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The Decline of Paul Pierce’s Mid-Range Game



Paul Pierce has been called by many, the best “natural” scorer in Celtics history. Whether or not you agree with that assessment is up for debate, there’s little one can argue about when addressing Pierce’s ability to create his own shot, over the course of his career.

Whether it be getting to the hoop, pulling up from mid-range, or firing from deep, there have been seemingly no glaring weakness in Pierce’s offensive repertoire.

The Captain’s multidimensional offensive abilities have crowned him to be the C’s natural “go-to” guy in the final moments of quarters and games for much of the past decade.

This reliance on Pierce came with good reason, as his ability to create his own shot from anywhere inside the arc, made him a particularly tough person to guard throughout his career in isolation sequences.

Would The Truth go to the hoop or pull up for a jumper in his “bread and butter” spot from the right elbow? Only Pierce knew, and he made enough of those mid-range shots to always keep a defender honest, when guarding him.

Now let’s fast forward to 2010. Paul Pierce is a 32-year-old small forward, and is seemingly having one of the best offensive years of his career. His field goal percentage is 46.7, the second best number of his career. He is shooting nearly 42 percent from deep, a career best. He was even in the top 10 consideration for MVP over the first quarter of the season on ESPN.COM’s Award Watch, which came as the C’s roared out to a 23-5 start.

Then, unfortunately, The Truth got hurt. Then he got hurt again….and again…..and again. First it was the infected knee, then the sprained foot, followed by the sprained thumb.

Despite those injuries, Pierce has only missed 10 games, though he readily admitted he played many more he shouldn’t have. However, Pierce’s only penalty for those injuries hasn’t just come in the form of missed games, as those injuries have affected his offensive game tremendously……specifically his “bread and butter.” That would be the mid-range game.

I will just let the numbers do the talking here, as we breakdown Paul Pierce’s shot chart, courtesy of the terrific folks over at Hoopdata.com.

I point your attention to the percentages in the middle 3 sections. Pierce shooting numbers from less than 10 feet, 10-15 feet, and 16-23 feet. As you can see, Pierce stats have taken a dramatic dive in all 3 categories. Hoopdata’s data only tracks Pierce’s shot location data for the past 4 seasons, but the captain’s numbers from those three distances on the floor are, by far, his worse in the past four seasons.

I don’t want to say they are the worst of his career, since we don’t have that data, but if I were a betting man, I’d be comfortable putting down a exboruant amount of money on that being the case. Those numbers also put Pierce in the bottom fourth of NBA small forwards in shooting from those distances. Not exactly the rankings you want to see from your “closer.”

It’s not all bad news though. Pierce has never been a great finisher at the rim throughout his career, but his shooting percentage there (64%) is up from his past few seasons. Definitely, encouraging to see the veteran has improved in this department.

The alarming part to me though about Pierce’s numbers from the mid-range, is the fact they are getting worse throughout this season, not better. I have been very concerned about his offensive game during the C’s recent stretch, since he looked to me to be having a great amount of trouble with any kind of perimeter shot. Some research of his numbers confirmed my suspicious.

Paul Pierce’s shooting percentages for last 10 games

distance       Last 10 games        Season

< ten feet           27%                       34%

10-15 feet           25%                       35%

16-23 feet           33%                       35%

3 pt shots            22%                       41.8%

So as you can see, things have taken an even bigger dive lately. I don’t blame Pierce for all of this. He’s getting older, so he’s due for some regression and it’s clear his various ailments have taken quite a toll on him.  They’ve also hurt his ability to create his own shot, which no doubt have brought down those percentages as well. It’s actually somewhat encouraging that the C’s have been able to put up so many points lately with the captain struggling so much from the perimeter. Imagine the possibilities if he was hitting those shots! 120 points a night here we come!

There’s a couple problems though. First, with this more recent shooting slump, Pierce needs to snap out of it and fast. The playoffs are just four games away and this team is not going anywhere past the first round, with The Truth shooting those percentages from the perimeter, especially from downtown.

