Announcers and studio guys steadfastly continu[e] to call Chauncey Billups "Mr. Big Shot," quite possibly the most undeserved sports nickname of this century. Here's a quick recap of Chauncey's career:
1997-2001: Bounces around from Boston to Toronto to Denver to Orlando to Minnesota.
2002: Plays well enough for the T-Wolves (0-3 in the '02 playoffs) that Detroit gives him a $30 million contract.
2003: Leads a Pistons team that eventually gets swept in the 2003 Eastern finals by New Jersey … and gets destroyed by Jason Kidd in the process. Billups shot 11 for 40 in the series; Kidd averaged 23.5 points, 7.5 assists and 10 rebounds per game. To be fair, Billups was playing with a sprained ankle. Just pointing out that the "Mr. Big Shot" nickname hadn't kicked in yet.
2004: Shoots 39 percent in the regular season, gets hot in the playoffs, leads the Pistons to the title, makes some big shots along the way, and somehow picks up the name "Mr. Big Shot."
2005: Leads the Pistons to the Finals, makes some big shots along the way, then pulls a relative no-show in Game 7 (13 points, 3 for 8 from the field, no big shots).
2006: Heading into the playoffs, with the Pistons peaking as a 64-win team, I wrote that Billups was "one more killer spring away from moving into the pantheon of Big Game Guards, along with Sam Jones, Jerry West, Dennis Johnson and Walt Frazier. Out of anyone in the playoffs other than Kobe, he's the one who can make the biggest leap historically. Well, unless Artest charges into the stands again."
Didn't happen. During the last three games of the Eastern semis against Cleveland -- which the Pistons nearly blew -- Billups shot 13 for 34. In the six-game loss to Miami in the Eastern finals, he shot 39 percent and 3 for 14 in the deciding game. So much for the pantheon of Big Game Guards.
2007: Struggled in the Chicago series (39 percent shooting), then completely flopped in the first four games of the Cavs series (22-for-57 shooting, 32 turnovers, some killer mistakes at the end of Games 3 and 4), to the point that people are now openly wondering how much money he's costing himself this summer.
So here's my question: With all due respect to Billups -- who's been a valuable player, a gamer and a winner over the past few years -- can we really keep calling a 41 percent career shooter who slapped together one great playoffs and nine-tenths of another great playoffs "Mr. Big Shot"? Isn't that a little insulting to Robert Horry? I vote that we call him "Chauncey" or "Billups" unless he completely redeems himself over these next few weeks. This meeting is adjourned.
And keep in mind that Simmons is big on the idea of reading what people wrote at the time that a player in question was at his peak and using those contemporaneous judgments as a measuring stick. That's one of his bases for arguing that Russell was better than Wilt. I digress.
The point at which I was driving is that the 2004 Pistons stand as an example for this Hawks team, a historical marker that shows that a team does not need to have a dominant superstar in order to win a title. Just like the 2004 Pistons, the Hawks will need a little good fortune in that the teams with the dominant superstars will need to be operating at below peak efficiency because of injuries, in-fighting, distractions, slumping supporting casts, inexplicable decisions to bring in aging, out-of-shape, not half as good as their reputations centers, etc. That said, there are precious few champions in any sport that don't require some good fortune.
The Pistons succeeded because they had a balanced roster that fit together nicely and because they had a head coach who was able to convince the players to co-exist and not play outside of their roles. It's been a bumpy road, but Billy Knight and Rick Sund collectively put together a logical roster full of complementary players. (Remember when there were constant complaints that Knight was assembling too many similar swing men? Does anyone watch Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, and Josh Smith and think that they all do the same things? I suppose the story might be a little different if Josh Childress were still here.) And interestingly enough, through 11 games, Mike Woodson has his charges playing their roles and not trying to do things at which they struggle (read: Josh Smith shooting jump shots.)
To come back to the Peachtree Hoops post, this passage struck me as a good description of where Woodson has succeeded in a Larry Brown kind of way for the first 11 games of the season:
Jamal Crawford. The guy is doing things we have never had before in Atlanta. He can break guys down, get to the foul line, pass well, and get (if not always hit) wide open jumpers. As Hoopinion has mentioned well and I have tried to talk about badly, Woody's job is to manage these great skills against Crawford's very real weaknesses. How can you hide his defense? How can you manage his minutes in a way to control his shot selection? So far Woodson has done a great job, but so has Crawford. Where to stop lauding Jamal with praise and start tipping your hat to Woody is a tough line to find.
It's still early, but Woodson is fulfilling the Brown role of getting NBA players to limit themselves to roles that work for the team. Jamal Crawford has always been one of those guys about whom you'd say "he can be a very good player if..." Those ifs - namely, "...he had better shot selection and didn't always try to hard to get his" - have never come true because he's always played for bad teams that presumably had toxic environments. Maybe this is the environment where Crawford becomes truly valuable?
And one last question about the parallel to the 2004 Pistons: is that team viewed in NBA circles the way that I view the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes, namely as a total anomaly, an exception to the rule, a team that followed a path to a title that is almost impossible to replicate? I honestly don't know enough about NBA history to know how really knowledgeable fans view the '04 Pistons.