“Mr. Big Shot” is back by popular demand, as if he never left.
It’s safe to say that the peak of Chauncey Billups‘ career was his ’04 NBA Finals MVP performance, but it seems that ever since then, Chauncey has gotten even better. So why has he been almost an afterthought on Team USA?
Early in his career, Billups wasn’t viewed as one of the NBA’s elite point guards, but he showed great promise. During his six-year run with the Pistons that began in his seventh pro season, Billups made the transition from role player to great leader. His second year with Detroit, he lead them into the Finals against a Lakers team stacked with four future Hall of Famers (Bryant, O’Neal, Payton and Malone) and won in a surprising 4-1 series. A few years after Detroit’s championship run, the team eventually disassembled and Billups was shipped off to his hometown Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson. The Nuggets were the big winners in that trade, since Iverson’s talent was diminishing while Billups kept evolving into an elite player and team leader.
Billups joined Carmelo Anthony in Denver, and everyone knows that Denver has been Melo’s team since his rookie year. However, Billups brought a new kind of veteran leadership that the team was lacking and lifted a lot of weight off of Melo’s shoulders, improving the team significantly. Whereas Melo had been unable to get past the first round of the playoffs, with Billups in the picture, the Nuggets went to the Western Conference Finals in 2009.
But even though Billups’ leadership is patented so clean that you could eat off of it, he has never seemed to get a fair shake from USA Basketball. When he pulled his own name out of consideration for the ’06 World Championship and ’08 Olympic teams, many people thought it was really a case of Chauncey bowing out before he would inevitably get cut in favor of younger players like Chris Paul and Deron Williams.
This summer, though, Billups is a big part of Team USA’s quest for World Championship gold, and he’s still not being talked about by mainstream press and fans. But listen to the players on Team USA, and they all speak in reverential tones about Chauncey. Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala both told Dime over the weekend that Chauncey is one of the leaders of the national team. Iguodala added that he’s learning how to be a better leader from Chauncey’s example.
As the oldest player on the team, Billups adds a touch of veteran savvy to an extremely young squad. His role on Team USA is arguably the most important alongside Durant’s role. Also, with his strength, defensive ability and shooting, he can play two-guard in the international setting and leave PT for faster PG’s like Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose. But all summer long, most Team USA talk has centered around Durant, Rudy Gay, Rose and other young stars.
Chauncey finally got his time to shine in Sunday’s exhibition against France. He started at two-guard next to Rondo, and scored 17 points in just 15 minutes, getting Team USA’s offense on track early by attacking the rim, then hitting a trio of three-pointers during a key stretch in the second half when they turned the game into a blowout. Billups was presented with the MVP award of the exhibition afterward.
Team USA’s star-studded lineup is piled with young talent. With names like Durant, Rose, Rondo, Gay, Iguodala, Stephen Curry and others, it’s easy to see why a 13-year pro who never dunks the ball or drops anybody with a crossover could be a little overlooked. But his MVP performance spoke for itself. Billips is most definitely a factor, and his leadership could be the reason the young Team USA wins gold in Turkey.