Paul Pierce is 35 years old and has 14 NBA seasons under his belt. He’s posted career averages of 22 points and six rebounds per game over those 15 years, carrying the Celtics’ offense for the better part of his time in Boston.
Despite his mileage, Pierce has remained remarkably consistent in the latter stages of his career, averaging 18 points per game every season since his rookie year, all while shooting an average of 44 percent from the field.
He’s been productive, and generally efficient with the ball in his hands and, accordingly, the team has leaned on him to do the heavy lifting on the offensive end of the floor. Much of the time that strategy was based on design, but in the past couple years it’s been more of a necessity with a lack of healthy offensive talent on the team.
That plan was to diminish the onus on Pierce with the introduction of new, purposefully offensive-minded reinforcements at the start of this season. Jason Terry, Jeff Green, Leandro Barbosa, Brandon Bass were all players brought in to surround Boston’s core with more scoring firepower than they’ve had for the majority of The Big Three era.
Through 31 games however, these new parts have not been clicking. Some guys aren’t being used enough in the offense effectively (Terry), some aren’t shooting well enough from the perimeter (Lee, Bass), and others are just playing as inefficiently as they always have (Green).
Combined, none of them are producing enough points consistently on a regular basis to help keep the C’s competitive. A lot of that is on these players, and some of it is on Doc Rivers as well for not utilizing these players well enough while they are out there.
The net result of their issues however has been the offensive burden once again falling on the C’s captain, and wouldn’t you know it, the 35-year-old is not producing at the rates he once did with that heavy reliance. The exact scenario Danny Ainge was trying to thwart for the past couple seasons has become a reality now, and boy it hasn’t been pretty for this team during the past month.
Let’s inspect the numbers for a better example of this. Right now, Pierce’s usage rate is 28.4 percent, which is the 12th highest number in the entire NBA. The other guys in the top 15 usage in the league, all 30 years and younger, are in their primes with bodies physically capable of producing that much offense on a regular basis.
That 28.4 percent number is also unsurprisingly Pierce’s highest usage of his career since the 2006-07 season. Now back then, with a supporting cast of Delonte West, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair and company, that’s the kind of usage you’d want to see from the Truth. In what shouldn’t come as a surprise, Pierce was a mere 30 years old back then as well. At this stage of his career however, that’s far too much to ask from Pierce, especially given how much the team is relying on him on the other end of the floor.
Right now, Pierce is grabbing an 18.1 percent of all defensive rebounds while he is on the floor, which is the highest number of his entire 15-year career thus far. With KG, and Jared Sullinger serving as the team’s only other above-average rebounders on the entire roster, Pierce has made rebounding a priority, something this team desperately needs out of him to remain respectable on the defensive glass.
Make no mistake though, banging bodies with the bigs for 34 minutes a game has to take a toll on Pierce and that, combined with the natural effects of age, has reduced his efficiency on the offensive end. As the volume of his shooting has gone up (16.2 per 36 minutes), his percentages have taken a hit (43 percent shooting overall). You have to wonder just how much Pierce’s defense has suffered as well with his heavy usage within the offense.
The addition of Jason Collins to the starting lineup, (and now Avery Bradley) will likely just increase the offensive onus on Pierce, while causing the team’s offensive spacing to take another serious hit until Bradley can discover his outside shot.
Rajon Rondo’s lack of aggressiveness in looking for his own shot hasn’t helped matters even over the past month, leaving the team with an offense that has nowhere to go to besides it’s captain for the better part of 48 minutes. Other teams know this and can throw most of their resources into containing Pierce as Boston attempts to play 4-on-5 for the first six minutes of each half with Collins out there.
All of these numbers aren’t meant to rag on Pierce at all. A small decline in his production would be expected by anyone at this stage of their career. The disturbing part is that Pierce is carrying his weight more than just about anyone else on the roster right now, outside of Kevin Garnett. These Hall-of-Famers desperately need help on the offensive end, and the C’s new additions have about a month to prove they are capable of giving Doc Rivers that.
Otherwise, Ainge will spend the majority of the next month finding players who can.