Newly named Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups kept reiterating how happy he was to be named a head coach.
With only a year of coaching experience on his resume, as he spent the 2020-’21 season with the Clippers, he believes his experience as a player is enough to help him transition to the top seat.
“Offensively, it’s a natural progression for me, from being a point guard,” Billups said in an interview with Brooke Olzendam of Blazers Broadcasting. “That’s probably the natural progression for me. For those that know me, they know I'm very defensive-minded as well. I’m all about winning and that’s what matters to me.”
Billups was one of the best players during his era. A Finals MVP, five-time All-Star, three-time All-NBA, and two-time All-Defense. His list of accolades also includes being named Teammate of the Year, and winning the Sportsmanship and Citizenship awards.
On and off the court he was respected by his teammates, coaches, and opposition. That’s likely part of the reason why the Blazers selected him.
Being a defensive-minded coach is what the team needs.
Since the 2017-’18 season, their ranking in defensive efficiency has gotten worse.
It’s hard to believe the team’s defense will reach 30th. Although anything is possible, the team’s glaring weakness has been the topic of conversation for some time.
Billups suggests for the team to take the next step, there needs to be a greater commitment to defense.
The team was also 27th in contested two-points per game (27.0) and 28th in overall contested shots (47.7).
“If you’re going to take the next step you gotta have some investment in the defense and actually want to be better there, and we will be,” he said. “That’s the only way you take the jump and playing at time like this [the conference finals] is to focus on the defensive end of the basketball. I’m looking forward going into games with a defensive-minded mindset. We’ll prepare for it every day and guys will begin to enjoy it.”
The enjoyment part is what Billups emphasized. He was part of a Pistons team that went to six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals and was known for their tough defense. Their care for protecting the basket led them to share the ball, a trait Billups hopes to bring to Portland.
“You share the basketball more, you’re more united out there,” he said. “The chemistry and synergy is a wonderful thing. To be great at defense you have to really communicate.”
Sharing the basketball was not who the Blazers were a season ago. They were last in passes made (244.6) and assists (21.3), but first in isolation possessions (11.3) and isolation frequency (10.2%).
For the ball to move more, an offensive sacrifice may need to be made. Maybe it starts with using Jusuf Nurkic and Norman Powell even more in the offense if both return next season.
Nurkic especially raised concerns about his role with the team. He suffered a drop in points (6.1), shots (4.6), and touches (15.5) from this past season to the season prior.
Receiving a reduced role is tough for any player, and as Billups has echoed ad nauseam, communication is the key. Being a guy who played every role in the league, he believes that gives him an advantage to understand his new players.
“I’ll be able to empathize with every guy on our team and bench,” he said. “I know how that feels. I believe in communication and being honest with guys and over time that will serve our team well.”
With some questions around the offense and major ponderings on the defense, buying into a new game plan starts at the top. And in Portland, the top is Damian Lillard, a man Billups had known prior to becoming a candidate for the Blazers job.
“What a blessing, right? As a former point guard, I’m very excited in having, what I think is, the best point guard in the league,” Billups said on Lillard. “Been a huge fan of his, not just as a player, but as a person, since he’s been in the league. How lucky can I be to have a guy like that leading the charge?”
The onus will be on Billups and also the top players in Lillard and CJ McCollum to help usher in a new era of Blazers basketball on both sides of the court.