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The Heavy, Unnecessary Onus on Paul Pierce

 

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.

  • Phil

    Good eye opening article. Probably one of the most depressing things about this whole slow start; we can hope those bench guys improve as the year goes along, but if Pierce's tank is on empty by April because of the onus on him now, what does it help?

  • High Rollers

    I know no shot is a bad shot in the mind of a professional scorer, especially when everybody else looks like they couldn't find the ocean if they tried, but P cannot be completely absolved from some very poor shot selection at times over the course of these first thirty less-than-stunning games. Everybody on this team has something to work on, even the Captain. He has to trust his so far less-than-trustworthy new cast. Tall order, but I think The Truth has it in him. He has to. Otherwise he'll buried up to his neck in bricks by the end of the season.

  • elroz

    Bradley will find his jumper in the next couple of games…in other words, much faster than last year.

    Doc needs to simply give more touches and run more plays for Bass, Terry, Green…you got three of them, I'm sure you could find one consistent producer.

    In any case, they should seriously consider Wilcox-Barbosa-Bass-2013 pick package for Gortat / Jefferson / Gasol / Cousins/ Nene / Okafor … some are more offensive minded, but all will you rebounds and some shot blocking. Perhaps add Melo into the mix if necessary.

    • fabbzz

      i don't think any of those teams would consider a deal like that. We have to give up something better than scraps, and honestly, it will have to be either bradley, rondo or possibly a sullinger, bradley, melo deal. Gotta give to get.

      Now would you trade rondo and pieces for cousins and isaih thomas? I might. Or how about rondo and try to snag favors out of utah? I might do that too. If this team really wants to improve via trade it has to seriously considering up its BEST players. It's a disheartening dilemma, for sure.

      But, realistically, its either that or hope the bench turns it around.

      • kg215

        Rondo is worth way more than any of the guys you mentioned on the Jazz or the Kings. I agree the Celtics would have to give up a lot more than Wilcox/Bass/Barbosa (the first 2 guys no one wants, and the last one is a vet. minimum guy) but if they are giving up Rondo then it would be Sacramento that would have to add picks and young players, same with the Jazz. Also even if Rondo's value was that low, there is no point in getting cousins or al jefferson or favors if Rondo is gone. This team is not a contender without Rondo, we have enough trouble being a contender even with him.

      • GowGow

        I stopped reading as soon as you mentioned Rondo. Rondo is the future of the Boston Celtics.

  • Josh_5

    My number one reason for not wanting to trade Rondo is because you know he would torch the hell out of us every time he played us (kinda like the ex-girlfriend gets super hott once you break up with her scenario).

    At this point in time, I'm not willing to part with Bradley. Give up Melo or Sully along with Bass and Green (even if it involves taking on some of his contract to get rid of him).

    • Vincent

      Trade him to a Western Conf team, then he only torches the C's twice. And if we still have AB, he won't torch us at all.

    • kg215

      Who cares about the hot ex-girlfriend scenario? If we trade Rondo it is okay if it makes the team better overall. Chances are we won't get an offer like that. If the trade hurts us or messes up our chemistry even more then it is a bad trade. Rondo torching us once or twice is no big deal, and Bradley won't stop him but could give him some trouble.

  • Danny

    Thinking about it and feel free to call me blasphemous here but honestly I don’t think rondo is the best pg to lead this team in its current state. Back when the big 3 was able to carry the scoring load night in night out he was a great fit and things went well. But now that pierce and kg can’t produce like that every night and ray is gone it almost seems that rondos greatest talent is kind of wasted here. Not that I would ever happen but I’d rather have a shoot first pg who can create his own shot say Russell Westbrook perhaps. This team is in desperate need of someone who can create their own shot now that pierce can no longer do it every night.

    • Phil

      It is kind of ironic that after years of deriding Westbrook and his game in all of the Rondo/Westbrook talking head crap, we basically need Rondo to turn into Westbrook. That's what I was expecting at least; a super aggressive point guard, plus a great passing game once he cut into the defense.

