How Real is Paul Pierce at the 4? — Mythical vs. Extinct NBA Playoff Roundtable Part 2 | Wizards Blog Truth About

How Real is Paul Pierce at the 4? — Mythical vs. Extinct NBA Playoff Roundtable Part 2

Updated: April 18, 2015


Oh, hi, NBA Playoffs. This, our relationship, is still new and odd. Cast aside and strewn across history’s floor are an assortment of pop culture wall calendars with one date each year circled in red and highlighted: when the NBA Draft Lottery happened.

Now, the Wizards aren’t yet playoff perennials, but to get to any type of streak one appearance has to come before another one. So now, this year, today, the Washington Wizards are at ‘two’. Such a circumstance calls for questions, and answers. So, part of the TAI collective assembled to pixel out those answers—for you, dear reader; for ourselves; for each other.

Sean Fagan (@McCarrick), Bryan Frantz (@BFrantz202), Troy Haliburton (@TroyHalibur), Adam McGinnis (@adammcginnis), and John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend) are here to reveal their soul in part one of a three-part series.

Previously…which Raptor scares you the most?

And now…

How Real is Paul Pierce at the 4?


To win hearts and minds you must first have the ear of the people. Paul Pierce has spent much of this past week complaining about his former employers (the Brooklyn Nets) and their practice habits rather than showing enough signs of life to be considered a viable option for such a desperate stratagem on the part of Randy Wittman. This is the same Paul Piece who has seen his minutes decrease to the likes of Otto Porter and was last seen ineffectively toiling for 18 minutes against the Pacers. It is also the same Paul Pierce who caused a minor maelstrom by stating that the Raptors don’t have an “It” factor, an elite star, to make opponents fear them. Pierce subsequently had to walk back the comments, either in fear of the rabid Canadian superfans or the fact that Pierce is quickly becoming a dog whose bark is more frightening than his bite.

As to who mans the 4 for the Wizards against the Raptors’ wonky lineups, the magic bullet is still the same that I pointed to in the pre-season. At some point, the Wizards are going to have to lean on Kevin Seraphin to be more than just a jump hooking robot on the offensive end and actually display a bit of aptitude defensively. It is terrifying to think that Seraphin is once again vital to the Wizards’ playoff hopes, but such a destiny lies in roster shallowness.


If it is indeed 2015, as multiple sources have confirmed, then I think it’s pretty obvious Pierce needs to spend some time at the 4. In today’s NBA, every quality 3 should be able to play some 4. The league is shifting toward smaller lineups with the occasional big man down low, but the twin towers concept is increasingly overlooked in favor of more dynamic lineups. The Lakers were dominant just a few years ago with a pair of 7-footers in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum that loved to eat up the rebounds on Kobe Bryant’s many shot attempts; it was one of the few times in recent history that a volume shooter was an effective No. 1 on a championship team.

But Nene and Marcin Gortat are not Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, and nobody on the Wizards can create for himself like Kobe could. Having a smaller player in at the 4 who can space the floor and give Gortat, Nene or whoever is playing the 5 some extra room to operate. Pierce has some experience playing the 4, but even if he isn’t the ideal choice, the need for a stretch 4 is glaring.

As for matchups, that’s going to be tough. Nobody on the Wizards has proven capable of defending a stretch 4 this season, so it’s a matter of just controlling the damage. The player who I think could have the most success doing so would be Otto Porter. He’s struggled plenty this season, but he’s got the right body for it (albeit rather gangly) and is a long, capable defender when he’s locked in. A few early hiccups are to be expected, but especially if there is a big lead for either team, I’d like to see Washington try a small lineup with Porter at the 4 and Kris Humphries at the 5 to combat a Raptors shooting lineup.


Paul Pierce potentially playing the stretch 4 position should be a real option for the Wizards in this series. Although the sample size of Pierce playing power forward is very limited (4% of his game action), his production there has been astounding. Pierce’s PER as a small-ball 4 is 25.3 per 48 minutes, up from 15.4 when he plays his normal position of small forward. His counterparts at the 4 only have a PER of 9.5, which is down from the 14.0 PER he allows to opposing small forwards. Pierce playing the 4 creates more floor space for the Wizards’ offense since he takes the most 3-pointers at 4.2 attempts per game.


This “going small” narrative being woven is more of a media creation than actual reality. Umair Khan of Bullets Forever makes a strong argument for playing Pierce at power forward to counter Toronto’s effective offense but I just don’t see Coach Wittman employing this strategy much.

Washington decided to go all in on building a defensive-first approach. (Remember the pre-season “bad boys” mantra?) Last off-season, they added traditional big men to their front line and of the six current post players, only Gooden is any threat from 3-point range. Many believe this is a flawed strategy as the NBA game is moving to a more perimeter approach—both Atlanta and Toronto defeated Washington this season by getting their bigs out of position on defense.

However, the playoffs are a different animal with a best-of-seven set up. Washington will win this series by playing to their strength of being an elite defensive squad, ranked fifth in the NBA. This means staying big throughout and sticking to their identity.


Kind of have to hope it’s real. Pierce, obviously, had success at the 4 last season in Brooklyn and his ability to hit from range (38.9% this season on more than 4 attempts per game) means that he is potentially more of a game changer than either Kris Humphries or Drew Gooden. WizardDrizzle has shot the 3-ball very well during his time in D.C., but he’s averaged just one attempt per game from behind the arc. Pierce at the 4, even for limited minutes, would be a wrinkle in Wittman’s offense that the Raptors, and every other NBA team, won’t have much tape on.

Pierce pairs well with both Humphries (+1.8 this season) and Gooden (+1.6), so those are two workable short-lease 4-5 combos. Other small-ball lineups? A frontcourt collabo between Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter (+1.5) could also be productive.

The worry would be that Porter gets plowed by Patterson, but the stretch 4 is used to dictate terms on the offensive side of the ball, not stifle an opponent’s attack. In any case, extra 3-point attempts would benefit a Wizards team that loves to make themselves comfortable inside the arc. Seven of the past eight NBA champs—let me finish—have led all playoff teams in treys attempted and made, as ESPN’s Baxter Holmes pointed out earlier this season.