Last year when the Clippers lost Chauncey Billups for the season, the team lost not only a leader, but a vital piece of their core. Minus Billups, the Clippers would go on to win only 25 of their last 45 regular season games.
However, a highly contested first-round series would advance the team to the Western Conference semi-finals against the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs would sweep the Clippers in four games, but the Clippers were set up for the future, despite such a harsh ending to such a promising season.
Regardless of the season-ending negativity, veteran guard Chauncey Billups re-signed, and should be a staple in the Clippers lineup. Billups averaged 13 points and 4 assists per game through January, before getting injured for the rest of the season.
Billups’ injury not only decimated the depth chart, but deprived Vinny Del Negro's rotation a solid starter, only to maintain an average offense which ranked 14th in the league in points per game without him.
However, Chauncey Billups has an opportunity to erase last season’s adventure and lead the Clippers to the top of the Western Conference, thanks to his three-point shooting, leadership and clutch decision making.
While the Clippers finished fifth in the conference, they were games away from locking up home-court advantage. However, despite multiple injuries, including one to Billups, the team faded down the stretch and had to settle for a fifth-place finish.
This season, the Clippers need multiple accomplishments from Billups not only to compete in their division, but also to earn a first-round home playoff series.
The first thing Billups must deliver is reliable three-point shooting. Last season the Clippers shot 12th in the league in three-point percentage. However, the additional double teams on Blake Griffin this season should open up more opportunities for guards to attempt open three-pointers. Billups will be counted on, not only to take, but make, a majority of his three-pointers, considering his role in the back court. Billups needs to shoot near 40 percent from three in order to meet this criteria.
Secondly, Billups must remain healthy. Chauncey missed nearly the entire previous season with a torn Achilles. While Chris Paul, is more than capable of running the Clippers offense full time, his backup, Eric Bledsoe, is still young and inexperienced. More importantly, Billups must overcome his Achillies injury from last season and stay healthy early in the season, in order for the Clippers to get off to a good start.
Not only is Bledsoe new to Del Negro’s system, but to the point guard position in general, having started as a two-guard in John Calipari’s offense at Kentucky as a freshman. Despite Bledsoe’s struggles as a point guard at Kentucky, he posted a 22.27 playoff PER, according to ESPN’s John Hollinger’s advanced statistics.
Finally, Billups will be relied upon as a team leader. Billups’ presence was well known throughout the playoffs. While Chris Paul, is widely regarded as the team leader, he still considers Billups, “the best back-court mate I’ve ever played with.”
Billups’ ability to unite the active roster will not only pay dividends, but will allow he and All-Star point guard, Chris Paul, to work as a unit in order to feed Blake Griffin.
Most importantly, a healthy Billups should allow the Clippers to climb the Western Conference standings and inch closer to finally earning home-court advantage in the playoffs.