Paul Pierce is simultaneously one of the most frustrating and exhilarating players I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching on a regular basis. He takes more ill-advised absurdly-difficult shots than anyone else on the team, and yet for all the obscenity-provoking pull-up three’s or cringe-inducing isolations, Pierce makes them a solid percentage of the time. Despite my memory highlighting a botched late-game isolation where Pierce was defended by Tim Duncan’s one-legged ghost, last year Pierce was the 10th best scorer in clutch time and made his shots down the stretch 51% of the time (with some help from the NBA’s second best shot-creator in clutch time, Rajon Rondo: 48% of Pierce’s shots down the stretch were assisted). Pierce might be the third member of the New Big Three according to our countdown, but it’s tough to do better than one of the best closers in the league at this spot.
This past season was pretty rough for Pierce overall though, with his per-game stats all beneath his career averages (aside from assists) and his field goal percentage the lowest it’s been during the Big Three era. Pierce came into the season out of shape and struggled early on before finding his rhythm midseason, being named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week in mid March. Unfortunately, a sprained MCL hampered him down the stretch and throughout the playoffs. Aside from an amazing Game 2 against Atlanta and a throwback Game 3 in Philadelphia the Captain struggled mightily, especially as he faced off against two of the best defensive three’s in the NBA during the playoffs.
The good news is, all of Pierce’s struggles had more to do with circumstance than age, and at this point he’s probably flying a bit under the radar. Pierce is still in the upper echelon of NBA players and with his reliance on strength, smarts, and spectacular footwork his game has aged beautifully. Despite his struggles with health and conditioning last year he still managed to put together one of his best defensive seasons ever, even if his offensive efficiency took a dip. With a full offseason to recuperate and some key additions to take the pressure off, I expect Pierce to have a much easier and more efficient season ahead of him. While he’ll still be asked to take over at points, I believe Pierce will spend most of his time lurking around the perimeter to provide spacing, and acting as the trailer on fast-breaks. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a lot of run with the second unit like Allen did in years past, as his playmaking ability should be a boon for a unit that lacks a true point guard, especially early in the season when Terry will likely be the lone ball-handler with Bradley sidelined. While Pierce might not impact the game in the same way as Rondo or Garnett at this point in his career, his versatility will help fill in the gaps while his role as closer ensures that he still has a vital role to play for the Celtics this year and beyond.
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