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.
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.