The standing ovation Chauncey Billups received in Denver appropriately underlined the proven capacity of a tried and true Mr. Big Shot.
Soon after, Billups proceeded to drop 32 points on his former team and hometown.
More importantly, down the stretch, it was his consistent ability to hit shot after shon, in addition to drawing coy fouls, that led to a great Clippers victory against one of the top teams in the Western Conference.
Over time, veterans develop or increase their innate basketball acumen. While practice is a crucial and essential aspect of improving one’s game, it is inherently limited by one’s own capacity to understand the context and subtleties that extend beyond the self. Michael Jordan, as he aged, continued his domination of opposing players by relying on IQ, instinct, and the combination of both which often led to the tiny exploits that gave him the edge over much younger competitors.
In Billups and Chris Paul we have two highly instinctual students of the game: one on the way to solidifying an all-star career and another in the twilight of such, but still with the ability to drill a dagger into the heart of your team when it matters most. From downtown no less.
Herein lies the ambivalence that Mr. Big Shot creates for Clippers fans.
On nights like the matchup against Denver, Chauncey’s battle-tested shot was falling. Without so much as a second thought, Billups would line up from 22-25 feet and consistently hit.
Though he’s a point-guard by trade, his recent stint as a Clipper wouldn’t reveal it. He looks very comfortable playing the wing and waiting for a kick-out from the bigs or a fellow guard. The experience and veteran leadership he brings to a young team full of athleticism is an imperative prerequisite that was missing last year.
Perhaps more important than his actual shot, his tutelage on the court (coupled with that of Chris Paul’s) is helping to shape the rest of the team. Let’s face it, how much confidence does anyone have in Vinny Del Negro? The guy looks like a nervous wreck 95% of the time, with the remaining five being spent figuring out the optimal placement of his hands upon his waist.
Enter Billups and Paul. I consider them more like player coaches. The point-guard position, by nature, is one of commanding and directing. Add to that a competitive edge, high basketball IQ, and 100+ games of playoff experience and you have yourself a teacher.
Education without discipline, however, is just information.
The championship pedigree that Billups brings comes with winning expectations. Lob City may be exciting, but a fleeting lob isn’t as satisfying as a championship ring, and Billups knows that. Instilling this reality into Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan is almost as important as hitting 32 points and leading them to victory. It is leading by example to a place beyond Sportscenter.
The flip-side of Mr. Big Shot, however, and the part that makes me nervous is also tied to his nickname. Too often, when he’s responsible for running the point-guard position while Paul is on the bench, Billups’ offensive plays consist of dribbling up-court and jacking up a three without so much as making one pass. Time and again we hear commentators, analysts and novice bloggers reiterate the fact that the Clippers are better off with Chris Paul running the offense. The interpretation that is often given to this, however, is one which gives Pauls’ point-guard capabilities more credit than they deserve. Yes, Paul is an outstanding guard—probably the best all-around point-guard in the league—but the divisive and obvious difference is caused more by Billups’ obsession with shooting than by Chris’ offensive genius. Paul passes, drives and occasionally shoots. Billups just shoots.
When the shot isn’t falling, this type of offense creates problems not just in the offensive scoring department, but ultimately in the rebounding department. With Reggie Evans as the only capable rebounder, missed shots lead to less offensive possessions and more chances for the opposition.
When I originally started ripping out my hair with every three Blllups launched, I had decided to write an entire post about how ineffective and detrimental this style of play is (as I have partly outlined above).
What I realized, as I contemplated statistical backup for my argument, was the reality of the Clippers offense: without much scoring help from the bench, the starting unit needs to score as much as possible, even if it means a lot of shots by Billups. In each of the Clippers losses, either Billups did not play, had a bad night, or Chris Paul’s offensive contribution was limited; in all cases, the bench was unable to make up for the respective deficiency (again, with the exception of Mo Williams).
Given his contributions on and off the scoreboard, his playoff and championship experience, and his renewed affection for a team that lets him “be,” I will have to suck up my immediate reaction to his quick-trigger threes and hope for the proven best.
The Clippers will definitely need big shots come playoff time.