Who Is the Most Underrated Player on the Dallas Mavericks This Season?

Conor Volpe@cvolpe31Correspondent IMarch 12, 2014

Dallas Mavericks' Jose Calderon of Spain looks on while players are introduced prior to the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Philadelphia. The Mavericks won 124-112. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Chris Szagola/Associated Press

Who even notices Jose Calderon when he plays? His "wow" moments are few and far between, his numbers aren't gaudy and he never makes a SportsCenter highlight. He just kind of blends in.

Yet Calderon's addition has been integral to this Dallas Mavericks renaissance. His shooting, ability to set up teammates and mastery of the offense have helped the Mavs find their offensive mojo again, as they have the third-best offense in the NBA.

But Jose Calderon rarely gets the recognition that Dirk Nowitzki or Monta Ellis get. They're the guys who are the focus of the offense, the guys who score the points, the guys who get the headlines.

It's about time Jose Calderon gets some recognition as the most underrated Maverick of the 2013-14 campaign.

Now obviously as a guy who flies under the radar, Calderon's contributions aren't in the limelight. He's underrated mainly because the ways he adds value aren't easy to spot. And in order to highlight his value, we have to take a look back at the 2012-13 campaign.

Last season Dallas went 41-41 and finished 10th in the Western Conference, thus missing the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.

It's tough to call a .500 season miserable, but it was by Mavericks standards. Dirk Nowitzki had one of the worst seasons of his career, signees like OJ Mayo and Darren Collison didn't pan out and the team just looked out of sync. 

One thing that stuck out was the startling lack of a floor general. There was nobody who could confidently run the offense or consistently get Dirk the ball in his spots. One of Dirk's few flaws, as with all inside players, is he relies on other guys for entry passes. Last season, that simple action was a struggle.

Now watching the Mavs play this year looks much different. The offense flows better, and the team looks more cohesive. These observations are backed up by the stats, as both offensive efficiency and points per game have increased dramatically since last season.

And believe it or not, Jose Calderon is the man responsible for much of the turnaround.

First and foremost, Calderon is a man who understands how to play the point guard position. Describing him in broad strokes, he has a high basketball IQ, good court vision, a great jump shot and is an unselfish offensive player. He certainly has the skills a team wants from their ball-handler. 

The Mavericks need a guy with his skill set. He understands how to get Ellis and Nowitzki touches, and he knows when to let Ellis dominate the ball. His shooting is integral to the Mavs' floor spacing, and he runs the pick-and-roll well, a set Dallas runs a ton.

This is precisely what the Mavericks were missing last season. Both Collison and Mayo were not distributors, and without someone effectively running the offense, the team fell off.

Think about the Jason Kidd years, when the offense was clicking. Kidd hit spot-up three-pointers, ran the pick-and-roll well with Dirk, was a passer first and foremost and was notorious for his high assist-to-turnover ratio.

Sounds just like Calderon doesn't it?

Jim Cowsert/Associated Press

Except Calderon is a better shooter. Kidd was over 40 percent from deep for a couple years in Dallas, then dipped into the mid-30s for a couple years as well. Calderon is shooting 44.7 percent from three this year, and for his career, he's at almost 41 percent. That's just deadly.

Very similarly to Kidd, Calderon is an unselfish player. His assists are down this season, but that doesn't mean he's selfish. Calderon is the king of the hockey assist, or in other words, the pass to the assist. Which is an integral part of head coach Rick Carlisle's ball movement and floor spacing-centered offense. Calderon understands that, and he is often the guy who gets these actions moving with his hockey assists.

Think of Calderon as the guy with the steering wheel. Carlisle can trust Calderon to feed the hot hand, to make sure everybody gets their touches and to make the smart decisions.

Though these tasks might seem rudimentary, they're extremely important. And Calderon is great at every one of them. Without his contributions, the Mavericks might be floundering around .500 instead of winning close to 60 percent of their games.

At the end of the day, Jose Calderon's stat line reads 13.4 points, 5.5 assists, 1.1 steals while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and 44.7 percent from downtown. Nothing that makes you jump out of your seat.

Dirk Nowitzki gets the attention for MVP, as he deserves, and Monta Ellis justifiably gets the accolades for the big offseason acquisition. Jose Calderon slips through the cracks.

But his contributions, as intangible and quiet as they may be, deserve recognition. He may not get the headlines or the accolades, yet Jose Calderon is just what the Mavericks need to get back their playoff ways.

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