Paul Pierce in the Old/New Year — A Wizards Preview Series | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Paul Pierce in the Old/New Year — A Wizards Preview Series

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Updated: September 23, 2015

[TAI’s preview/review series on the Wizards going forward with a look-back on those who graced the team in the past season continues. First up was Kevin Seraphin. Next up: Paul Pierce, by Bryan Frantz. Read on…]

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John Wall was quite obviously the best player on the Wizards last year, and many would tab Bradley Beal as the second-best. The argument could also be made for Marcin Gortat as the runner-up to Wall, and, despite plenty of criticism, Nene could stake a claim to the spot as well.

However, the numbers make an intriguing case for Paul Pierce—his Win-Shares per 48 Minutes, 0.138, ranked only second on the team to Gortat (0.168). And that doesn’t even include Pierce’s other-worldly exploits in the postseason, or the many intangibles he brought to the team.

In his 17th pro season, Pierce was not dominant throughout the year. He was sometimes very good but often a replacement-level player, and he had numerous glaring weaknesses, most notably on defense and on the boards.

What he did was not easily measured by statistics; how do you quantify “grown man savvy”? As he loves to declare, Pierce was brought to D.C. (and Brooklyn, and probably Los Angeles) to knock down big shots in close games. He did that numerous times last season and put on one of the most impressive displays of big-shot making in the postseason that the NBA has seen in years.

He was also brought to Washington to provide leadership, guidance, and championship experience to the young core of Wall, Beal, and Otto Porter. It quickly became evident how much that trio respected the future Hall of Famer, and their confidence seemed to be on a completely different level than it had been a year earlier.

“Just being around a guy like that who knows how to win and knows certain situations, he can help us young fellas out as much as possible,” Wall said early in the season. “When you have 17 years and you win a championship, you can tell me whatever you want, I’m listening.”

When that ESPN article by Jackie MacMullan came out in mid-April, just before the playoffs, all anybody focused on was how Pierce had called out the Toronto Raptors for not having “it,” but just as important was Pierce calling out those three young Wizards. In the article, Pierce said of Wall and Beal: “Both of those guys have the potential to be great. I love them. But sometimes I’m not sure they realize what it takes.”

He also questioned whether the young duo wanted to be great or simply good, then he wondered the same thing about Porter, saying, “I’m just not sure how badly he wants it every day.”

“That kid just needs to get mad,” Pierce added about Porter. “If he came to practice ticked off and to the games ticked off, he’d be fine. But it’s hard to get Otto mad. I should punch him one day just to get him riled up.”

When that piece ran, there weren’t talks of locker room strife, or Pierce throwing his teammates under the bus, or anything of the sort. (1) Instead, the Wizards rattled off a sweep of the Raptors, and Porter put together a helluva postseason performance.

On the court, Pierce racked up five 20-point games in the regular season. That was well below the 11 times he managed in his lone season with the Brooklyn Nets, but each of those outbursts in a Wizards uniform came against an eventual playoff team. The Wiz won four of those five games (25 points from The Truth in D.C. wasn’t enough to take down the eventual champion Golden State Warriors), and Pierce led Washington in scoring in all but one of those games.

Then came that glorious postseason. Well, not so glorious for the Wizards, who suffered a near-identical downfall in the second round as they did the previous season, along with a broken wrist for their star point guard. But Paul Pierce was a goddamn demigod for 10 games.

Pierce talked his usual shit, once again calling out the Toronto Raptors for their lack of moxie, then he backed it up by putting up 15.5 points per game as the Wizards rolled to a four-game sweep of the Raps (2). In the season-ending series against the Atlanta Hawks, The Truth did just about everything one could ask for in late-game situations, but it was ultimately not enough, and the Wizards came up just short in a series many felt they should have won. Pierce scored 14 points per game and drained 19 triples versus Atlanta, and he did so with Wall unable to spread the floor for most of the series.

Pierce, now with the Los Angeles Clippers, will be dearly missed in Washington. But his impact should carry on with Wall, Beal, and Porter, who will now have the minutes necessary to thrive. But who will take the last-second shots? And whoever it will be, will he make even half of what Pierce would’ve made?

Best Moment.

Pierce had more memorable plays in the postseason alone than the rest of the Wizards combined, and he had a few noteworthy performances in the regular season, but nothing compares to the instant-classic, “I called game.”

Worst Moment.

Pierce was not the same player last year that he was on, say, the Celtics. He had his fair share of games where he was mostly irrelevant, and he struggled on defense for most of the season, but he was rarely a detriment to the team. With that said, his worst moment of the year was also probably the most painful moment for the entire team: when the season ended on a miracle shot that somehow dropped … just not in time.

Curious Stat.

At 37 years old, on his third team in three years, and surrounded by young, athletic playmakers like Wall and Beal, Pierce’s game needed to adapt. The biggest adjustment he made was loitering on the perimeter more and serving primarily as a spot-up 3-point shooter. There was talk before the season that Pierce would basically serve as Trevor Ariza 2.0 (3), but the two players provided very different outlets for Wall. While Ariza attempted 180 3-pointers from the corner and 257 3s from above the break in 2013-14, Pierce hoisted up just 59 corner 3s in 2014-15 compared to 244 above the break.

More of Pierce’s shots during the regular season came from downtown (46.2 percent) than in any of his previous seasons, and his 3-point attempts per 36 minutes (5.7) tied a career high, but some of that can be attributed to playing with Wall. Then again, he played with Rajon Rondo while in Boston, who is also a drive-and-kick point guard. That’s not to say Rondo and Wall are the same, or even really similar players, but the difference shouldn’t be quite enough to explain the change in Pierce’s game when he came to D.C.

There was no greater disparity than his postseason long-range shooting.

The Truth attempted just 99 shots in 10 postseason games last season. Of those, 63 came from beyond the arc, and 33 dropped through the hoop. His .524 clip from long range in the 2015 playoffs was well above his previous career best of .447, which came in the 2011 playoffs, and his (new) career average of .356. With the exception of Will Bynum’s 1-for-2, the only Wizards to shoot more than .400 from distance in the postseason were Pierce and Drew Gooden (.462).

If Paul Pierce Were a Type of Food, He Would Be…

Cheesecake.

Three reasons behind this: First, he’s been around forever. Second, as he’s now on his fourth team in four years, he’s good for sharing. And third, he’s money at the end.

  1. Most people, readers, and others in the NBA family, seemed to agree with what Pierce said—his comments about Porter in particular.
  2. Pierce, however, won’t get to school the North three years in a row, having also done so in 2014 as a Brooklyn Net … unless we somehow end up with a Clippers-Raptors NBA Finals.
  3. But with “a little more versatility.”
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Bryan Frantz
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Bryan is a D.C. native with a degree in something or other from UNC. He has important, interesting hobbies, but mostly he just weeps over D.C. sports teams. You can find him on the Metro, inevitably complaining about Red Line delays.