Okay guys, Mo Cheeks was a point guard so he’s expected to have some kind of point guard fetish, right? Rumor (and by rumor I mean direct quotes from Mo obtained from Keith Langlois) says he plans to play two point-guards at the same time next year! Uh oh!
As you’ve most likely noticed if you’ve watched NBA games in the last three or four years, the league has seen a marked increase in the normalization of the two-point guard line up. Positional orthodoxy has been challenged relentlessly by the novel idea that the five best players ought to be playing to start and close games, not the players that fit into traditionally accepted but at least somewhat arbitrarily and culturally reinforced identity archetypes. Dallas won a championship leaning on the Jason Kidd-J.J. Barea backcourt. Phoenix will be forced to tread lightly with the tandem of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. The best crunch time lineups for the playoff crashing Warriors featured both Stephen Curry and Jarrett Jack.
So, it’s not an uncommon sight, and in many cases, the once unthinkable has very quickly become its own twisted conventional wisdom. The league was once the land of the giants, lumbering dominating big men. Now it is all about speed and precision and to maximize these new truths comes the phasing out of traditional positions like back-to-the-basket centers and static shooters that happen to be at least 6’5. So when Mo Cheeks starts talking about how he’s likely going to be playing Chauncey alongside Brandon Jennings and comparing them (their ability to score as well as make plays) without any irony to Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, well, that’s not idle chatter. His reluctance to even call his two primary point guards “point guards” underscores the trenchant points of this entire matter. Positions, schmazitions!
There is a lot of preseason bluster about how there will be enough minutes for the backcourt rotation to settle in, with Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum also expected to play meaningful minutes, as well as getting rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope opportunities on the floor. Chauncey started at the 2 alongside Chris Paul during his tenure as a Clipper, to mixed results. Chauncey can still shoot, can still knock down crunch time free throws, and he’s always one of the smarter players on the floor. But he’s another year older and won’t be playing alongside a maestro like Chris Paul this time around. Not to take anything away from Brandon Jennings, who can be an electrifying talent, but he’s not Chris Paul and that of course applies to the defensive end as well. Paul is short but solid, with a strong core and an almost sorcerous nose poaching passing lanes and picking pockets. Jennings is slight by comparison, which would necessitate Chauncey guarding the opponents’ shooting guard (and in some cases superstar point guards like Russell Westbrook or Kyrie Irving) basically every trip down the floor. This is simply not a feasible long term solution, or even much of a short term solution.
The name of Chauncey Billups is a hallowed one in Detroit. To pull the forsaken son back for one last run with the Good Guys and then minimize his role in the pre-season talking points is admittedly not a very good strategy. It just beggars belief that Mr. Big Shot would be expected to play start, or be a de facto starter. On the other hand, this could be completely uncalled for pessimism. Chauncey has beaten the odds enough times to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I worry about his stature as a symbol dictating his presence on the floor. It’s not as though he won’t be a useful addition. It’s just that he may be better utilized as spot minute player, full time mentor.
A few minutes here and there. Perhaps the first five minutes of the first and third quarter, perhaps as a calming influence for the flurry of fiery Pistons personalities when things start to unravel (and they will, even the best teams completely go brain dead from time to time). The safe bet seems to me is to make us of Billups primarily as the back-up point guard. There’s enough talent on the bench that has to be shepherded as well but the starters could be a wrecking ball with a gimpy old man pulling the strings, and thought that metaphor is terrible and weird, I stand by the intended thrust of it. A line-up of Jennings, Caldwell-Pope, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond is a line-up that will scare people. Those horses need to run. This is a team that should push the tempo as often as they can, this is a team that was built to punish the slow, the un-athletic, and the weak. Sure the elite teams should still shred them up on the reg’, but let them shred them up honestly. Chauncey Billups as a shooting guard is all about timing and placement and limits. The Pistons have youth on their side. Let them use it. I’m sure Chauncey’s acumen for the game is as sharp as it ever was, but his body has taken a decade plus beating. It’s time to take him off the front lines and let him play Napoleon.
What do you guys think about all this hullabaloo?