While we're waiting for Steve to check in from media day I thought we should grab this little opening and take a harder look at our newly acquired point guard. In case you haven't heard the Clippers surprised everyone yesterday and scooped up Chauncey Billups off the amnesty scrap heap. I was puzzled by this on a number of levels. First, why would anyone amnesty Billups? Second, why did he cost so little? But before we talk about that, let's do a little background work.
Chauncey Billups was drafted by the Boston Celtics in the summer of 1997 with the third overall pick out of Colorado. He was traded in his first season and bounced around for the next four or five years from the Toronto Raptors to the Denver Nuggets to the Orlando Magic to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Finally, in 2002 he signed with the Detroit Pistons and hit his stride. In 2004 he was MVP of the NBA finals when the Pistons took down the Lakers four to one. In six years with Detroit Billups led the Pistons to six straight conference finals.
In 2008 Billups was traded to the Denver Nuggets. With Carmelo Anthony they won 54 games that year and went to the conference finals. In February of this year, Billups was traded to the New York Knicks along with Anthony despite publicly stating his desire to retire in his home town. Didn't matter, for the Knicks, Billups averaged 17.5 points, 5.5 assists, and 3.1 rebounds, at or above his career averages.
Billups is known for his tough defense (named twice to the All-Defensive team along with ) and leadership qualities. He's a five time all-star, the last time in 2010. I'm looking at his stats on Basketball-Reference and I'm blown away by the numbers. His career PER is 19.1 (and it hasn't fallen off... it was 19.1 last year for the Knicks and 18.7 overall). His career TS% is .581 and .eFG is .496 (and all these number include his first four "wandering" years). (If you're looking at the chart in "narrow view" this might not work, go get big and come back.):
Okay, how do his numbers compare to others? Let's look at Mister Billups numbers versus a certain point guard who (currently) plays in New Orleans... and... hmm... how about we include another Clipper favorite? Let's throw in Sam Cassell. (All stats are career numbers but I'm not including Sam's last season, he was 38, split time between the Clips and Boston and the year doesn't seem relevant). For all the numbers go here.
Per 36 Minutes
Wow. This is interesting. Points, CP wins it. But he has less years than the other guys, has always been a starter and seems slated for diminishing point average by the end of his career. If you look at their per-36 numbers the points even out. But Paul's superior in other ways, his PER is a whopping 25.2, and he's by far the best in assists (career 9.9) and rebounds, (4.6 per game)... for a guy listed at 6-0, 175 pounds that's flat out extraordinary... and the numbers don't shift much when you look at the per-36 stats.
Three point percentage is all Chauncey at .389, and it's not a fluke, he takes an average of 4.5 a game, compared to 2.5 for CP (and 2.1 for Sam-I-am). Billups is a seriously skilled three-point bomber. These guys all bring in special free throw numbers but Billups is the best at .894... that's a career number. Turnovers? Billups leads this too at a rock-steady 2.3 per 36.
To be honest, I thought Billups would have a higher assist number than he does (not shabby 6.2/36, but he can't touch CP). But there is one extraordinary stat that tells you a lot about Billups: In the nine years since he's been a starting full-time point guard, even in years where he played for more than one team, he's never missed more than ten games. For the Clippers with guys like Gordon, Butler, and Kaman on the squad... it's a significant statistic. Billups doesn't get injured much and when he does, he plays anyway.
Billups is big 6-3, 202, tough, and will fill the point guard spot next to Eric Gordon very nicely. With the addition of Caron Butler, the re-signing (and some average improvement from DeAndre Jordan), the Clippers should be a much better defensive team this year. Those of you who watched the FIBA world championships last year had a little preview of what this team might be with Eric Gordon and Chauncey Billups in the backcourt. Both were lock-down defenders and explosive scorers. Billups led that team with an unerring hand.
Circling back to the original two questions: First, why would anyone amnesty Billups? The Knicks had to get under the cap to sign Tyson Chandler. They've got two of the worst defensive forwards in the league in Amare' Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony and desperate for help from a defensive center. So they amnestied Billups in order to max Chandler... Billups is on the last year of his contract and they didn't figure they could afford to keep him around much longer. It's a questionable move, but not our problem, right?
Second, why did Chauncey Billups cost so little? Hmm. Billups loudly warned off teams by saying he would retire if he was waived to a lower echelon team. But the Clips didn't buy the rhetoric (and joyfully, don't seem to consider themselves lower echelon anything). Clippers GM Neil Olshey mentioned yesterday that Sam Cassell and Marcus Camby had similar reactions when they were traded to the Clips and they got over it. Billups also didn't want to leave Denver and go to the Knicks last year. (Late breaking news: Brad Turner from the LA Times just tweeted that Billups was expected in practice tomorrow, Wed, the 13th.)
Is Chauncey Billups Chris Paul? No, but he's probably the best point guard to put a Clipper's uniform since... since Sam Cassell? He's as good or better than Cassell offensively and a thousand times better defensively (Sam was the Clips worst defensive point guard since Mark Jackson). Actually, I've been watching the Clips for twenty years and I don't remember the Clippers having any point guard as good or better than Chauncey Billups. Period.