Monday, February 22, 2010

Chauncey Billups

Following the '08 and '09 seasons I ranked Chauncey Billups as the 6th and 4th best player in the NBA respectively. Right now I have him as the 5th best. Those might be surprising rankings to some. Billups isn't a flashy player. If you judge NBA players by their number of 360 dunks appearing on SportsCenter, Billups won't make your top 10 list. Except with respect to free throws (he shoots a career 89%, good for 7th all time), Billups doesn't do anything especially spectacular.

But Chauncey Billups does everything well. He's a good shooter. He's a good three-point shooter, with 6 out of his last 7 seasons (this one included) above 40%. He's known as Mr. Big Shot for his ability to knock down a clutch attempt. He knows how to run a team from the point guard position. His assist numbers are low (they have been descending since his career high of 8.6 in '05-'06). He's averaging only 6.1 this season and has a career average of just 5.6 per game. However, the number of assists is not always an indication of how well a player runs a team. In Denver, Carmelo Anthony tends to dominate the ball, taking away assists from Billups. In Detroit, the team usually used more than one pass to score, also limiting Billups's assist totals.

Billups is a good on-ball defender. When he came to Denver, he changed the team's ability to defend. The Nuggets rivaled the worst defensive teams in the league before Billups brought accountability on that end of the court. That takes us to Billups leadership. His arrival in Denver changed the course of two franchises. The Nuggets thrived; the team he left, the Pistons, faltered. On the one hand, he was a great fit for both teams. Allen Iverson, the man he was traded for, and his propensity to shoot a ton, didn't work in either situation. But Billups's leadership was the real key. This leadership is also exhibited by the fact that he is the only player to have played in a conference finals each of the last 7 seasons.

Billups does have his shortcomings. He has been criticized for taking contested three-pointers early in the shot clock at crucial points in a game, usually after he's hit a few in a row. As happened in Detroit, Denver is notorious for laying an egg every once in a while due to a lack of energy. If Billups's ability to lead is responsible for his teams' successes (and I believe it is) then his leadership must be blamed when his team fails to bring energy on a given night.

Despite Billups few faults, he is one of the best players in the NBA today. It's been a while since he led the Pistons to the championship in 2004, garnering a Finals MVP in the process. But he is still the leader of a contending team. One fascinating statistic is that the Nuggets are considerably better without scoring-sensation Carmelo Anthony than without Billups. Mr. Big Shot is the best player on the West's second best team. he also deserves more respect than he gets.

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