On a day when Trevor Watson’s latest stabbing conviction reminds of Paul Pierce’s past, I can’t help but think how far Pierce has come.
Not just as a player, mind you. Pierce the person has altered himself from an immature kid to a likable grown man. But that transformation, while both incredible and nice, is not the point of this post. Pierce’s game has taken a similar path as his social standing, and so it is that Paul Pierce is now a more efficient basketball player than ever before.
Remember Pierce’s younger days? Because I do. Isolation after isolation ruled the day. Pierce considered himself head and shoulders above his teammates, and it showed. He could be alternately marvelous and frustrating. One second he would snake his way to the hoop; the next, he would fire a tough fadeaway with a defender draped all over him.
At that point, Pierce was the one real bright spot in Boston. He was The Truth. But he could also take certain shots that would make John Wooden role over in his grave. Maybe his shot selection wasn’t THAT bad. But when Pierce scored, they were loud points, and that wasn’t neceessarily a good thing. He was a volume scorer, taking (and, yes, making) a lot of shots, both good and bad.
Not anymore. Now, I watch games and don’t even realize Pierce is scoring. (You can probably tell — I only write about Pierce’s effiency now, after his 11-shot, 28-point game against Portland metaphorically slapped me in the face.) I look down at the box score on my lap top on a given night, and Pierce magically has 26 or 28 points. Huh? I think. He hasn’t even done anything. Then I remember the three trifectas he drilled. And the three quick post-ups he utilized for easy layups. And the in-rhythm step-back jumpers, usually uncontested now. And the baseline drive for a layup. And the four or five free throws. Then I add up all the points, and, sure enough, the box score isn’t lying to me.
“I’ve become a more mature player with every year,” Pierce told ESPN Boston. “I put in the extra work at practice, the extra preparation time now. I’m just getting better the older I get. Like fine wine.”
Like fine wine, indeed. Just look at his numbers. (ESPN Boston)
He’s shooting 52.5 percent from the field; his career average is 44.6 percent and his career high is 47.2 percent. He leads the team in scoring (19.7 per game, with Allen’s 16 in second). He’s shooting a career-best 45.6 percent from 3-point territory (let’s not forget, he is the reigning 3-point king, although his career average is 36.9 percent).
Pierce is shooting 84.4 percent from the line as one of the few Celtics who actually, you know, gets to the line. He also is hitting the boards like he used to after a couple of years in the rebounding wilderness, including a 14-rebound intake against the New York Knicks, his biggest haul in nearly three years.
Then there is his true shooting percentage (63.3%), which not only would be the best of his career, but also the 2nd-best of all small forwards playing at least 30 minutes per game. (The best? I’ll give you a hint — you’ll be shocked… Richard Jefferson!)
It helps that Pierce came into camp in great shape. Everyone marveled at Pierce’s svelte physique when he returned this season, and his slimmer body helped Pierce regain the athleticism that was often missing last year. It also can’t hurt that fluid no longer squirts out of Pierce’s knee.
Doc Rivers told reporters Pierce is “defending as well as he ever has,” “helping me as a coach by being more vocal,” and “playing with a great, great spirit.”
He’s also playing more efficiently than he ever has, even if he’s doing it so quietly people are just now beginning to notice.