ESPN.com’s David Thorpe, who has known Nick Calathes from his high school days in Florida, told Chris Vernon today that he thinks Calathes could be a starting point guard in the NBA. In fairness, Thrope taught Calathes at the Pro Training Center in Clearwater, Florida, so his opinion smells a little like self-promotion. Even so, his praise seems lofty (even hyperbolic) for a third-choice backup point guard with no NBA experience.
Let’s start with his CV. Calathes was a playmaker at Florida, averaging better than 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists per game, earning All-SEC honors in 2009, and breaking the school’s assist record – twice. After two years, he moved to Greece to accept a 3-year, €2.4 million deal during which he saw extensive post-season play (including two Greek Championships and a Euroleague title), multiple all-star selections, and a most improved player award. He then joined Russian team Lokomotiv and continued to improve, receiving the highly regarded 2012-13 Eurocup MVP award. When Memphis offered him a deal a few weeks ago, he opted out of a €2.2 million contract to play for less than half of that in the NBA. Talk about betting on your talent.
At 6’6”, Calathes is a strong, versatile point guard and a solid defender. His specialty is court vision and “quarterbacking” the offense, the kind of role that European point guards are often required to fill, and the kind of leadership that the Grizzlies’ increasingly powerful backup unit can really use. His passing in particular is what people notice, including Thorpe, who called him the best passer he had ever seen.
He was not a scorer in Europe, but he won’t need to be on the Grizzlies, either, if he shares the floor with Mike Miller, Quincy Pondexter, and Jerryd Bayless. That’s not to say that he can’t shoot – he’s creative on drives to the rim and he seems equally comfortable going left and right. He also has a pretty nasty behind-the-back move that he can break out when necessary.
All that is good, but starting point guard good? John Hollinger must have thought so: he ranked Calathes 6th in his 2009 draft rater column. But from the reels I’ve found on YouTube, Calathes doesn’t appear to have the smoothness of Tony Parker or Rajon Rondo, the explosiveness of Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook, or the reliable shot of Mario Chalmers or Steph Curry. His athleticism doesn’t jump out at you at all, really, but he is fundamentally sound and energetic on both sides of the ball. Actually, his game is comparable to Mike Conley’s, although Mike has a better handle and is a little bit quicker.
Still, while I’m sure most would rather have seen an established NBA name subbing in for Conley, Calathes is an awfully good choice to settle for. And at his current price point, it’s not like the Grizzlies are shouldering any great financial risk. Certainly a pure point guard is a better backup solution than Jerryd Bayless. I also think Calathes will be more suited to the offensive system than Keyon Dooling was and, with his experience, more reliable than Tony Wroten. We’ll know soon enough.
Thorpe also had some interesting stories to tell about Ed Davis and cold reception he received from Lionel Hollins after the trade. Check out the full interview here.