2013-2014 Key Stats
Games played, started: 75, 68
Total minutes, per game: 2098, 20.8
Total points, per game: 1010, 13.5
Assists per game: 2.4
Steals per game: 1.1
I’d removed the bandages from my Wizards playoff exit wounds. I’d recovered. I was optimistic. My team is going somewhere, I’d say to myself.
This is a good team.
The rebuild has actually come to an end.
But a little bit of me was sad. And worried. Trevor Ariza, who’d been tied to rumors since the season began to wind down, was there – but he seemingly wasn’t. Did he really want to return to the West to play? Was the talk about wanting to keep his family stable really genuine? How much title potential did he see in Washington?
And then it happened: Trevor took off for Houston.
So a day later, I’m in a bar, almost drunk. Sportscenter is on a 70 inch TV, illuminating the ice in my drink, but I’m not really looking at it. As a Wizards fan, you grow accustomed to your team not being a major player in free agency. You get the low-hanging fruit. You get the rehab projects. You get Hilton Armstrong.
I raised my head to signal for another vodka & tonic and . . .
On the left column of the screen, I saw highlighted the headline “Paul Pierce Agrees to Two-Year Deal with Wizards”. On the right side of the screen, I saw a montage of Pierce highlights and his headshot.
I stood from my bar stool, burped, and started smiling. I folded my arms, really content, not giving a damn whose view of the TV I blocked.
This was incredible news.
I was happy.
The Best and Worst of 2013-14
To say the worst thing about a player’s season involved being on a team that made it to the second round of the playoffs sounds asinine. But let’s be honest: the Brooklyn Nets were kind of a mess last season, and Pierce unfortunately was mired in it. The Boston Celtics jettisoned Pierce and Kevin Garnett to break the ice on their rebuilding effort, and there were grumblings around the league that Pierce – who lots assumed would be a lifelong Celtic – just didn’t want to play in Brooklyn; not even with the fanfare of a “new” franchise. The Nets had a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd, who after a slow start with a talented roster, many assumed would be fired sometime around Thanksgiving. He caught a DWI charge, appeared lost until 2014 started, and alienated a talented assistant in Lawrence Frank, which led to Frank’s eventual contract buyout.
He also did stuff like this:
But Pierce, the consummate professional, played well in his 16th season, averaging a solid 13.5 points per game. And while Pierce’s overall numbers don’t jump out at you, they’re remarkable considering that Jason Kidd’s lineups were in flux until the team got on track and geared up for its playoff run.
Speaking of the playoffs, here’s what everyone remembers:
That’s Pierce, coming up with a game-saving blocked shot, during game 7 of the first round of the playoffs. That’s Pierce taking the air out of a fan base who was elated about being in the postseason, and clasping the mouth of an owner who very boisterously said fuck you to the borough of Brooklyn.
And if you needed a reminder of how well he still plays:
In sum, Paul Pierce is still good. Really good.
Trevor’s Void, Lineup Creativity, Late Game Heroics
Trevor Ariza was instrumental to the Wizards’ success last season, both in regular and postseason play. He enjoyed somewhat of a career renaissance, shooting a fantastic 41% from three point range and notching his second highest points per game average of his career (14.4). On the other side of the ball, however, was where Ariza was most impactful, averaging 1.6 steals per game and always taking the toughest defensive assignment.
With that production gone, now what? Offensively, we shouldn’t be at all concerned. Throughout his career, Pierce has shown a skill set that allows him to compensate for lack of highlight reel athleticism with a penchant for creating space, getting off shots over defenders, and utilizing superb footwork. His step back jumper is still almost unstoppable:
Defensively, there may be a bit of a drop off with Pierce as the new starting small forward, but not a wholesale gap. Pierce and Ariza have different defensive toolboxes, so it will be incumbent on the coaching staff to develop schemes to not only continue building on the team’s strengths, but also mask Pierce’s lack of lateral quickness.
Not to be overlooked here, too, is the role that Otto Porter – Pierce’s primary backup – can assume immediately. Under key mentorship, Porter’s attributes can be used to not only defensively anchor the team’s second unit, but also spell Pierce in some situations, allowing the coaching staff to keep Paul’s minutes reasonably in check.
In Brooklyn last season, Jason Kidd shuffled his players until he discovered a starting five that was the most productive. Surprisingly, that lineup involved Paul Pierce starting at the power forward position – something he hadn’t been accustomed to before in his career. With Pierce starting in the front court alongside Kevin Garnett, the Nets at one point were one of the most efficient teams in the NBA, boasting the second highest net rating.
With a clear starting power forward, and a plethora of reserves, Pierce won’t be relied upon to play the same role in Washington, but Randy Wittman will have a new tool to help expand the team’s playbook. Pierce averaged a very respectable 51% shooting from 2-point range last season, and he possesses the physical bulk to at the very least slow players fighting to get on the block. Wittman can also use Pierce sparingly to stretch the floor when the team goes small.
Late Game Heroics
While it may be difficult to ascribe a figure to it, we can safely assume that the Wizards lost several games last season due to efficiency breakdowns. Whether starting slow, giving up late game runs, or missing key stops, Washington became the team that looked to be 50-game winner, but ultimately underachieved.
Enter Pierce, who will be one of the more senior players on the team, expected to keep focused a team whose core players are both under the age of 25. The Wizards will benefit from Piece’s counsel on late game schemes, spacing, big shots, and overall mental fortitude, especially in harsh environments.
Let’s Get Excited
Sam Cassell’s last gift to the Wizards before taking off for the Clippers was convincing Paul Pierce to come be a part of a Washington team that is on the verge of being a perennial player in the East. Pierce saw it, too. In what could be the final two years of his playing career, Paul eschewed other contenders around the league and the future Hall of Fame player chose to make Washington his new home. That’s highly noteworthy. Free agents of that caliber usually don’t have their agents field calls from the Wizards.
Last week, Pierce said he’s ready to “[beat] up” opposing team when they come to the Verizon Center. “Hey, we got to protect home court,” he said.
With expectations as high in Washington as they’ve been since the Big Three era, Pierce and the Wizards aren’t close to backing down.