Paul Pierce Carries the Clutch, With an Assist from Jason Kidd
Brooklyn using Pierce at the assigned position number of ‘4’ was born out of necessity once Brook Lopez was declared out for the season on December 21 with a broken foot. Previous head coach Jason Kidd turned to a small ball lineup—it worked, and Pierce thrived.
Brooklyn’s top four five-man units for the entire season (via NBA.com/stats)—all featured Pierce at the 4:
#1. Deron Williams, Shaun Livingston, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Mason Plumlee
(26 games, 284 minutes, plus-3.0 points per 48 minutes)
#2. Williams, Livingston, Johnson, Pierce, Kevin Garnett
(13 games, 129 minutes, plus-16.3 per 48)
#3. Livingston, Alan Anderson, Johnson, Pierce, Garnett
(11 games, 119 minutes, plus-6.1 per 48)
#4. Williams, Livingston, Johnson, Pierce, Blatche
(26 games, 110 games, plus-10.9 per 48)
Over Brooklyn’s first 26 games, in which they went 9-17, only one of the above lineups saw action—two minutes total from lineup No. 3. The Nets finished the season 35-21.
Thus, much has been made over Pierce’s presence at the 4 as part of the narrative surrounding his pending signing with the Washington Wizards. That, however, might not be a wholly realistic environment in D.C., considering the presences of holdovers Marcin Gortat, Nene, and Drew Gooden, as well as incoming frontline depth in Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair. Al Harrington could also be part of that depth; the shelf life of Kevin Seraphin is to be determined.
In addition, Martell Webster will start the season on the shelf; Otto Porter, despite a solid summer league thus far, might not be ready to eat at the table with the big dogs; and only Andre Miller, likely Garrett Temple, and Glen Rice are currently available to provide backup support to John Wall and Bradley Beal.
Randy Wittman, perhaps also out of his own roster necessity, didn’t exactly celebrate the small ball lineup in 2013-14. Out of Washington’s top 30 five-man units, only one did not feature a combination of two of the following big men: Gortat, Nene, Booker, Gooden, Kevin Seraphin, Harrington, and, yes, Jan Vesely.
John Wall, Bradley Beal, Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza, and Marcin Gortat played only 59 minutes together (ranked seventh amongst most-used lineups) over 17 games and fielded a plus-24.2 per 48 minutes. So, it worked, even if seemingly underused.
Much less chemistry—integrating a future Hall of Famer and two new bigs in Humphries and Blair, both of whom have been known to be wild cards when it comes to locker room demeanor—Wittman will have to make tweaks to his offense (mostly to keep Pierce happy and relevant), as well as to his defensive rotations (mostly the hide Pierce, or to tolerate the mistakes of Porter).
The good news, however, is that Pierce has a durable game, offensively—the veteran tricks of the trade and the result of being a non-athlete, some could say. He appeared in 75 contests last season, missing small amounts of time with a groin injury and hip pointer, and a few weeks in early December with a fractured right hand.
Despite visible differences—or flaws, depending on how you see it—in Pierce not being Trevor Ariza, having him on the Wizards as a replacement is a nice problem to have. And this does not consider Pierce’s presence in the locker room and cadre around the NBA—from players to referees—which cannot be marginalized, but will not be necessarily be dwelled upon in this post.
Pierce is a scorer, plain and simple, and defiant of age. According the Basketball-Reference.com, a guard/wing age 34 or older has scored 25 or more points per 100 possessions on 46 different occasions in the shot clock era (achieved by 24 different players).
Eight players, including Pierce, have done it three different times—Vince Carter, Walter Davis, Alex English, Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, Reggie Miller, and Dominique Wilkins would be the others. Manu Ginobili could join the three-timer/olde-tymer club next season, and Carter could become the only player to achieve the feat four times.
Of the 46 times, Pierce’s eFG% of .529 achieved last season would rank tied for fifth best. He is not only a scorer, he is an all-time great scorer.
Seventy-nine NBA players attempted 4.0 or more catch-and-shoot field goals per game last season (via NBA.com player tracking). Playing next to so many willing passers, from Wall to Nene to Gortat to Beal, Pierce should receive ample opportunity to catch the ball and make the other team pay. Pierce shot an eFG% of .571 on catch-and-shoot attempts last season (.397 on 2s, .395 on 3s), which ranked 29th amongst the 79 players—better than the .568 eFG% that each Kevin Love and Dirk Nowitzki fielded.
Clutch: the Wizards needed a lot of it last season, and Pierce is still oozing with it.
The standard definition of clutch is within the last five minutes of regulation or overtime with a five-point margin either way.
John Wall shot .378 in the clutch last season, attempting the second-most field goals (119) to Kevin Durant (132, 37.9%). Bradley Beal attempted 80 clutch shots and made .350 of them. Wall shot 6-for-27 from 3 in the clutch, and Beal shot 10-for-31. Both will get better.
Paul Pierce, last season, shot .469 in the clutch over 49 attempts. He made the third-most clutch 3-pointers (16) after Damian Lillard (19) and Kevin Durant (20), and Pierce shot .552 on those 3s.
The Wizards led the NBA in clutch minutes last season with 243 and won .457 of the time (ranked 19th best).
Wall and Beal will still get plenty of plays called for them when it counts, but now Wittman has an additional weapon that will better equip the Wizards to win close games. Might a 50-win season be on the way?
Jason Kidd on Paul Pierce.
In Las Vegas, cohort Ben Standig and I were able to catch up with Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd after a Jazz-Bucks summer league game to speak about Pierce, whom Kidd coached last season in Brooklyn.
On his reaction to Pierce going to the Wizards:
“Washington got better. They got a veteran guy who understands what it means to be a professional, comes to work every day, and understands what it takes to win a championship.”
What what Pierce choosing the Wizards says about the franchise:
“I think it’s just a matter of the process of getting better. You can see that with Gortat coming back. The backcourt is very talented. They lose a player, a piece, but they’re not afraid to go out and get a piece that can help them. They’re going to be one of the top teams in the East.”
How Pierce will help the Wiz Kids—Wall, Beal, and Porter:
“He’s going to help them all, and they’re going to help him. When you talk about work ethic, he comes every day early to do his job. He’s been in a lot of battles, classic championships. He’s going to help these guys understand what it takes to win.”
The Wiz Kids are going to help Pierce?
“They’ve got some talented guys that can get him shots. It goes both ways.”