The return of Chauncey Billups on Wednesday night signaled a reason for optimism for the once-sagging Clippers. Even with a surplus of talent at point guard with minute-eater Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe, Los Angeles needed to have Billups, its no-questions-asked leader, back in the lineup to show his teammates how to win, not only telling them how from the sideline. Billups checked in, hit a three-pointer, and then faded back into the wallpaper the rest of the game. Just having him as an option, however, should steady a Clippers team that’s been uneven when saddled with the spotlight as a division leader.
With Billups back, here are the top 10 other impact NBA players who are most missed by their teams.
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10. IMAN SHUMPERT
It seems like nit-picking to wonder what New York could be like right now defensively with Shumpert healthy. As it is with him out till January with a knee injury, the Knicks are doing pretty well, thank you very much. They led the NBA in defensive efficiency until Houston scored 131 points against them, though they still force the fourth-most turnovers per game and are in the top 10 in defensive rebounds.
Defense is not a problem for New York, and yet Shumpert would make them even better with his active hands as shown below in his iso defense. Jason Kidd‘s defense this season hasn’t kept up with his otherworldly offensive contributions when he plays, and J.R. Smith â€” who’s the No. 2 option at shooting guard â€” holds teams to fewer points but, let’s be honest, is not focused on his defense. No, where the Knicks need Shumpert most is in the role as their No. 1 defensive stopper, with the length to guard down to a small forward if need be but the athleticism to check point guards.
The Knicks have played remarkable team defense but their sum is greater than their parts. Upon his return Shumpert will provide a stopper in the mold of Shane Battier or Tony Allen.
9. RICKY RUBIO
Ricky Rubio is much like Kyrie Irving in that their absences have been filled by capable point guards who certainly haven’t hurt their teams but can’t push them forward, either. Luke Ridnour has played 63 percent of the minutes at PG for Minnesota this season and it’s been what you could have expected: a solid 11.3 points and 4.6 assists per game while being beaten by opposing PGs, who have a PER of more than 17 against him.
Judged against last season, the numbers at point guard between this season and last are remarkably similar with the exception of assists per game. What is different is how teams don’t have to fear J.J. Barea or Ridnour’s playmaking as they did with Rubio, the kind of plays that are hard to explain even with advanced statistics. Rubio had an elite ability to draw and dish to all angles of the court, and is one reason assisted field goals jumped with him in the game and dropped to six percent less when he was out â€” a rise and fall that’s the inverse with Ridnour right now.
8. DIRK NOWITZKI
It was fun while it lasted, but four losses in the last five games and a 3-8 record after a surprising 4-1 start are evidence that the Mavericks are regressing to the mean after an exceptional start without the franchise’s best player.
Nowitzki’s knee injury â€” keeping him out for at least two more weeks â€” has unshackled O.J. Mayo from his bench role in Memphis into a green-light scorer for Dallas. His rising tide can’t keep all of Dallas’ boats afloat for eight weeks of Nowitzki’s injury, however, because he’s getting little help from both forward positions Dirk would otherwise occupy. The Mavericks are attempting to fill the gap with Vince Carter and Elton Brand. True, putting on a replacement tire with little tread left is better than nothing, but it’s not a sustainable option. Dallas’ power forwards this season have the team’s lowest PER. That’s no surprise, but not a sign the patch is working for Dallas, either.
This has been the only Dirk highlight of the season.
7. KYRIE IRVING
Kyrie Irving was shattering the sophomore slump cliche until his own well-worn storyline â€” injuries â€” was proven true. A broken finger will keep him out till late December. What’s good for Cleveland is that Dion Waiters‘ rookie development as a pure shooter has forced teams to still respect the Cavs’ guards in the absence of Irving. Jeremy Pargo has shot 56 percent as a PG, and Daniel Gibson has experience that won’t shake him in his expanded role. None, however, has the ability to change a game as Irving can with his dribble-drive or his 20.2 PER.
There are good, honest questions to ask about how good he can be at defense. Opposing point guards are nearly as efficient as he, averaging a PER of higher than 19. What shouldn’t be lost is how when he’s played against some of the NBA’s best point guards, he’s never shrunk from the game, getting 24 points and 10 assists against the Clippers and 34 and eight against Brooklyn.
6. ANDREW BOGUT
Surprise, Warriors fans! Franchise center Andrew Bogut didn’t just have his ankle cleaned out last April for loose bone bits, he had microfracture surgery. He’s played in just four games in a Warriors uniform since the trade from Milwaukee and he’s no sure bet to be back soon.
[Bogut] was asked if the microfracture portion of his surgery set back his recovery.
“Of course it did. One hundred percent,” he said, according to the newspaper. “Without that procedure, I’m at eight weeks. With just a basic sewing of the tears, a cleanout and a score, it’s generally six to eight weeks. That would have been July, but my procedure was obviously much more detailed than that.
Why he’s needed: Golden State’s offense is so predictable without him. Centers are averaging only 11 shot attempts per game. It isn’t the case the five spot hasn’t been one of the Warriors’ best positions at times, because David Lee is playing with a PER of 22 when he plays center. Once he steps away to power forward, the output from center all but dries up with rookie Festus Ezeli still learning the speed of the NBA and Carl Landry shifting to center only 3 percent of the team’s minutes.