The other issue for me, is with the end-of-game situations and Pierce isolations. I’ve spent some time already questioning them this season as it’s Doc Rivers default play call during the end-of-quarter spots as well as the end of games. To be frank, it’s had nearly no success lately. Let’s say though Pierce was to break out of this recent slump and return to his normal season numbers. If I’m a Celtics fan, I still don’t want Pierce taking that shot 100 percent of the time, for a couple reasons:

1) The other team knows it is coming

2) Paul Pierce is shooting in the mid 30′s from anywhere inside the arc. That’s not a high-percentage shot.

So Doc Rivers, I implore you, take the ball out of your Captain’s hands at the end of games, if all you are going to be running are isolations. I still want to see Pierce involved in these end of games plays, but I want to see him getting to the hoop, or dishing the ball to Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, or (gasp) Michael Finley for an outside jumper. As of right now, there are plenty better outside shooters than Paul Pierce on this team. Here’s a thought.

Use them.

This piece is really not meant to be a knock on the captain, it’s really not. Instead, it’s more of a wake up call, where the status quo for this team is not going to get it done anymore. Pierce has been one of the best finishers ever in a Celtic uniform, but thus far this year, thanks to injuries and age, he just hasn’t had it. It’s time to for the C’s to get creative and not leave Pierce on an island out there anymore at the end of games anymore. It’s not fair to him, or the team.

  • Jason

    I want people to stop talking about Pierce’s career best 3-point shooting. He got off to a ridiculous start, but here are his recent, monthly percentages:

    February: 25%
    March: 36%
    April: 36%

    Ok, February was a small sample and 36% isn’t terrible, but it’s basically his career rate, not some new level of excellent deep shooting.

    I also admit before I looked this up, I could have sworn these numbers would have been in the 20s. It feels like he hasn’t hit a 3 in months. Whatever. All I really care about at this point is that he go into the playoffs as healthy and fresh as possible.

  • Sami

    A much needed wake up call. not only does everyone expect them now but there is quite a bit of evidence to support that they are no longer working.

  • Jay P

    All the more reason that I really hope we don’t have to pay him 21 million next year… one way or another.

  • Bob

    Amen! How can this be so obvious to any serious fan of the C’s and apparently so difficult for Doc Rivers to see? Pierce has been an ineffective “go to guy” for a long time now. It seems there is a reluctance to put the ball into Ray Allen’s hands for the final shot. The offense gets static, Pierce crab dribbles, and I wonder if he will even get a shot off as the clock winds down. Note that many teams do not even bother to double team him in these situations. That tells you what the opposition thinks!

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  • matthew

    it SHOULD be a knock on the so-called captain! jeez! i hope it knocks the stuffing out of his big, inflated head. with the way he’s been playing this season, pierce should be, at best, used as a decoy in late game plays. ugh!

  • Jason

    If we are going to talk end-game strategy (end of quarter, too), absolutely, the Pierce iso is probably the worst of all available options and it wasn’t even that great of an option in year’s past. Anyway …

    Ignoring that option, however, STILL leaves much to be desired. In a handful of last second shot situation (for example, 10 seconds, ball out of bounds), Doc and the C’s have run some extraordinary plays, such as back picking for a Ray 3 which has been done a few times. However, in wind-the-clock situations, Rondo holds the ball till there are five seconds and then tries to makes something happen 1 on 5. This has been awful all year. I can’t recall all season seeing the C’s successfully (without a lucky desperation shot going down) wind down the clock and end up with a shot they really wanted. Rondo’s not going to shake a guy free for an open J. Well, he could, but it’s not a high percentage shot. He can’t drive because 3 people are at the rim. He can’t pass because they wasted so much time. I’ve screamed at the TV over this all season. AT ALL TIMES the C’s need to run their normal offensive sets. Start the O at 15 seconds, run the Ray screens and the counter action and the KG pick and pop, whatever. If you get an open shot with 9 seconds, so be it; it’s still better than Rondo forcing a 30 foot 3 or whatever other bad shots they have consistently ended up with.

    I would LOVE if CelticsHub could get their hands on data (video even better) of all last-shot possessions for the C’s this year. I think the attentive fan will already know just from watching this year how ABYSMAL these results have been, but to have them tabulated I think might make people’s jaws drop. I completely blame Doc for this and unless the C’s blow-out every opponent (which of course they won’t), it will certainly cost the C’s games (plural) in the playoffs.

