For whatever reason, several of the league's more entertaining players have fallen off in recent years. Be it due to injury, confidence issues, rotation frustrations, a poor fit, or general ennui in a profession that can get tiresome, these players have disappointed of late. For the next few weeks, we're going to take a look at a list of familiar names that haven't produced familiar games over the last few years. Or, at least players that have produced games that we don't want to be in the habit of familiarizing ourselves with.
Today, we're looking at Los Angeles Clippers combo guard Chauncey Billups.
Chauncey Billups' effectiveness when he returns to the Los Angeles Clippers from an Achilles tear will be closely monitored, and like most things in remarkable career, the judgment stemming from it will probably say quite a bit about how you classify NBA success. If Billups were to return to the sort of form we'd expect from a 36-year old with his history, regardless of last February's tear, the sorts of numbers he'll put up might appear disappointing out of context. So we should give him some room, let Chauncey be Chauncey, and hope for the best.
And also understand that it could be the relatively ages-old Chauncey Billups — the guy that was picked up in the same Boston Celtics draft class as Ron Mercer — that could put the Los Angeles Clippers over the top. In a seven game series or pivotal seed-pouncing late regular season run, his brand of shot making and ability to get to the line off of broken plays could mean the difference between a Clippers team that could honestly compete for a spot in the NBA Finals, or one that could go out in the first round on the heels of a bad matchup.
We write that without intending to create a pun, but it really does all depend on the heel. Achilles tears are brutal to return from even for studs in their late 20s. For a guard reliant on savvy and smarts in his mid-30s, it could prove the death knell. This is why we want Billups back.
Billups' 2011-12 turn with the Clippers, just 20 games of starting at the shooting guard slot, seem somewhat knell'ish when you look at Chauncey's rather unseemly 36 percent shooting from the field. Thirty-four percent shooting from inside the arc, from a player with declining athleticism, should be a warning sign; even with all the caveats that come from a quick turnaround following his release by the Knicks, and a goofball lockout-induced season.
This is how it's always been with Chauncey. He came of age during a time where advanced statistics were creating a new way to look at unique players, and Chauncey's hybrid guard play has always been both unique and effective. The inside the arc shooting, there can be no doubt, was not good. Borderline Kirk Hinrich-levels, here. The comeback is that Billups also shot 38 percent from behind the arc, a shot he tossed up more often than his two-point attempts. And despite legs that had trudged through over 1100 combined regular and postseason contests entering his first year in Los Angeles, Chauncey still managed to get to the line five and a half times per 36 minutes of play, while shooting his Billups-typical 89 percent from the charity stripe.
All this, plus just 38 turnovers in 607 minutes, make for a surprisingly efficient player.
And all this, sadly, could be lost to that tear. Billups isn't having any of it, as he points to being ready for his team's regular season debut. From an interview with Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:
"I think it's going to be close, but I'm shooting to be ready for the regular season, to be honest with you," Billups said. "But obviously you don't just jump out there in the regular season with no practices, I would never do that.
"But honestly, I'm not in a rush at all. If I'm ready, I'm ready, but I'm just grinding and whenever my body tells me it's time to get back out there, that's when you will see me."
Fans will cast a dubious eye as Chauncey heads in, mainly because of what happed to former Clipper Elton Brand as he attempted to come back from his Achilles injuries five years ago. Suffered around this time during the offseason, Brand appeared in a few token Clipper contests to end the 2007-08 season before moving on to the Philadelphia 76ers as a free agent. Brand struggled in the next season to adapt to his new team, and then a season-ending separated shoulder waylaid his comeback even more.
Comparisons are unfair, as is damning Brand's comeback. By the time he made it all the way back, Brand was an undersized power forward on a team in 2009-10 that wouldn't pass him the ball. Elton's last two seasons, even in his early 30s, have been underrated in their productivity; not the MVP-level play he came through with in his last two full seasons with the Clippers, but pretty darn good.
And unlike Billups, Elton doesn't get to shoot three-pointers. Or make them, at least.
Billups is returning to something he knows, if for only 20 games, in these Clippers. He was a de facto assistant coach during his time off, and he warned Ellis that he's pretty enthused about his team's roster in spite of the massive upgrades the Los Angeles Lakers underwent during the offseason.
The Clippers have made additions too, but while newly-signed Jamal Crawford is one of our favorite NBA people, he's just about the anti-Chauncey. We need Chauncey to save the Clippers from their additions, and from Crawford's dodgy shot selection. Even at Billups' worst, last season, he still turned in better True Shooting Percentage and Effective Field Goal percentage marks in comparison to Crawford's 2011-12 stint with Portland. We love Clipper comer Eric Bledsoe and would like to see Caron Butler turn in one last great year, but Billups has to be that guy.
And he's coming back from an Achilles tear. Yikes.
It's do-able. The benefit of an 82-game season (with actual practices and time off) and added depth (even if the advanced stats movement hasn't been especially kind to Crawford and fellow signee Willie Green) could give the Clips ample reason to ask Billups to take it easy or even sit out the first month of the season or so. Of course, this is the guy that decided to undergo Achilles rehabilitation in his mid-30s in a career that has already given him millions, five All-Star appearances, a Finals MVP and 2004 NBA championship ring. He's probably not keen to sit down, just yet.
Good for Chauncey, good for the Clippers, and good for NBA fans.