The Boston Celtics' 2012-13 season has not exactly gone as planned as the team has limped out to a 24-23 record and been bitten hard by the injury bug.
Still, it was quite a shock to many to see Paul Pierce's name omitted from the 2013 Eastern Conference All-Star reserves as the Celtics' captain has been having yet another strong all-around campaign.
For the season, Pierce is posting 18.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and four assists per game, although he is shooting just 42.2 percent from the floor and 34.6 percent from three-point range.
Logging 33.7 minutes of playing time per game, Pierce is currently leading the team in minutes with Rondo out for the year with an ACL injury. He has shuffled between the shooting guard, small forward and even power forward position well thanks to his shooting ability and tremendous basketball IQ.
However, Pierce has carried Boston for much of the year as Rajon Rondo has been in and out of the lineup and the team has struggled to find consistent bench production. Without the steady hand of the man known as "The Truth", the Celts would likely find themselves out of the postseason conversation entirely.
He has appeared in every contest for Boston and though his athleticism continues to erode, he remains an incredibly effective player.
In 2012-13, Pierce has posted six double-doubles through 47 games, as many as he posted in the whole 2011-12 season. He also notched a triple-double against the Miami Heat and has been able to adapt his game to suit whatever need the Celtics have.
One night he is excelling at the point-forward role running the pick-and-roll and finding open cutters, the next he is playing a more physical and aggressive game, focusing on rebounding and defending.
Although he has had more trouble creating his own offense and has worked as a catch-and-release shooter off screens with more regularity, Pierce remains a crafty, versatile scorer. He can make contested mid-range jumpers, knock down threes and use his herky-jerky off-the-dribble game to attack the hoop.
Pierce remains one of the best "in the clutch" players in the league. This season he has buried the New York Knicks, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers by canning tough, well-guarded shots either to give Boston a lead or to add a little cushion.
Even when Rondo was healthy, the Celtics still looked to Pierce down the stretch because of his ability to read a defense and make the right play.
Obviously some of the argument against Pierce comes from the lack of success Boston has had, but players like Kyrie Irving, LaMarcus Aldridge and Jrue Holiday were all selected despite having teams with fairly pedestrian records.
Many people will make the argument that the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry is the league's biggest All-Star snub, and there is certainly reason to make that argument, but one has to look at prospective All-Stars versus their in-conference competition.
In a brutal Western Conference, Curry lost out on guard spots to Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker, five guards who are having stellar seasons. Curry could have taken Aldridge's spot, but L.A. has led an unlikely Portland team to a position in the Western Conference's seventh or eighth seed despite their average record.
Although Curry is certainly an All-Star caliber player, it is not shocking that he was not selected for the team.
There is also the distinct possibility that with Tim Duncan nursing a knee and ankle injury, Curry receives a berth in his stead as the Big Fundamental rests in San Antonio.
Pierce's competition, on the other hand, was a bit more questionable. Chris Bosh, although he is out-rebounding Pierce and scoring far more efficiently, is averaging fewer points and assists while also playing the third-option role for the Miami Heat.
He is no doubt an upper-echelon player, but has not had thrown up the stellar games Pierce has this season and remains a decidedly mediocre defender.
Luol Deng is another questionable selection ahead of Pierce. The Chicago Bulls have been winning more games and Deng has played great defensively, but his 43.6 percent shooting from the floor is just a hair better than Pierce's and with the rise of Jimmy Butler, Deng has lost some of his title as Chicago's ultimate glue-guy.
An argument could even be made that, for what he has done on the offensive end of the floor, Pierce deserves the trip to Houston more than teammate Kevin Garnett, who is slated to start at the center position.
What Garnett does for Boston defensively, Pierce does offensively as he helps to space the floor, provides a sense of order and, of course, shines when the lights are brightest.
Obviously what Garnett brings to the defensive end is invaluable, but he has had trouble scoring and rebounding as effectively as he once did, while Pierce continues to chug along.
First-time selections like Tyson Chandler and Brook Lopez are both having strong seasons, Lopez in particular, but Pierce has been just as valuable to his team's success.
Pierce's PER of 18.43 is lower than it has been in recent years, but still ranks ahead of current All-Stars Deng (15.61), Joakim Noah (17.44) and Paul George (17.19),
Has Paul Pierce been playing the best basketball of his career? No, but the 10-time All-Star deserved an 11th selection in 2013.
Statistics accurate as of February 4th, 2013.
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