In what many feared to be a career-ending injury at the time, Chauncey Billups tore his left Achilles tendon on February 6, 2012.
But fewer than 10 months later, Billups returned to NBA action in the Los Angeles Clippers' 101-95 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night. Although he was limited to just over 19 minutes in the contest, his presence on the floor was a welcome sight for a Clippers team that entered the game in the midst of a four-game losing streak.
The Clippers were perhaps better suited for his absence than any other franchise with Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe waiting in the wings. But Billups' style of play is a nice semblance of the positives that come with each half of L.A.'s reserve backcourt.
For starters, he's every bit the three-point threat that Crawford is. In fact, he's an even better shooter. While Crawford has connected on 34.9 percent of his career perimeter attempts, Billups has converted 38.9 percent of his career tries.
He also has the toughness and defensive acumen to fill the role of perimeter defensive stopper that Bledsoe occupied. While the 36-year-old Billups may not have Bledsoe's athleticism, he understands how to use his strength to bother opposing guards.
He's also the best passer of the three. His high basketball IQ allows him to make reads that Crawford and Bledsoe can't. And his understanding of the importance of each offensive possession allows him more control over his offense.
His presence gives coach Vinny Del Negro yet another ball-handler to initiate his offense and even more possibilities with his guard rotation.
When playing alongside Chris Paul, Billups defers the ball-handling responsibilities and embraces the roles of three-point shooter and defensive stopper. When sharing the floor with Bledsoe, he helps the young guard manage the pace of the game and helps to exploit Bledsoe's athleticism. With Crawford, he allows the dynamic scorer to simply worry about his own offense and let Billups be the distributor.
Not to mention the fact that he gives the Clippers yet another closer with a history of taking and making big shots. With him, Paul and Crawford on the floor, defenses can't key on one (or even two for that matter) of these players because they all possess the requisite talent and temperament to bury a game winner.
But perhaps his biggest contribution to this franchise will be the veteran presence that he will bring to this locker room. While the Clippers added some elder statesmen over the offseason (Crawford, Grant Hill, Lamar Odom), they still rely heavily on Blake Griffin (23 years old), DeAndre Jordan (24) and Bledsoe (23). Billups understands what it takes to command a huddle or a locker room and, unlike Paul, he has the championship resume to back up his words.
His stat line in his 2012-13 debut (seven points and three assists) doesn't speak to the kind of impact that he will bring this team as the year progresses.
But getting this club back to their early-season winning ways will say more than enough about his importance to these players and this franchise.
Wednesday night's grade: C+
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