Paul Pierce is still an effective player. When it comes to an all-time appraisal of Pierce, he's underrated, excellent.
He's also (finally) showing the ravages of age. We don't have a great means of understanding how age can impact a player with an "old man's game." When Steve Nash lost some of his speed last season, few took notice because he was never fast in the first place.
Relative speed does matter for the less athletic players. Just because a star gets along well at two MPH, doesn't mean he can be near the same guy at one MPH.
Paul Pierce can shoot well, and he relies on change-of-pace dribbling. This has always been true, but that recipe isn't quite leading to the same results as before.
This season, Paul Pierce is putting up his worst true shooting mark in a decade at .537 percent. One notable difference is, a decade ago, Pierce got to the free-throw line three more times per 36 minutes than he does today.
I was actually most struck by Paul Pierce's decline on a rather successful play. The savvy veteran gave Boston the go-ahead bucket in an intense double-overtime win over the Miami Heat on Sunday, and all I could do was marvel at how balky it all seemed.
Credit to Pierce for hitting the jumper, but his movements leading up to it were positively Frankensteinian. The shot release itself took a full second and he had almost no room for the release. He looks, even in his best moments, old out there.
Contrast that with a similar go-ahead Paul Pierce bucket, this one against the Chicago Bulls in the 2009 playoffs.
He doesn't get a lot of separation, because the basket comes off one-on-one play, but the movements leading up to the shot are so much cleaner. Also, the shot itself comes a bit quicker off Pierce's hands, to the tune of a half second.
To be clear, Pierce hasn't suffered a sudden, dramatic decline. Back in 2007-2008, more than 34 percent of his shots came at the rim. Today, that number is only down to a little over 29 percent.
As they say about aging, it happens little by little, then all at once. We might still be in the "little by little" phase of Paul's career, but he might be nearing the "all at once" phase.
We will get a better sense of it now, with Rajon Rondo out for the year. The offense will often have to run through Paul Pierce, someone who's scored 62 percent of his baskets off assists this season.
We're about to see Paul Pierce go back in the time machine, back to when he had to create most of his own shots. The results might not be pretty, based on how he's looking when he does it.