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Is Chauncey Billups a Hall of Famer?
Breaking down the Hall-of-Fame case for Chauncey Billups.
Although the system was designed to evaluate baseball players, with a few minor tweaks it can also be used to assess the Hall-worthiness of basketball players. In this post, I will examine Chauncey Billups’ case for the Basketball Hall of Fame.
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Was he ever regarded as the best player in basketball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in basketball?
Billups was a very good player, but nobody ever reasonably suggested he was the best player in the NBA.
Was he the best player on his team?
Yes. The Detroit Pistons were a deep and talented team from 2002-03 through 2007-08 — they reached the conference finals all six seasons — but I believe Billups was their best player. Here are their leaders in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) over that span (minimum 50% of team games played):
21.0 — Chauncey Billups
17.6 — Richard Hamilton
17.3 — Ben Wallace
16.9 — Rasheed Wallace
16.1 — Antonio McDyess
And here’s the same list for the postseason:
19.2 — Chauncey Billups
17.0 — Ben Wallace
16.8 — Richard Hamilton
15.6 — Antonio McDyess
15.1 — Rasheed Wallace
Was he the best player in basketball at his position?
No, but Billups was close. If I was putting together an All-Decade Team for the 2000s, I would probably make two-time MVP Steve Nash the point guard on my First Team and put Billups on my Second Team.
Did he have an impact on a number of NBA Finals or conference finals?
Yes, he did. As I mentioned above, Billups appeared in six consecutive conference finals with the Detroit Pistons, then extended that streak to seven with the Denver Nuggets in 2008-09.
Two of those teams — the 2003-04 and 2004-05 Pistons — reached the NBA Finals. The Pistons won the title in 2004, with Billups claiming the Finals MVP Award. In 2005, the Pistons lost a tough 7-game series to the San Antonio Spurs, but Billups played extremely well and probably would have been named Finals MVP once again had they won.
Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?
Yes, he was. Billups was one of the best point guards in the NBA through 2010-11, his 14th season. In his final three seasons, Billups was still an effective player when he played. Unfortunately, Billups took the floor in just 61 out of a possible 230 regular season games over that span.
Is he the very best (eligible) basketball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
I think Billups has a better Hall of Fame case than every other eligible player who has yet to be elected. Among non-Hall-of-Famers who played at least 1,000 regular season games, Billups has the fifth-highest career PER:
20.5 — Elton Brand
19.3 — Zach Randolph
19.08 — Shawn Kemp
19.07 — Walter Davis
18.8 — Chauncey Billups
And what Billups has that the players listed above him don’t is an impressive postseason resume. Among non-Hall-of-Famers who played at least 100 postseason games, Billups has the highest career PER:
19.11 — Chauncey Billups
19.08 — Kevin Johnson
18.4 — Rik Smits
18.1 — Terry Cummings
18.0 — Mark Aguirre
Note that Billups’ postseason PER is actually better than his regular season PER.
Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?
Billups is one of 10 eligible players to average at least 15 PPG and 5 APG while playing a minimum of 1,000 games:
Outside of Billups, the only player listed above who has not been elected to the Hall of Fame is Reggie Theus, and Billups was a much better player than Theus. However, I’ve cheated a bit here, as Billups just skates by in all three categories (1,043 GP, 15.2 PPG, and 5.4 APG). In other words, this may not be the best peer group for Billups.
Let’s look at PER, a more comprehensive statistic. Billups has a career PER of 18.8, a very good figure (league average is 15). Here’s a list of the 12 other eligible players to play at least 1,000 regular season games and record a career PER between 18.3 and 19.3 (i.e., within 0.5 of Billups):
This is an interesting list, with half of them in the Hall of Fame (Allen, Hill, Miller, Parish, Payton, and Pippen). The non-Hall-of-Famers do not come close to matching Billups’ postseason accomplishments.
Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
Billups’ Hall of Fame Probability is 84.4%, which is quite good. If you look at the five inactive players directly above and below him, you’ll find 10 Hall of Famers:
James Worthy (90.8%)
Grant Hill (89.1%)
Adrian Dantley (88.6%)
Jack Sikma (87.0%)
Jo Jo White (86.9%)
Dave DeBusschere (83.6%)
Harry Gallatin (80.9%)
Tim Hardaway (79.2%)
Richie Guerin (78.2%)
Joe Dumars (75.6%)
Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
Billups took a lot of 3-pointers, so his field goal percentages look bad without taking into account the extra point provided by a made 3-point shot.
Another skill that Billups had that is often overlooked is free throw efficiency, not just shooting a high percentage from the line but getting there as well. Billups averaged almost 5.0 free throw attempts per game, and his career free throw percentage of .894 is the seventh-highest figure in NBA history (minimum 1,200 free throws made).
Good defenders are usually the players who get shortchanged the most by traditional statistics, and there is evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, that suggests Billups was a very good defensive player. He was named to two All-Defensive Second Teams and received votes in six other seasons.
Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?
I think it’s somewhat close at point guard between Billups and Kevin Johnson, but I would choose Billups primarily due to his longevity and superior postseason performance.
How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
Billups received MVP votes in four different seasons. His best showing came in 2005-06, when he finished fifth in the balloting and earned 15 first-place votes.
How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?
Billups was selected to play in five All-Star Games, a good but not overly impressive total. There are 25 eligible players with exactly five All-Star selections; 18 of them are Hall of Famers and seven are not. The seven who are not are:
Embry (Contributor) and Tomjanovich (Coach) are actually members of the Hall of Fame, but neither was elected for their playing career.
If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win an NBA title?
Yes, with a talented supporting cast. Billups was not the type of player who could put a team on his back and carry them to the Finals, but there are very few players in NBA history you can say that about.
What impact did the player have on basketball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way? Was his college and/or international career especially noteworthy?
Billups had a reputation as a good teammate and community servant, winning the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 2007-08 and the Twyman–Stokes Teammate of the Year Award in 2012-13. He also won a gold medal playing for the U.S. at the 2010 FIBA World Championship (now known as the FIBA World Cup).
In my view, Billups was undoubtedly a Hall-of-Fame-caliber player, and he should have been elected a long time ago. Billups may not have the splashy career totals or averages that catch the eye, but he was an excellent two-way point guard for a very long time. While Billups’ regular season accomplishments may not be enough for some, his postseason exploits should push him way over the line.