Welcome to the last installment Myth Week.
Arguably no Detroit Piston player in this era has provided more signature moments than Chauncey Billups, most notably that halfcourt shot against the New Jersey Nets in the 2003-04 playoffs (although the Pistons eventually lost that game in overtime). The guy had a knack for the buzzer beater, it seemed.
The first time I remember the ‘Mr. Big Shot’ moniker he so famously wore for most of his Pistons career was in the 2002-2003 season. Billups was in the midst of one of his strongest stretches of play for the Pistons in March, averaging 26 points per game over the first nine games of that month. What sticks out to me the most is the game on March 9 of that season when, down one with seconds remaining, Billups calmly pulled up and drained a three-pointer over Chris Mills at the buzzer. Rick Mahorn almost peed his pants in excitement (a big accomplishment considering the monotone announcing stylings of Mr. Mahorn) and kept yelling “Mr. Big Shot!” over and over.
What I don’t remember, and I expect most others don’t either, is that just days before, Billups missed a shot that would’ve tied the game in the final seconds against those very same Warriors.
Now, this isn’t about me trying to claim Billups wasn’t a good player or I didn’t want him taking shots in the final minutes of close games. I think he’s still one of the more criminally underrated players in the league. I always loved his demeanor, loved the confidence he exhibited and loved how his personality was the Yin to Rasheed Wallace’s Yang (or is it the Yang to Sheed’s Yin?) on those Pistons teams. But I must admit, I’ve always wondered this: did Billups coast on reputation as a big shot maker because of a few really memorable ones that overshadowed big misses in crucial situations?
There aren’t end-all, be-all stats for defining what ‘clutch’ is. And the importance of clutch is a little overrated. After all, Flip Murray and Travis Outlaw were a combined 11-for 11 on game-winning shots between 2004 and 2009. I would still much rather have Dwyane Wade and his 27 percent shooting on game winners than either of those guys.
I’m going to use what we have, relying heavily on 82games.com. The site has a ‘game-winning shots’ stat that has data for the 03-04 season through 08-09 (Note: Billups was in Denver most of that season). Here’s their definition of a game-winning shot opportunity: “24 seconds or less left in the game, team with the ball is either tied or down by 1 to 2 points.”
The stat is not kind to Mr. Big Shot.
Something all Pistons fans would probably guess — Billups liked the ball in those situations. During those seasons, he took 37 shots that fit that criteria. Only seven guys — LeBron James, Vince Carter, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford and Dwyane Wade — have attempted more.
Billups has hit just six of those attempts, a 16.2 percent clip. Keep in mind, that the league-wide percentage is only 29 percent during those seasons, but Billups is still pretty significantly below that.
Of the four best offensive players on the Pistons, Billups had the worst percentage in those situations of the four. Here’s how they stack up:
• Hamilton: 8-for-22 (36.4 percent)
• Prince: 6-for-17 (35.3 percent)
• Rasheed Wallace: 5-for-30 (16.7 percent)
Sheed, obviously, isn’t much better than Billups when it comes to percentage. There are other arguments that despite his poor percentage, Billups did other things in those situations that were important. He had six assists and only two turnovers and got to the line for 19 free throw attempts. Compare that to Hamilton (4 FTAs, 3 assists, 3 turnovers), Prince (2 FTAs, 5 assists, 1 turnover) and Wallace (2 FTAs, 0 assists, 2 turnovers), and it’s clear that Billups did other things well in those scenarios in the final seconds. Shooting just wasn’t his forte at those points in the game.
Why the nickname?
As I alluded to above, we remember great plays often at the expense of not so great plays. Billups was a well-below-league-average shooter in game-winning situations, yet his ‘Mr. Big Shot’ nickname stuck because he hit four or five really memorable shots as a Piston.
Billups is certainly a player I wouldn’t mind having the ball in the waning moments of a close game. He’s a good decision maker, adept at drawing contact, he’s not scared of the taking the shot and he doesn’t turn it over much. But when he was on the Pistons, the general assumption became, “Billups has to get the ball late in close games.” Statistics show that the Pistons had other options on their team — Prince and Hamilton — who were much better bets than Billups to knock down that game winner if it was needed.
I love everything about Billups’ game. But Mr. Big Shot is a myth.
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