AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — With his contract expiring at season’s end, Jose Calderon might be the Detroit Pistons’ point guard for only a few months.
Then again, maybe not. So far, he’s giving the team a lot of reasons to think about bringing him back.
Wednesday, with the Washington Wizards trying to take away his passing lanes, Calderon turned into a shooter, hitting six 3-pointers and racking up 24 points as the Pistons pulled away down the stretch for a 96-85 victory.
“When you are playing point guard, you always are going to be passing on open shots because your job is to keep the ball moving,” Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said. “You might give up three, four or even five straight shots so that the ball movement doesn’t bog down.
“The key with Jose is that he knows when it is the right time to take those shots, and he can knock them down.”
Between the Pistons and Raptors, Calderon is hitting 45 percent of his 3-point shots this season, and teams don’t want to foul him because he’s one of the league’s best shooters from the line. That ability, matched with his outstanding passing skills, has allowed Frank to use his newest player in several different combinations.
“He can knock down shots, which opens up a lot of things for other guys, and it also lets us use him with different guys in the backcourt,” Frank said. “We used him with Will (Bynum) down the stretch, but we can also have him out there with Brandon Knight or Rodney Stuckey and it still works.”
The Calderon-Bynum combination would be expected to struggle defensively, especially against a quick pair of guards like Washington’s John Wall and Bradley Beal. However, in the fourth quarter, the Pistons held Washington scoreless on nine consecutive possessions, allowing them to take the lead midway through the period.
Bynum then broke open the game with six points in a row to make it 82-76 with 3:23 left, and Calderon sealed it by hitting a 3-pointer. The pair ended up combining for 44 points, including 18 in the fourth quarter.
“I think there’s chemistry now that we’ve played a couple games together,” Bynum said. “We cause matchup problems for just about whatever team we are going to play, and it is going to continue to get better the more we play together. I’m loving this.”
Part of the reason that Calderon and Bynum were able to survive so well defensively was because of little-used rookie Slava Kravtsov. Filling in for injured Andre Drummond, Kravtsov showed surprising defensive agility in a career-best 14 minutes and even added a pair of baskets during the Pistons’ late rally.
“I thought Slava was very instrumental when we were getting stops in the fourth quarter,” Frank said. “He gave us great paint protection against a team that has some quality bigs.
“He only got one rebound, but he gives us size, length and great energy on both ends of the floor.”
Kravtsov has a long way to go before he gets regular minutes in the Pistons rotation — it’s a big jump from BC Donetsk to the NBA — but he’s valuable if he’s just able to provide a big body at the rim.
Drummond is expected to be out for another month, and with Jason Maxiell struggling, Kravtsov provides a center who can give Greg Monroe some rest and play alongside Charlie Villanueva.
Kravtsov’s minutes in both halves Wednesday meant that Monroe was able to stay fresh and post big numbers against Nene and Emeka Okafor. Monroe finished with 16 points and 18 rebounds, and became the first Pistons player with eight consecutive double-doubles since Grant Hill in 1996.
Monroe’s five offensive rebounds were a big reason that the Pistons finished with 20 second-chance points to Washington’s eight and go into the All-Star break having won three of four and feeling good.
Although Knight is headed to Houston to participated in the Rising Stars game and the skills competition, the rest of the team can get some rest.
“I’m going home, and I am going to spend some time with my wife and kids,” Frank said as he walked out of the news conference room. “I’ll see everyone again next week.”