How he got here
Upon first watching J.J. Caldwell at the 2014 NBPA Top 100 Camp, I thought he might be a touch outmatched. That prestigious event has been unkind to many underclassmen over the years, and Caldwell didn’t boast the enormous credentials of those rising juniors who have succeeded there in the past.
Well, over the course of that week I became increasingly impressed by Caldwell’s confidence as much as anything else. The 5-11 point guard is determined to play his game, and he has the talent to impose his style on others.
In the late summer, at the Fab 48, Caldwell performed admirably for the Houston Defenders. In a marquee individual matchup versus Playaz Basketball, and despite his squad getting routed, Caldwell went toe to toe with blue-chip opponents a class ahead of him and proved he belonged.
Caldwell is a very strong, pass-first, speed-always point guard. He thrives playing uptempo but frequently does so looking to hit a streaking teammate, rather than seek his own scoring. That makes him somewhat unusual, because most high school speed guards aim to post big point totals.
But Caldwell is unique. He’s very aggressive and built like a running back, but he relies on creative passing skills and his ability to create angles — rather than transition scoring — to be successful. He also does score nicely on the move at times, using the backboard well to finish over shotblockers.
From a recruiting perspective, he has claimed offers from Kansas State, Oklahoma, Tulsa and Houston. The primarily regional high-major interest coincides with his generally regional high-major reputation, but he certainly holds the potential to expand his sphere of influence if he can build on his play from late last summer.
To 2015. …
Caldwell’s one truly missing component is a trusted jump shot. He rarely attempted any at the two events I watched him, and when he did the release was flat. Improving his mechanics and becoming a more willing shooter stand out as top priorities going forward.
Meanwhile, like many young and very fast point guards, he can force plays that aren’t there. Caldwell should become a more refined decision-maker with natural maturity and it’s hardly a big concern, but still worth noting as he approaches his rising senior spring.
Caldwell projects as an effective college point guard even without a reliable scoring offense. He’s such a talented playmaker and pace-setter that he applies a lot of pressure even when he isn’t shooting.
Along with that, his lateral quickness and strong frame make him a fine prospect for the defensive end. He has displayed a penchant for stealing his opponents’ dribble, and creating turnovers in the open court are a great way for him to factor into the scoring column, too.
Focusing on the immediate future, he’ll have a chance to earn many more offers and accolades over the next several months.