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

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 19, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 09:  Paul Pierce #34 of the Brooklyn Nets walks downcourt in front of Kevin Garnett #2 during the fourth quarter against the Indiana Pacers at Barclays Center on November 9, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Pacers defeat the Nets 96-91. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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"

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

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
FGMFGAFG%3PT%
First 5 Games4.28.251.229.4
Last 4 Games4.012.033.326.7
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

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

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.

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

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.

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

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

BROOKLYN, NY - July 18: Kevin Garnett #2, Paul Pierce #34, and Jason Terry #31 of the Brooklyn Nets speak to media during a press conference at the Barclays Center on July 18, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly ac
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.

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.