How Much Does Losing Chauncey Hurt the Clippers?

Andrew Sharp of SBNation has an interesting take on the Chauncey Billups injury. Sharp feels like the injury may help the Clippers in a way, in that Chauncey was continuing to take shots as if he were a superstar, while making them at a decidedly sub-superstar level. While I wouldn't come out and say it quite as bluntly, there is definitely some truth to this idea.

Guard is the one position in which the Clippers are deep. Really deep. When Eric Bledsoe is fully healthy again, he'll need some minutes, and with Chris Paul and Mo Williams among the most productive guards in the entire league, there weren't a lot of minutes beyond a healthy Chauncey. Obviously, an injury to Paul would free up minutes as well but would be devastating to the Clippers. The simple fact is that Billups has been a terrific part of the first third of the season, but there's not much he was doing that is irreplaceable.

Billups' greatest value might have been as the guy who ran the show during the five games that Paul was out. Obviously the Clippers lose that luxury. But injuries happen, and no team is infinitely deep. It goes without saying that any injury hurts a team's depth.

The point is, with Paul's leadership on the court, the loss of Billups' own veteran savvy is mitigated. As for his basketball contributions, there's little question that he was better than Randy Foye, who will replace him in the starting lineup -- but it's not as big a gap as you might imagine. Furthermore, not all of Billups' minutes will go to Foye.

Through 22 games, down the stretch of close games Vinny Del Negro has been faced with a dilemma. What lineup should be closing? Paul, Griffin and Jordan are more or less no brainers. But then he had to pick two out of the three remaining members of the Clippers big six -- Billups, Williams and Caron Butler. Against some opponents, the three guard alignment was not an option, meaning that it boiled down to Billups or Williams. VDN went with Williams on occasoin, and rightly so -- but the potential for tension, benching an All Star veteran like Billups down the stretch, was always there. Now, there's no debate. VDN has a default lineup for closing games.

So it's not just a straight substitution of the somewhat less productive Foye for Billups -- some of those minutes will be going to the more productive Williams. And provided that Foye accepts the proper role on this team, he should be taking fewer shots than Billups when he is out there. Those extra shots should be going to Paul and Griffin and Butler -- all much more efficient from the field than Billups this season.

The loss clearly hurts in some ways. The Clippers strange contingent of point guards and combo guards lacks any real size, and Billups was one of only two (Foye being the other) with legitimate two guard dimensions. Defending the Kobe's of the league was difficult for this team before, and it got more so when Chauncey's Achilles popped. Also, while Billups was shooting a career low from the field, he still excelled at two things -- making three pointers, and getting to the line. So while it may be fine to reallocate some of his field goal attempts to other more efficient shooters, it would be naive and simply wrong to suggest that the Clippers won't miss his knock down three point shooting and those easy points he picked up at the foul line. In particular, the team's new found prowess from beyond the arc has made them incredibly potent in an offense that features Blake Griffin drawing double teams and Chris Paul breaking down defenses.

But in the end, this is the one injury to their big six that the Clippers can most easily absorb. Sharp may be overstating it to say the Clippers "got lucky" -- it would be far luckier if he weren't hurt. But as five ESPN writers recently unanimously agreed, this injury does not knock the Clippers from the ranks of contenders in the West.

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