Written December 16, 2008.
Billups Leads Nuggets' Transformation
Upon beating the Golden State Warriors this past Saturday night at home, the Denver Nuggets have now improved to a 16-7 record after 23 games. Even more impressively, they have now won 15 of their last 19 games, with their only losses being against the Cavaliers, Lakers, Hornets and Spurs - arguably four of the top teams in the NBA. Along the way, they have beaten the Celtics in Boston and took one off the Spurs beating them in San Antonio. The culprit behind this success? Chauncey Billups.
The Nuggets limped into the playoffs last season losing 4 of their last 9 games and then got swept by the Lakers in the first round, losing the first three games by 14 or more points. Before this season got underway, the Nuggets traded starting center Marcus Camby in a salary dump to the Los Angeles Clippers for a second round pick. They also allowed Eduardo Najera and Yakhouba Diawara to leave in free agency. NBA analysts predicted the Nuggets to fall out of the playoffs this year. As the season began, the Nuggets looked like they would be supporting this prediction, as they lost three of their first four games with their only win coming in overtime.
Since Billups arrived in a trade from Detroit for Allen Iverson, the Nuggets have transformed themselves from a shoot-happy, defenseless team into a ball controlled, tough-nosed defensive squad. A look at the numbers before and after Billups arrived certainly shows a vastly different squad:
Record 1-3 15-4
PPG 101.3 104.5
Opp PPG 104 96.9
FG Pct 45.40% 47.20%
3-Pt FG Pct 27.00% 36.90%
Billups brings stability at the point guard position and does a much better job of keeping his man in front of him, rather than constantly trying to get into passing lanes to create turnovers as Iverson so often attempted to do. The Nuggets have slowed down their pace and have become a strong defensive team. This has really shown through their ability to maintain leads going into the fourth quarter. The Nuggets are the only team in the league to not lose a game when leading after three quarters. The Celtics, Cavaliers and Lakers have lost once when winning after three, but the Nuggets stand alone undefeated with 11 wins.
Despite becoming a smarter and more conservative team with Billups running the show, they still have found opportunities to push the ball up the court and score in transition. They currently lead the league in fast break points per game, with 17.7 points scored.
Working with Coach George Karl and his staff, Billups has allowed Carmelo Anthony to simplify his decision making. Anthony can spend more time in the post because he does not have to concern himself with spacing the floor for Iverson, who needs room to create a scoring opportunity for himself. Billups has made Nene Hilario a more precise player and has gotten Kenyon Martin the ball in spots where he can be more productive.
Billups brings the Nuggets a player who always plays under control, rarely takes ill-advised shots and has won a championship before. Nuggets coach, George Karl, recently said, "I think the team and the coach and the organization and the city all feel that we can win every game. I don't think we were there even in our best moments. But now, even with San Antonio and the Lakers, on the road or at home, we feel, if we play at a good level, we can beat anybody. And that's a good feeling."
With Billups aboard, this certainly appears to be the case.