It is the middle of August. Asking legitimate questions about how an NBA team’s rotation shakes out really is all speculation. Teams haven’t yet convened for camp. They haven’t practiced or played a pre-season game. Things like injuries or trades or…really, everything, have not yet influenced how roster battles will shake out or even the final composition of the team.
However, after stating those caveats, a question has been lingering with me since early July and I just can’t seem to shake it any longer: Could Marcelo Huertas Beat out Jose Calderon as Backup PG?
In a way, this seems like a silly question, doesn’t it? Calderon is a known product who has had a ton of success in the NBA. While he’s 34 now, Huertas isn’t much younger at 32 and their relative NBA experience leans heavily towards Calderon having the inside track to back up D’Angelo Russell at point guard. It’s this background which basically led me to believe Huertas wouldn’t even be brought back after the Calderon trade happened.
Then, however, Huertas was re-signed. And then the Olympics started. Then Huertas’ Brazilian team (with him playing a big role) beat Calderon’s Spanish team (with him being marginalized and only playing two minutes) in a notable — though not shocking — upset. Then the very smart John Schumann of NBA.com tweeted this:
Random, Olympics & NBA-related thought: Who gets more minutes for the Lakers next season: Calderon or Huertas?
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) August 9, 2016
Where is the thinking face emoji when I need it?
Of course, context is always needed. As Schumann later wrote, the Spanish team is in transition away from their older generation of players while also being deep at point guard. This limits Calderon’s chances in ways Huertas — who is still his team’s best playmaker and only battling Raul Neto for minutes — does not have to deal with.
Further, international play does not always translate to NBA play. We see this every year as international talents who are NBA role-players take on out-sized roles as “the man” for their home country — and do so ably — only to revert back to a role-player on their NBA team. Huertas, though not “the man” for Brazil, certainly is looked to as a key player within their scheme and is optimized in order to produce the best team results.
That calculus changes when everyone returns stateside and reverts back to who they are in this league.
Still, even with all this context and known caveats, it is impossible to ignore the current roles both players are inhabiting for their respective national teams and wonder who is actually the better player and how that will (or won’t) affect their roles with the Lakers.
We have discussed each players’ strengths and weaknesses plenty, so those are pretty much known. Calderon’s shooting and steady, heady play can be a real asset for a team which needs spacing and leadership. Meanwhile, Huertas’ fantastic playmaking, court vision, and savviness add a dimension the Lakers lack and really does help incubate the type of ball movement and team play which keeps players involved.
It’s impossible to know which would matter more to these Lakers, but it is not a stretch to imagine Huertas’ game and style could be of more impact.
Time will tell, of course. As noted at the very top, practices and pre-season games haven’t started. We haven’t seen how these guys do against each other yet, much less opponents. These things will impact coaching decisions. It is also good to remember opinions evolve and decisions change. Even if this position battle leans one way early, the other guy may end up snatching the reigns away later on.
And maybe that’s the ultimate point of Schumann’s tweet. At this point, it really is worth pondering. Which, if you would have asked me a month ago, I wouldn’t have even thought twice about my answer.