Looking at the roster, you see a bunch of kids with potential (most of which may never live up to their hype), a budding star in Al Jefferson and two over-the-hill All-Stars in Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. This article will focus on the latter of the two stars.
Paul Pierce, for those who don’t know, is a top-25 player in the league right now. For many of those Celtics fans that haven’t followed the team since the Larry Legend days, you have missed out on a Celtics legend. Paul Pierce is easily a top-5 Celtic of all time and has been the only piece of this franchise that has kept this team somewhat respectable over the last 10 years. Between multiple coaches who didn’t know what they were doing, GMs making terrible decisions as well as terrible luck through the lottery, as well as awful drafts, Paul Pierce has been the lone bright spot throughout the entire organization for the last decade.
Paul has been everything you could ask for in a franchise player. He was one of the best scorers in the entire league in the early 2000’s and is still a 26 a night guy. How good of a scorer was he? Many may not know, but he led the league in points scored in the 2001-2002 season with 2,144. He averaged 26.1 points a game that season, third behind only Allen Iverson (31.4) and Shaquille O’Neal (27.2). In the six seasons between 2000-2001 and 2005-2006, Paul Pierce was top-10 in both total points scored as well as points per game. More specifically, in the four seasons between 2000 and 2004, Pierce was never lower than fourth in total points scored. That says a lot about his durability, which has never been in question until last season’s debacle.
Scoring is more than jacking up shots (which Paul was good at, too). All great scorers know how to get to the line. In the same six seasons between 2000 and 2006, Pierce was one of the elite players at getting to the charity stripe. He was top-6 in each season of that time span in both free throws attempted and free throws made. He was #1 in both categories in the 2002-2003 season.
The league, as well as the fans, took notice to Pierce’s game by naming him to five consecutive All-Star games since 2001. That streak came to an end last season. His best All-Star game was his very first when he scored 19 points on 9 of 18 shooting and added 7 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal. Pierce has never been a flashy player, so the All-Star game isn’t the best place for him to showcase his talents. But if you have followed the Celtics for the duration of Pierce’s career, you know he owns the fourth quarter.
Paul Pierce seems to shine more as the game is on the line. Maybe it’s because he never really had another great player on his team to share the fourth quarter duties. Or maybe it was because he was a great scorer doing what franchise players do best. Most noticeably was his fourth quarter scoring in the 2001-2002 season when he averaged 7.2 points per fourth quarter, second to only Allen Iverson at 7.7. I think it’s safe to assume that Iverson got his extra half point on more shots than Pierce. Want proof that Paul is “The Truth” of the fourth quarter? Check out the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals game #3 when he dropped 18 points on the Nets in the final 12 minutes to lead his Celtics to the greatest comeback in NBA playoff history.
Scoring is not the only way that Pierce contributes to his team. He has always been a good rebounder at the shooting guard position, averaging 6.5 boards a game for his career with a career-high 7.3 in the 2002-2003 season. Imagine getting 26 points and 7.3 rebounds from your shooting guard? On top of his nice rebounding numbers, he has averaged 4 assists a game for his career. As a young scorer, Pierce knew he can do it all his own. As he has grown a little older and a little wiser, he knows that all those trips to the free throw line takes its toll on the body, so he is beginning to share the rock a little more. I think you could easily see Pierce average 5 assists a game this season with the addition of Ray Allen as a drive-and-kick option as well as some easy drop down passes to Al Jefferson.
Will Paul Pierce be enshrined in Springfield? I personally don’t think he will unless he wins an NBA title. What are his chances though? According to the Hall of Fame Probability formula from Basketball-Reference.com, Paul Pierce has a .773 probability of being amongst the all-time greats. It’s interesting to think that someone like Vince Carter, using the same formula, has a .925 probability. How about the player taken one spot ahead of Pierce in the absolutely stacked 1998 NBA Draft? Dirk Nowitzki, after leading his team to an NBA Finals appearance just two seasons ago and coming off an MVP season, has a .611 Hall of Fame probability. I don’t see how Carter could be far and away a better Hall of Fame option than Pierce or Nowitzki.
Whether or not Paul makes the Hall of Fame after his career is over is definitely a worthy debate. But if there is one thing I do know, in ten years I will be able to walk in to the TD Banknorth Garden and look up in the rafters to see the number 34 hanging with the rest of the Celtics’ legends. I know that for as long as I live, there will never be another Celtic to dawn the #34. I know that as much as I have thought about trading Pierce over the last six months, nothing would make me more happy than to see him win a title here in Boston. And if that doesn’t happen, I will always consider Pierce one of the best players in all of the game during his career.