      The thing that confuses me is that we've seen him do it in the playoffs at a semi-consistent level, yet this year, he's broken 20 points in only 5 of 27 games. The majority of the time, it isn't even because of bad shooting days, there are a bunch of 3-7 for 6 point games in there.

      I don't really know the answer, but Rondo can be a better scorer than he's shown this year. Do we have to wait until the playoffs to see that scoring mode again? April? Because the team needs it now.

      • kg215

        Not everyone wants Rondo to be like Westbrook, I certainly don't. Westbrook is a super talented player who is an IDIOT atleast 50% of the time. He shoots 41% from the field but jacks up a ton of jumpers while on the same team as some guy named Kevin Durant. Yeah yeah Westbrook's assists are up and his team needs him to be a scorer but if Rondo really wanted to get 20-25 points Westbrook's way it wouldn't be that hard. In other words Rondo would be putting himself/his scoring above the team/winning if he did it Westbrook's way.

        • Phil

          Your post (besides being from about 2009 when it comes to Westbrook's idiot level, watch his decision making lately and you'll see it's much improved,) pretty much underscores my point. Westbrook is averaging 22 points 'and' 9 assists on a team that's scoring 113 points per 100 possessions. Westbrook's obviously not hurting the offense too much when the team is playing at easily a league best level. I know everyone loves to hate on Westbrook and give all the credit to Durant, but they're both largely responsible, and Westbrook is safely in 2nd.

          Do you really think 13 points on 49% shooting is better than 22 on 41% on this Celtics team? There is no consistent scoring option. Pierce can probably get you 20, but it might take a lot of shots, and the whole point of the article is that it's taking an extreme amount of effort from him. Aside from that, who do you count on? KG can safely get you 12… They need to find ~75 points elsewhere, and Rondo's consistently giving them around 10.

          If you told me that Rondo was going to shoot 18 times a game going forward, regardless of FG%, where do I sign up? That's what the team needs.

  • old knees 54

    I was thinking the same about Paul. He could be so good and relaxed in shorter minutes and out from under the weight, but Green is no small forward and Joseph isn't ready. I cannot believe how confused the team looks. How could they not see Green's timidity, Bass's inability to predict defensive rotation, Terry's rushing around with his head cut off? When will Lee get that elbow hitch out of his shot? Are they "so close" or are they inept? Even Rondo's defense is starting to piss me off. I think he must be demoralized. He should be setting up shooters not bums! Their defensive coach must go. Doc is pulling the players in and out so much they cannot know where they stand. Watching the Celtics is such a RIDE.

  • tbunny

    Explain to me how they can spend 9mil per year on Green but could't find a spot for Pietrus who can at least play NBA defense? And they have no one else ready to play at 3?

  • Opinionator

    What about Maureae speights from the Grizzlies.

    He is a big wide 6’10′ body plays PF/C and has an automatic jumper. With zach Marc and Darrell there aren’t enough minutes for him.

    He can create space with his jumper as a stretch four like bass is supposed to do.

    Jason Collins is just sad.

    • GMan

      Doesn't sound like a game changer, but at least a realistic option. Also the Grizzlies need offense, something we can provide (well…on paper).

    • hydrofluoric

      Love it. Just hope it's not out of our price range.

  • Kafel

    I want to see more minutes with Rondo, Bradley, Pierce, Bass and KG on court together.

    • Josh_5

      I want Bass nailed to the pine. Use some white-out to replace Bass with Sullinger and you get a +1.

      • Phil

        Too early to nail Bass to the pine, even if he's been terrible. Sullinger will foul out before 30 minutes, and KG's minutes need limited. Without Bass, you're down to Jeff Green and the one person on the team worse than Jeff Green playing major big man minutes.

        We do need to see plenty of both of those lineups though, and I agree that I want Sully in that group starting.

  • Kafel

    Bass is in a slump but I think he can and would get out of it – to do it he needs more minutes.

  • ghoulbuns

    Paul Milsap.

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