Andres Biedrins isn’t a solution to backup Lee, either, as his regression from a lack of confidence shooting continues. The Warriors shoot better and rebound the ball on the offensive glass 10 percentage points better when Biedrins isn’t playing. For a player whose shot has gone awry the way of Chuck Knoblauch‘s throws to first base, he has to be able to rebound instead but that hasn’t happened. Bogut can score and rebound like an All-Star, but outside of Lee the Warriors don’t have a replacement.
5. AVERY BRADLEY
Bradley was a saving grace a season ago when Ray Allen was injured in Boston, and his improvement from a defense-only guard with unharnessed athleticism may have been a reason Allen bolted this offseason, as well. If not for a shoulder injury that should keep him out till mid-December, he’d benefit Boston in a couple ways:
Defense: Paul Pierce, legend that he is, can’t guard a soul right now. The rest of the team isn’t much better, with the ninth-worst defensive efficiency right now. Bradley’s speed at recovering from mistakes off the dribble and cutting off slashers from the start is essential here.
Offense: Bradley’s offensive rating jumped to 100 points per 100 possessions from 68 points between his sophomore and rookie seasons, but it was the way that jump occurred that’s notable and just as missed now. As recounted by Celtics Blog, he did his damage by cutting to the hoop and using Rajon Rondo‘s passing skills.
Back-door cuts became his best friend, and the two have been inseparable ever since. According to MySynergySpots.com, 18 percent of offensive plays involving Bradley have come off of cuts to the basket. On those plays, Bradley is shooting 37 of 52, or a fantastic 71.2 percent.
4. ANDREW BYNUM
At 9-6 this season, it isn’t as if Philadelphia is as structurally unsound as its star’s knees. Jrue Holiday has shown his scoring ability is nearing “elite” territory and power forward Thaddeus Young is a legitimate candidate for Revelation of the Year as his on/off court stats have proven this season: The Sixers score just 6.7 points more when he plays but a whopping 24.8 points fewer when he doesn’t.
It’s great for Philadelphia to play on without its best player, but it doesn’t replace the All-Star potential. Specifically, his scoring would force teams to focus on more than just Holiday as an offensive force. As a collective NBA audience there may not be a player we laugh at more than Bynum, or a player whose missteps, or hair choices, are more discussed. When healthy he’s a literally enormous piece toward being a contender for any team, a piece Philly could use to become an overnight threat to get past the playoffs’ first round.
3. STEVE NASH
Keep pushing the dream of watching Steve Nash playing in Mike D’Antoni‘s offense again down the road. His leg injury has become an abdominal strain, which has become a pounding headache for everyone in the Lakers’ organization.
Lakers point guard Steve Blake is out at least another two weeks becasue of an abdonimal strain. News keeps getting worse for these guys.
â€” Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) November 28, 2012
Kobe Bryant may be playing some of the best basketball of his career right now â€” his 42 percent shooting from three and 50 percent shooting from the field are the best of his career â€” to mitigate the loss. Maybe most impressive about the Lakers’ 7-8 start is their No. 5 ranking in offensive efficiency without Nash, a number directly attributable to Bryant. Still, the Lakers clearly need a pacesetter who won’t be eaten alive by opponents. As of now the 10.2 PER LA’s point guards have amassed is by far their worst by position â€” small forwards are the fourth-worst and even they’re four points higher. Nash’s defense, even earlier in his career, has not been of the lockdown variety but the Lakers’ PGs are comparable to a sieve right now, allowing their counterparts to score 21.7 points and have 9.5 assists per game while shooting 48 percent.
2. JOHN WALL
Unlike Avery Bradley, whose return could boost Boston’s playoff chances immeasurably, Wall’s influence isn’t going to turn the one-win Wizards into a team to reckon with in April. However, he will get them out of the crosshairs of being labeled the NBA’s worst-ever team, and it’s easy to see where he can contribute immediately upon his return from a knee injury. Wiz point guards average a PER of 8.7 â€” remember, All-Stars are around 20.0. To put that in perspective of the possible 150 positions in the NBA, only the small forward roles for Sacramento and Toronto own worse PERs than the Wizards’ point guards this season.
The problem is clear: No one can get to the hoop from that position for Washington. A.J. Price plays point guard in Washington’s two most-used lineups but he shoots jump shots 93 percent of the time this season, according to 82games.com. Point guards as a whole are shooting just six percent of their attempts from inside this season, an astoundingly low number. Wall is a slasher by nature and changes that dynamic overnight.
Once he comes back in a matter of weeks, he is the Ferrari to Washington’s current Geo Metro of a backcourt â€” speed and flash that’s sometimes impractical for the situation, but always alluring. And always better than any other option the Wizards have by far.
1. DERRICK ROSE
Already an MVP and Chicago legend at the tender age of 24, Rose’s effect on Chicago’s chances simultaneously goes without saying and can’t be overstated enough. Whether he’ll be back at all from an ACL tear is the great unknown. Point guard replacements Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson have played as well as had been expected considering they don’t have one major component of what made Rose great: the Bench Mob. Yes, the Bulls’ bench scored 50 points on Wednesday night, but it’s the exception.
Even if Robinson and Hinrich have done as best they can in the twilights of their careers, their play has still not measured up: Point guard has the worst PER and points per game of any spot for Chicago, according to 82games.com. What else is there to say about Rose? As a top-five player in the league, he does everything.
Who’s the player a contender this season misses most?
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