- David Thorpe, ESPN Staff Writer
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1. What do they have left in the tank?
2. How will they fit on their new teams?
Billups has an "old man's game" in many respects, and I mean that in a very complimentary way. He doesn't beat his man with ultra-quicks or pure athleticism. He does so with craft, strength and size. He still has terrific ball skills, is a lights-out shooter from deep, and his decision-making with the ball tends to be in the superlative category.
Thus, it is a mistake to assume he will start tailing off anytime soon as an offensive player. He should be close to his peak numbers (offensively) for at least another season or two.
Iverson is the opposite type of player, a blur of an athlete his entire adult life with the understanding of how to utilize his physical gifts. Players like him always age more quickly than their slower and stronger counterparts. But this is where Iverson represents a category of one. He is unlike anyone who has ever played.
He is still able to get to the rim against most defenders and defenses and is perhaps the best finisher ever for a player his size. He is just as crafty as a successful slower player, so he's still a very difficult guy to defend even though his athletic advantages have (slightly) eroded over time. With just one year to spend in Detroit, there's every reason to believe he'll be just about the same A.I.
How the two stars will fit on their new teams is a more intriguing question. Each brings a needed skill set to their respective teams, yet we're talking about the catalysts for an incredibly fast-playing team and a very methodical-playing one, switching teams. In the half court, Billups is, perhaps, the best point guard in the league to execute George Karl's offense.
His terrific shooting range and accuracy help spread the floor for the second-best offensive small forward (Carmelo Anthony) in the world. His post-up ability (maybe his most underrated skill) gives Karl a second legit weapon inside. Obviously, these are upgrades over Iverson. Billups is also a master at exploiting ball screens, an action that helps get others involved offensively.
Most importantly, Billups is more comfortable at making the quick dribble/shot/pass read than Iverson, a key ingredient when Denver is at its best in its half-court offense. Sure, Billups is capable of being a "ball beater" while patiently waiting for an action to develop, but he is certainly more willing to simply be a piece of a very fluid puzzle, allowing the offense to create shots for the players with quick passes and cuts, instead of the players creating shots for the offense.
However, we don't know how Billups will fit into Denver's vaunted running game. Is he willing to push the pace with quick hit-ahead passes (think Andre Miller)? My guess is yes, he is. Maybe the Nuggets won't be as fast as last season, but they should be much better in the half court, and a better offensive team overall.
Billups is an upgrade defensively, too, which is especially nice since Marcus Camby is no longer contesting shots near the rim in Denver. Maintaining defensive balance and keeping the five defensive players in front of the five offensive ones is more paramount, and Billups can handle this. He's not stellar on this end, but he is solid.
Iverson represents a big change in Detroit, of course. The first adjustment will be his status as a true superstar. The established Detroit players will have to get used to playing with someone who demands most of the media attention as well as the huge majority of eyeballs from the fans. He's a hard guy not to watch.
On the court, Detroit will not be running as many of its screening sets as before, so Richard Hamilton will be more of a catch-and-shoot guy off A.I. drives, rather than running off single-doubles (screens) and waiting for the Billups pass.
Iverson has always been a better and more willing passer than he gets credit for. But I do see some issues with spreading the floor in Detroit for those drives, because the only big who can step out and make shots with range is Rasheed Wallace.
Look for lots of right-side pick-and-pops with those two players, because Iverson is best finishing his midrange shots from that side and the angle 3-point shot on the right is Wallace's best spot. With Rodney Stuckey, Amir Johnson and Jason Maxiell, Detroit has the athletes to pick up its offensive tempo, and now the Pistons have the pace pusher to help get that done. They couldn't get to the NBA Finals with defense and execution the past few years. Maybe they can with this style.
The temperament for both teams will change as well. Denver now has a true and stable leader, so Karl may get some control back over his team. It does seem that Melo is ready for that kind of adjustment as well. That's good for a Denver team that has been mercurial at best in this regard.
The Pistons, in my estimation, have lacked some fire these past few years. They won't anymore. Perhaps it will be too combustible a mix (Iverson, Hamilton, Wallace), but they won their title by playing with tremendous emotion.
David Thorpe is an NBA analyst for ESPN.com and the executive director of the Pro Training Center at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., where he oversees the player development program for more than 40 NBA, European League and NBDL players. Those players include Kevin Martin, Rob Kurz, Luol Deng, Courtney Lee and Tyrus Thomas. To e-mail him, click here.
2hMatt Walks, ESPN.com