Chris Paul was so tremendous in the 2012 postseason that it's easy to forget just how limited the Los Angeles Clippers were by significant injuries. Caron Butler opted to play through a broken hand, Blake Griffin and Paul nursed minor injuries of their own and most notably: Chauncey Billups had been removed from the lineup entirely by a torn Achilles tendon.
Upon his odd arrival in Los Angeles (Billups was among the first claimed by way of amnesty waiver, and not without making a fuss), Billups may have seemed to be a slightly redundant cog on an incomplete team. He shares a nominal position, after all, with Paul, and would thus be forced into a role largely new to him. The biggest adjustments for Billups wouldn't come in simply shifting his job title, but in adjusting his entire approach and level of control in each offensive possession.
Yet Billups made the move off the ball with relative ease and was a crucial part of the Clippers' best lineups last season. L.A.'s early-season starting five (featuring Paul, Billups, Griffin, Caron Butler and DeAndre Jordan) panned out as its best high-usage lineup all season long, and proved to be far and away Vinny Del Negro's best balance of offense and defense.
Billups was a big part of that, but why exactly did he fit so well into a role that initially held the potential to be a bit awkward?
A hole in the Clippers' rotation panned out into Billups' gain. By virtue of not having an effective option at shooting guard to start alongside Chris Paul, Vinny Del Negro submitted to playing two nominal point guards on the floor for the bulk of most games.
Some combination of Paul, Billups and Mo Williams gave Los Angeles much of its playmaking might, and with much of the rest of the roster either unable to create for themselves (Jordan, Reggie Evans, Kenyon Martin) or imprudent in doing so (Butler, Nick Young, Randy Foye), doubling down on point guard play was a virtual necessity.
Chris Paul's Shooting
As much as anything, Billups was aided by the fact that his backcourt counterpart is a dead-eye shooter. Had Paul been a teammate of lesser talents, Billups' job would have been made far more difficult.
The Clippers functioned within their half-court offense by balancing Billups' off-ball work with shot-creating reps, thereby saving Paul's energy and stretching the utility of their offense. Such arrangements wouldn't be possible were Paul not a standout three-point shooter, largely because Griffin and Jordan have such limited range and Butler's three-point stroke is a bit wobbly.
Good lineups need good floor balance, and whether Billups was working with the ball or without it, his efforts were aided by the fact that there was always one other highly accurate perimeter shooter on the floor with him at all times. After all, shooters aren't just targets for kick-out passes. Because Paul was able to space the floor, he and Billups functionally alternated in their initiation of the offense thanks to the dedicated defenders they were able to draw.
Balancing dual-point lineups often requires some kind of defensive concession, but Billups did some truly solid work in his defense against either guard slot. That made him a truer 2 than most anticipated. Although Billups had been the floor general for his previous teams up until last season, his ability to swing defensively completed his cross-positional profile.
Billups' size is obviously crucial to his versatility, but one shouldn't undersell the importance of his terrific on-ball instincts. Some players simply understand how to use every half-step and inch of space to their advantage when it comes to checking opposing scorers, and Billups is one such player.
He may be a bit slower laterally than he was at his playing prime, but there's enough savvy informing Billups' defensive play for him to make a tremendous difference on an inconsistent defensive team.
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