After his first year as NBA head coach resulted in last season’s 27-55 train crash, Portland Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups is faring much better in his second year on the job.
After Portland’s fiery 10-4 start, Billups was even gaining momentum in a debut campaign for Coach of the Year – chatter that has since died down after the Blazers suffered a mini slump. Still, sitting 14-12 and sixth in the Western Conference, Billups has the Blazers in a decent place with more than a quarter of the season played.
In a recent article for Yahoo Sports, NBA writer Vincent Goodwill went to length on Billups’ coaching, background and impact on his players. In year two, Goodwill wrote that Billups had already implanted a new identity into this Blazers team, which comes with a more defensive fervor.
The Blazers have been through a pretty tough part of the schedule and have carved out a defensive identity that hasn’t been present for the past decade.
But with the way this roster has been transformed over the past year, it feels like they’ll be more ready for the playoffs. On the ground, of course, it’s all about Lillard. Players like Josh Hart increase the defensive pressure the Trail Blazers want to apply.
He has also established his own identity as a player coach, but whoever will get his players up hard. Goodwill wrote that there is a thoroughness to Billups’ approach that was heavily forged by Larry Brown, Billups’ head coach with the Detroit Pistons.
And the direction comes from the sophomore coach, who spent most of his first year teaching and understanding that he can be as meticulous as this head coach who gave him tantrums.
“I lost a lot of sleep [with Brown]”, Billups said. “I knew how that made me feel. I don’t want my guys to feel that way. Now they’re gonna be mad at me sometimes. how much you tweak it. But they know how much I care about me, and they know it’s coming from the right place. Which allows them to have a little patience.
It’s intense no bull style that was welcomed by Lillard from the start.
During their first conversation as coach and star player, Billups asked Lillard an important question, which he repeated to Anfernee Simons and others on the Trail Blazers list: “How do you want me to train you?”
Lillard’s response was simple: “Train me hard.”
“That’s where I come from, my teachers and the father figures in my life were very special people,” Lillard said. “It wasn’t strict. I was not immune. [But] it was a way of doing it. You just have to trust him, the fact that my intention is good, and that I want the best for you. When you try to get this type of stitch through, it won’t always be smooth. It won’t always be, you know, welcoming. It won’t always be hot, but it comes from the right place.
Other players also liked Billups’ approach, notably Simons, who took off with more playing time and advice from Billups last year. Jerami Grant, who is enjoying a career season in his first stint as a Blazer, had this to say about his new head coach:
“He is very precise. He knows what he wants,” Grant said. “He knows how to win. It’s perfect. You know it’s from a good place. I love him. … We’ve got a bunch of underdogs here. That’s how we got off to a good start Now we need to make some adjustments [to stay ahead].”
With their new coach and new identity, Lillard sees similarities between the Blazers and last year Boston Celtics team, who rocked a slow start to reach the NBA Finals.
Lillard sees what the Celtics did last season as a plan: a few top scorers who stepped up to the defense, caught fire after a shaky start and drove him to a Finals berth.
“Obviously it’s different, but I thought to myself that,” Lillard said. “They weren’t bad at the start of the season, but they got the hang of it. They had two guys who could fill it in and wing depth. They were tough. They were trained hard. And because of that, they found themselves in a position where you have a shot at winning a championship.
“I see a similar thing for us.”
You can read the full article from Goodwill here.