    So, back to end game strategy. Run the regular offense. This way the C’s maintain their great offensive strengths of creative motion leading to mismatches, making the extra pass(es) and ultimately to high percentage shots. That sometimes takes 10, 15, 20 seconds. If you leave yourself only 5 seconds, you’ve done the other team a MASSIVE favor. Defending this team (team, meaning all 5 players) for 24 seconds is really hard. They are creative, smart and unselfish. Defending one of them for 5 seconds, is infinitely easier. Yes, Rondo can break any D down in a millisecond, but still he doesn’t have Wade/Melo/Bron, even Rose finishing ability or Nash/Billups pull-up ability. He can’t just waste time then consistently force something good to happen in that scenario. His strengths play to team offense, not unstoppable one-man show plays.

    So, no Pierce iso. No Rondo wasting the clock. Also, for those clamoring for Ray touches, you can’t just hand it to Ray and ask him to make something happen. That’s just not his game. If the normal offense was run, naturally the ball will frequently end up with him in a good spot to do something. You could dump it to KG on the block, but no teams ever feed the post in last possession situations. I don’t know why that is either. Of course I understand “don’t give the other team a possession” strategy, BUT (HUGE BUT) you don’t have the personnel to waste time then get a good shot. LeBron can pull this off, but no one on this team can. So what is better, a) an empty offensive possession with the other team getting no shot or b) a quality offensive possession even if sometimes the other team might get some time to do something? When tied, sure wind it down so there’s no chance to lose, but end of the first 3 quarters or down 1, 2 or 3 at the end of the game? You HAVE TO have a quality possession. You must get into your normal offense and get a good shot. It is unacceptable to waste time only to throw up a prayer or as is the Knicks game, no shot at all.

  • Perry


    Great post. All year long there has been talk about Rondo handling the ball in crunch time, which I dismissed. But as you point out Pierce’s numbers are abysmal. The strange part is his 3-point percentage is higher than his mid range game over the course of the season. If he’s carrying around tried legs wouldn’t his long range shot suffer most?


    Spot on analysis. Forget the iso and run your stuff. Why not a screen/roll with Kevin as the screener? If he’s doubled you know he’ll make the right decision finding the open man.

  • Jon

    Whatever happened to the “Im the BEST PLAYER in the world better than Kobe, Lebron ” or even the upcoming KD….wow, just a complete decline of one of the best 4th qtr players of his era…

    Just 10 months older than Kobe ( but he sure looks like he is older than Ray Allen, or even at times looks like Finley old..Yikes) But his game has regressed to the point that refs don’t even respect his game anymore and wouldn’t give him superstar treatment….what a real shame.

    I sure hope he is just saving it for the playoffs as these last few games have really no bearing except for playoff seeding but whatever seeding we get, if the PP of even 2008 steps forward…then not even Lebron nor Kobe can stop banner 18, that much i can guarantee.

  • Cptn Bubbles

    @Jason Very well said. Amen.

    The Cs are much easier to guard in these iso’s. I’ve wailed for Doc to stop being lazy & come up with some new plays or just run regular offense. You can see that the Cs are much more worried about the other team getting the ball back with a couple of seconds on the shot clock than they are worried about themselves getting a good shot. Doc needs to give up the shot at 1 or 2 seconds dogma & just run offense. The Cs are supposed to be a DEFENSIVE team so there should not be so much anxiety over the other team getting the ball back with a few seconds left. If the Cs cannot defend for a few seconds then they don’t deserve to win anyway!

    KG is too nervous & flingy posting up. He is a long, big man who has a really nice jumper (not too common). Can’t we play to that strength for ONE critical shot???? I don’t want to see him shooting it too deep (like a step in front of the 3 pt line which I’ve shrieked at on many occasions), but KG shooting a straight up jump shot, free throw linish, is a great shot. He is so tall & long that he should be able to go straight up and get off a great look. Ray would be the best 3pt option.

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    dont worrie about these haters pierce you ar still the truth

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