn’t just winging it. He trusts Calderon — the veteran, the guy who’s seen all that defenses are going to throw at him, the one who should give New York its best chance to win.
But there’s no getting around it. Grant has been better.
For Fisher, who coached the unbelievably undermanned Knicks to their worst record in franchise history last season, throwing a rookie point guard to the wolves is a risk. Isn’t it? If Grant struggles, what happens then?
Wait, here’s an idea: You take him out.
Calderon will always be there, ready to maybe make one open jumper and definitely get roasted on the perimeter. If Grant can’t handle the Teagues and the Walls or the Mo Williams and MCWs, toss Calderon back in with the first five.
The Knicks look like a professional basketball team this year, and their 2-3 record is deceiving. There’s no shame in losing to the Atlanta Hawks, San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers. Those are some of the NBA’s truly elite. New York hung with all three of them, too.
The cupcake opponents will come. But when they do, how will the Knicks fare with Calderon trying to guard Jordan Clarkson and/or D’Angelo Russell? Kemba Walker? Elfrid Payton?
And hey, those are the gimme-games. What happens when Russell Westbrook gets his turn?
Grant isn’t the second coming of Magic Johnson, but he’ll put up a much better fight against all of those guys than Calderon will — and it’s not even close.
The season is young, but with a few lucky bounces, it’s not crazy to think New York could sneak into the eighth seed. For that to happen, D-Fish has to adjust, sit Calderon and give Grant starter’s minutes.
Not later in the season, not next year, not next week.