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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Paul Pierce, an all-time great scorer, was well ahead of his time

Paul Pierce is an all-time great.

Paul Pierce is an all-time great.
Image: Getty Images

Anytime an all-time great moves into broadcasting following their playing career, it’s a risky proposition for how people will ultimately view their legacy. Whether or not that matters is entirely up to them, and some would say it shouldn’t. But depending on how the player performs on the desk or in the booth, there may become a time where they’re more recognized for that than anything in between the lines.

Does it occasionally appear that they’re saying outlandish things… just because? Have they said enough dumb things to compile eight minutes worth of it on YouTube? Did they party with strippers on Instagram Live and effectively lose their ESPN-gig shortly thereafter? Maybe so. And sure, — they probably could’ve handled it better, but could you blame someone for wanting to leave a job that isn’t an ideal fit?

Since retiring from basketball in 2017, Pierce had become a regular ESPN NBA Analyst, known primarily for being a seemingly anti-LeBron James pundit with a tendency to make you scratch your head with each passing syllable. But we’ve quickly forgotten how cold that dude was when he was on the court.

Pierce is one of the greatest scorers of his generation, who had already been averaging 25.3 points per game on 45 percent shooting from the field and 38 percent from three in his third NBA Season (2000-01). That was many years before we began caring about efficiency, and prior to the offensive NBA boom we’ve witnessed over the past five-to-10 years. Hand-checking was still around, and wasn’t regulated until 2004.

Pierce’s peak individual offensive years ran from 2000 through 2007, where he averaged 24.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game while shooting 44 / 36 / 79 splits en route to five All-Star appearances. In 2007, his Celtics traded for Ray Allen, and later Kevin Garnett, launching them into a 2008 NBA Title, a 2010 near-championship, and a run of contenderships in the second act of Pierce’s career, which ran from 2007 until the Celtics traded him, Garnett, and Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets in 2013. Pierce was the 2008 Finals MVP after averaging 21.8 points, 6.3 assists, and 4.5 rebounds per game in the six-game series win over Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Garnett, who himself was inducted in 2020, will even be presenting Pierce at the HOF ceremony.

The third and final act of his career (2013-2017) saw him toiling away on the Nets, Washington Wizards, and Los Angeles Clippers, but Pierce still managed to retire with 19.7 career points per game through 1,343 career contests. The 10-time All-Star is currently the 16th leading scorer in NBA history with 26,397 points, two ahead of John Havlicek and 99 behind Tim Duncan.

For his entire career, he shot 4.3 three-point attempts per game, which was 4.8 from in act one (2000-07), again, years before the three-point shot became the focal point it is today. You could do this with plenty of Hall of Famers, but imagine peak Pierce in this version of the NBA. Pierce could not only shoot, but he lived at the free throw line at a rate similar to many of today’s top stars. During his first act, he shot 8.8 free throw attempts per game, down to a still advanced 6.0 once he got help in act two. He’s even ninth all time in free throws made (6,918) and 14th in attempts (8,578).

He was, in some ways offensively, a prelude to some of the natural small forwards we see today utilized as tweeners, if not straight up fours, like fellow Celtic Jayson Tatum. Tatum, along with Jimmy Butler, and Luka Dončić, are who Pierce apparently sees himself in, so you could take that for what it’s worth.

He made four All-NBA teams (three third and one second) in his career. You could convincingly argue that he was the second best player at his position during the 2000s behind LeBron James, though Carmelo Anthony and Tracy McGrady would probably like a word. So regardless of what he did on ESPN, and how people may have grown less (or more?) fond of his post-playing career, he’s one of the most gifted and creative scorers we’ve ever seen in a game that, at the end of the day, is all about getting buckets when it matters most.


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