Are Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett Officially Done as NBA Superstars?

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Are Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett Officially Done as NBA Superstars?
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Brooklyn Nets added toughness and championship experience to their roster this summer when they pried Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce away from the Boston Celtics.

They did not, however, increase the size of their superstar collection.

The names sound impressive, but the stat sheet shows how much these former stars have lost to Father Time. Pierce, 36, has fallen dangerously close to the volume-scorer level. The 37-year-old Garnett has compounded problems he was brought in to fix: interior defense and mid-range offense.

With a bloated payroll, an aged roster and a pint-sized championship window, the Nets (3-7) don't have long to right their wrongs. If first-year coach Jason Kidd is waiting for a superstar's return from Garnett and Pierce, then owner Mikhail Prokhorov's $200 million dream has already burst.

Forget everything you think you know about KG and "The Truth." Those players no longer exist.

 

The Truth about "The Truth"

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Pierce left more than his legacy in Boston.

Maybe he held a feature scoring role for too long. Perhaps the fact that Pierce (21.0 usage rate) is seeing as much of Brooklyn's offense as Andray Blatche (21.7) is getting to him.

Once a dominant scorer, that's no longer a good descriptor for his offense. Inefficient, inconsistent and unimpressive would all be better options at this point.

It's not that he's still identifying his offensive role. His responsibilities are growing by the game. After averaging just 8.2 shots over his first five outings, he's fired up 12 in each of his last four.

While his activity has increased, his productivity has headed in the opposite direction. Quickly.

Two Seasons in One: Pierce's Sudden Fall
FGM FGA FG% 3PT%
First 5 Games 4.2 8.2 51.2 29.4
Last 4 Games 4.0 12.0 33.3 26.7

Basketball-Reference.com.

Athletes handle the aging process differently, some more gracefully than others. When the body no longer responds the way the mind wants it to, players have to adjust.

It's a process—the word of the year in Brooklyn by the way—Pierce told Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News he's still undergoing:

There’s going to be nights where I’m not going to get as good of shots as the last night’s. I’m just trying to find ways to contribute in other ways. The older I get, maybe more of the lesser role I’m going to play and it’s an adjustment and you have to be mentally prepared for it.

Even if Pierce is prepared for the unrelenting grip of aging, are Nets fans ready to respond the same? Do his teammates understand he's not the player he once was?

Ideally, this process is accompanied by patience. But swinging for the fences with Garnett and Pierce is anything but a patient approach.

Waiting is not an option.

While Garnett was brought on board to help elicit a culture change, Pierce had a more defined role. He was meant to be a constant scoring presence, the kind Joe Johnson's body won't allow him to be (12.8 points, 11.5 field-goal attempts per game) and the Nets don't always allow Brook Lopez to be:

Pierce's hand, though, has been anything but steady. His 41.6 field-goal percentage is his lowest mark in a decade. His three-point percentage (28.1) is the worst of his 15-year career.

The rest of his numbers fall somewhat in line with his career averages (5.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 0.8 steals). But decent rebounding, part-time distributing and petty theft does not equate to superstar production.

Pierce's calling card is his offensive output. Right now, the 10-time All-Star looks like he's out of minutes.

 

Problem Solver to Liability

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
KG looks like barely a shadow of his former self.

Garnett is worlds removed from his superstar days. He hasn't averaged 20 points or 10 rebounds since 2006-07 and had been held to lower than a 15-point average in three of the last four seasons.

But his fall has been far more dramatic than Pierce's. Forget All-Star talk; he doesn't even look like a competent NBA starter anymore.

His offense has been an unmitigated disaster. He's seeing 9.9 field-goal attempts a night and converting them to just 6.9 points. His 32.6 field-goal percentage is more than 13 points below his previous career low (46.0 in 1998-99).

His shot chart looks a campaign against speeding with a sea of red broken up by fleeting patches of yellow and green.

Captured via NBA.com.
KG's blood-red shot chart shows the full extent of his shooting woes.

Supporters will say he's so much more than a scorer. The box score would agree. Garnett's problems extend well beyond point production.

His turnover percentage (12.5) is tied as the second-highest mark of his career, despite his usage rate (22.8) falling well below his career average (25.1). He's tracked down as many offensive rebounds (1.1) as reserve point guard Shaun Livingston.

The opposite end, formerly a sanctuary for KG, has only shed more light on his current state.

Garnett's 105.6 defensive rating is the worst among Kidd's starters. Simply putting KG on the floor has resulted in a net loss of 12.3 points per 100 possessions.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
The 37-year-old has been a couple steps slow defensively.

Just one year removed from an All-Defensive second-team selection, the big man's been battered and bullied by the opposition. He's yielded a 19.8 player efficiency rating to opposing 4s and a 23.8 PER to 5s—league average is 15.0—via 82games.com.

Yes, this is the same player NBA.com's John Schuhmann called "the best defender of the last decade" over the summer. Only it's not that player.

This is an unfamiliar KG for NBA fans. Even when he was a wide-eyed, preps-to-pros rookie in 1995-96, he was still a double-digit scorer and a 49 percent shooter.

His superstar status has been revoked, but have Brooklyn's title hopes gone with it?

 

Saviors Turned Scapegoats

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

This all has the potential to turn really bad, really fast. Assuming, of course, that bridge hasn't already been crossed.

Jobs are on the line. Reputations are at stake.

Can KG and Pierce rebound from their sluggish starts?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Rather than shouldering some of the burden, the Nets holdovers may well turn on these new faces. According to Tim Bontemps of the New York Post, Brooklyn held a players-only meeting following its 108-98 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

With so much riding on the success of this season and a championship-or-bust grading scale in place, finger-pointing feels just around the corner. Accepting responsibility is tough; blaming someone else is the easy way out.

If the Nets are searching for a source of their problems, how long before their superstar imports come under the microscope?

Buyer's remorse can't salvage this season. Neither can heroic performances by Pierce and Garnett.

Their days of churning out game-changing efforts have come and gone. Their superstar windows are officially closed.

 

*Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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