In a way, Chauncey Billups is a holdover from a bygone era. After the 2003-04 season — mere weeks after the Billups-led Pistons upended a fractious Lakers squad 4-1 in the Finals — the NBA rolled out rule changes that clamped down on what defenders could get away with, particularly on the perimeter.
For bigger, more physical guards like Billups, that meant no more hand-checking to make up for a lack of lateral speed and quickness. In doing so, the league was paving the way for a new era of guard-friendly, higher scoring, and less physical play. Two Steve Nash MVPs and one dizzying influx of young, uber-athletic point guards later, Billups is very much the exception to the new rule – and rulers – of today’s NBA.
As such, landing Billups in the Carmelo Anthony deal was, for Knick fans, a little like the owner of an IRL team acquiring a first-tier stock car from NASCAR: it might be a winner, and you very well could have a chance to trade it in for arguably the best Indy car out there (in this case, Chris Paul). But in the mean time, you’re basically stuck trying to fit a powerful-but-not-very-nimble machine into the winding, speed-and-quickness-dependent IRL track that is Mike D’Antoni’s offense. Square peg, round hole.
These and other unknowns aside, one thing most were sure Billups would provide was reliable, efficient shooting. However, his injury-stymied stint in the orange and blue was anything but keeping with recent trends, as Billups saw his TS% drop by 50 points (63% to 58%) from his first 51 games in Denver. Meanwhile, his 3PT% fell by a whopping 110 points (44% to 33%).
Despite running with two elite scorers in Melo and Stat, Billups’ usage rate (21.4 to 24.3, his highest ever) as well as his FGAs per 36 (11.7 to 14, also his highest ever) both shot up noticeably. Meanwhile, his assists per 36 (6.3 vs. 6.2 career), and rebounds per 36 (3.5 vs. 3.3) went up slightly, in part due to the slightly faster pace.
More ethereally, Billlups struggled noticeably in pick and roll situations, often forcing bad shots or simply missing the open cutter. Moreover, Chauncey’s inability to find a consistent groove with Amar’e Stoudemire mirrored what seemed at times to be an over-reliance on feeding Carmelo Anthony in isolation.
On defense he had trouble containing smaller, quicker point guards, giving as much as he took in matchups with the likes of Ramon Sessions and Jameer Nelson. And with the exception of a very big one against Miami on February 27th, his Mr. Big Shot moniker seemed at times like it could have been replaced with “Mr. What the Hell Kind of Shot Was That”?
True, sustaining a deep thigh contusion (from the knee of Dwight Howard, no less) that sidelines you for six games certainly doesn’t help. And neither does missing three of the four games of the Boston series with a knee strain. Knowing how important a solid point guard is to Mike D’Antoni’s offense, Billups’ nagging injuries may have contributed more than anything to the veteran’s stunted stretch. More importantly, it threw out of whack what was already a very fragile work in progress.
Which brings us back to the earlier point about race cars: Will the (hopefully healthy) team that shapes out over the summer and early fall look more like the one pre-Melo trade (IRL), or the one after (NASCAR)?
Will Billups work hard enough on his endurance and conditioning to handle the quicker pace?
Will another training camp help push Toney Douglas up a rung, to where we might see a Douglas-Billups backcourt for 25-30 minutes a game?
If the Knicks indeed draft a Reggie Jackson, Josh Selby or Darrius Morris, where will he fit in?
For all the question marks — and there are many — one thing is clear: a full training camp with his new teammates should go a long way in determining whether the statistical red flags of Chauncey’s first 22 games as a Knick were an anomaly, or simply what’s to be expected going forward from a 35-year-old point guard with more than 1000 NBA games in his legs.
Report Card (5 point scale):
Final Grade: B-