CHAUNCEY BILLUPS REMAINS A POINT GUARD AT HEART
Chauncey Billups is a point guard. Always has been, always will be.
In 1,020 career games, Billups has played nearly 900 of them as the lead guard. His experience, leadership and ability to avoid mistakes all made him valuable to the Clippers when they acquired him in December 2011. And when Chris Paul arrived via trade three days later, Billups, for essentially the first time in his career, was asked to play off the ball.
It was an adjustment in the 20 games Billups played last year and it is again this season as he re-assimilates himself into the lineup after recovering from peroneal tendinitis in his left foot.
With backup point guard Eric Bledsoe sidelined by a sore left calf, Billups is back, for a few minutes per night, running the offense as a point guard of the second unit. As usual he starts alongside Paul in the backcourt, comes out of the game between the five- and six-minute mark of the first quarter, and returns at the beginning of the second to replace Paul.
“It’s great for me,” Billups said of getting to play point guard at times. “That’s what I do. It’s been great to be able to do that. We look forward to Bled (Bledsoe) coming back; we really need him. But whenever in the future they need me to do [to play point guard] it’s easy.”
The Clippers scored on three-straight possessions Sunday in the opening two minutes of the second quarter, all with Billups orchestrating the offense. He dumped the ball to Lamar Odom at the elbow and received a pass back on the perimeter for a long 2-pointer. He found Odom with a bullet pass 22 seconds later for a layup and set up Matt Barnes for a dunk on the next play.
It was the third game this season where Bledsoe sat out and Billups resumed his once steadfast role as a point guard. He did it in a 106-84 win over the Bobcats, throwing a behind-the-back pass to DeAndre Jordan and suggesting later that the media may have a short memory when it comes to his passing skills.
“I used to do that all the time,” Billups said that night.
In some ways, Billups plays the two-guard by name only. He often brings the ball up the court with the starting unit, allowing Paul to come off screens to receive a live dribble. It’s one of many reasons Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro likes utilizing a lineup with two of the best decision makers in the NBA in at the same time.
For Billups, though, playing off the ball remains a stylistic adjustment.
“I think playing the two of course I don’t get to control the game as much,” Billups said. “I don’t get to really do too much with the ball. I’ve kind of just got to wait on it. That’s the position they expect me to play and I’ll do my best with that.”
So far he has. The Clippers are 13-5 when Billups starts (27-11 dating back to last season) and 3-0 when he has at least five assists, as he did Sunday against the Knicks. While he’s only played 18 of the Clippers’ 67 games, he’s started 15 of the last 16, sitting out in Philadelphia with a sore lower back on Feb. 11.
With 15 games to go, and 46 victories already locked in, the Clippers are still solidifying what they may look like if fully healthy in the postseason.
“You’d like to get into some consistent rotation,” Del Negro said. “But we haven’t been able to do that. Guys have battled through it and understand that when lineups change, certain things change offensively or defensively, so guys have been adjusting to that for most of the season. I don’t see that being a problem, I’d just like to be more consistent but you can only do that with health.”
Billups is a significant part of that established rotation, point guard by trade or merely at heart.