We covered much of Paul Pierce’s work so far over the weekend, but against San Antonio, he showed us a way that he could probably be utilized more as the season progresses.
When the Celtics use Pierce in Off Screen plays, he has been pretty average. His efficiency isn’t elite — 0.86 PPP, good for 23rd in the NBA — but it’s sufficient. What’s surprising is that Off Screen plays make up 20.6% of Pierce’s offensive usage, despite being considerably less efficient than several other options. Pierce is averaging 1.08 PPP in Spot-Up opportunities (14.9% of all plays), 0.88 in Isolation (14.5%), and 1.17 PPP in Transition (17.1%). It should be noted, of course, that including Transition plays is kind of cheating, because those plays so often end in mismatches or open shots.
Pierce has a better eFG% from 3-point range than he does from 16-23 feet and from 10-15 feet, but that doesn’t mean every shot he takes should be a 3-pointer. Indeed, he seems to really struggle shooting 3-pointers off screens. For the season, he is 11-32 for 34.4% from behind the arc. That’s good enough to make it a sufficiently effective shot (33% is the cut off point), but not good enough to make his off screen 3-point sets a regular staple (Much more effective: his Spot-Up 3-point attempts, which are a staggering 46.2%).
It’s pretty easy to see why Pierce struggles on many of his 3-pointers from Off Screen plays. Since he is a wing, a pretty heavy majority of his long distance attempts come off pin-down screens. That makes for a difficult 3-point shot.
Pierce has multiple factors working against him here. First, the pin-down screen is being set by Jason Terry who, for all of his many admirable qualities, isn’t really built to be a screener. Danny Green is able to get around the screen pretty easily and while he doesn’t contest the shot, he certainly comes up on Pierce fast enough to pull a little bit of his concentration off of the rim.
A second problem is simply the direction Pierce is going. Have you ever tried a fadeaway 3-pointer? They don’t go in very often. Pierce has set himself, but he has had to back up to get open. That makes his shot much more difficult, since his whole body has been moving away from the hoop. Paul Pierce is unbelievably good at tough shots, but nobody shoots fadeaway 3-pointers efficiently.
Not every Off Screen play for Pierce is bad, however. Let’s take a look at this one, which is both the first play of the game and a testament to Doc’s knack for drawing up effective sets.
There are four players in motion here, and they are CONSTANTLY in motion. We start with a low screen by Garnett on Pierce, who circles around and sets a back-screen for Garnett (which, incidentally, is some of my favorite screening action). As Pierce circles around, Brandon Bass and Rondo run a basic high pick-and-roll. But instead of rolling to the hoop, Bass rolls into another screen, setting a pin-down for Pierce. Bass, a much more effective screener than Jason Terry, frees Pierce sufficiently for an open mid-range jumper, and Pierce delivers.
This is a much better play for several reasons. First, as mentioned above, the screen set for Pierce is almost always going to be more effective if Bass is setting it. Second, all the action around Pierce makes it more difficult for Green to read the defense and contest the shot. On the 3-point attempt above, Terry’s screen is the only thing happening on the play, and the shot goes up with 14 seconds left on the shot clock. On the mid-range jumper, we see four completely separate screens being set including a P&R play. Finally, for Pierce, who excels at mid-range stepbacks, the mid-range set is much more likely to be productive than the 3-point set. It’s hard to back up and still hit a three. Moving backward on mid-range shots is more natural and thus, probably, more effective for Pierce.
It should be mentioned that this doesn’t explain why Pierce is shooting just 37% on 2-point field goal attempts when he’s coming off of a screen. But it does give us a look at a way Pierce could conceivably be used more effectively, and given Doc Rivers’ incredible ability to draw up a play and his apparent fondness for running Pierce off screens, we may very well see more of it in future games.
Stats gathered from Synergy Sports and HoopData.com.
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