By Geoffrey Paulsen
Professional teams are getting rid of the celebrity players these days. The Cowboys shipped T.O. on his way, Stephon Marbury got dropped and landed in Boston and earlier this year the Nuggets sent Allen ?The Answer? Iverson to Detroit in return for Chauncey Billups.
It is yet to be seen how the moves will work out for the Cowboys, and the jury is still out on the Marbury signing. But one thing is for sure: the Nuggets traded an all-star and got better.
The big trade in the early stages of the 2008-09 NBA season was between the Denver Nuggets and the Detroit Pistons. Both teams were looking for a change, someone to spark their teams. Last year both teams made it to the playoffs. The Nuggets squeaked in at the No. 8 spot and was subsequently swept in four games by the western conference powerhouse Los Angeles Lakers.
Detroit fared a little better. It made it to the Conference Championship before losing in six games to the eventual champion Boston Celtics.
Despite Detroit?s success, the Pistons felt they needed a change. They have become known for having an ensemble cast, lacking a standout player, ever since winning the 2004 NBA Championship. That has changed with the signing of Iverson. Ever since he entered the league he has found himself on SportsCenter?s top plays.
This season the Pistons sit currently at No. 7 in the Eastern Conference with a record of 33-32. The Nuggets are 41-25 in a more competitive Western Conference. So what are the differences between the two players?
?Billups is a different player than Iverson was, obviously,? Utah Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan said before his team played the Nuggets last weekend. ?He puts a lot more pressure on you with all of his teammates. Iverson was very good at shooting the ball and getting on top of the basket.?
Jazz Assistant Coach Phil Johnson agreed that the two play drastically different at the same position.
?Well they are just two completely different players,? Johnson said. ?Billups is a true point guard and he is looking for other people and getting them in their offense, where as Iverson is a scorer and they didn?t really use him as a point guard. He gets assists, but it is off of his scoring ability. They are just two different players. You have to play them differently. Iverson is a prolific scorer, a great lay-up shooter. Billups is a very good point guard and a very good defender, so they are just completely different players.?
Iverson scores points by volume as opposed to efficiency. In his career he has averaged more than 22 shots per game, while shooting 42.5 percent.
Billups, on the other hand, is shooting half as often as Iverson ? about 11 shots per game ? and shooting 41.6 percent.
This season, the two are having very different seasons; however, comparatively their stats are very similar. Both average about 18 points per game, with Billups averaging one more assist per game than Iverson. Free-throw percentage is where they differ. Billups is about 12 percent more effective from the line.
?I think Billups has been pretty much a natural point guard the way he handles the ball and makes other people happy,? Sloan said.
But there are other factors as to why the Nuggets are playing better. The return of big man Chris Anderson to the NBA after his expulsion for testing positive for a banned substance has been a big plus for the Nuggets. He is currently ranked second in the league in blocks per game.
?Chauncey was a great move, he is definitely a big time player in this league,? Anderson said. ?He?s got rings, and you definitely have to listen to what he says and how he plays, you have to respect him because he does have those championships behind him, so you definitely want to do everything he says. He got his eye on the court and he knows where everyone is supposed to be. It?s definitely been a great time playing with Chauncey.?
Another factor in how a team plays is how it fits together as a whole.
It is no secret that Iverson draws attention to himself. He has had run-ins with the law and with NBA administrators since 1993.
Billups, on the other hand, is pretty low key and has quickly become a leader on the Nuggets.
?He?s the point guard, he?s the leader and he is also a leader off the court so you definitely have to respect him,? Anderson said.
The trade, while huge for the Nuggets, is not the only thing to consider when comparing this year?s team to last year?s.
?They have a lot of other factors involved,? Johnson added. ?Nene is playing much better than he was. And Billups comes in and he is a solid veteran and its evidence in how they are playing, they are playing much better defense and he gets them in their offense and they are a much better team.?
Nene, from Brazil, is averaging 14.6 points per game and shooting 60 percent from the field, drastically better than his stats from last year when he averaged 5.3 points on 41 percent shooting.
As we come to the end of the season, Denver is the clear-cut winner in this trade. Whether it has been the addition of Billups for Iverson, the re-emergence of Nene or a combination of the two is all speculation.
One thing is for sure. If I were the Dallas Cowboys, I would be calling up the Nuggets? GM to find out his secret.