Another day, another injury to the Brooklyn Nets.
After bringing together what appeared to be a super-team (do those ever work?), Brooklyn has been absolutely decimated by health issues.
Deron Williams (ankle) and Andrei Kirilenko (back spasms) are out indefinitely, and Jason Terry (bruised knee) is also hurt. Brook Lopez is just getting back from his own ankle issues, and Kevin Garnett has shown some figurative gray hair early on in 2013-14.
Some super-team, huh?
And while Pierce’s age has been evident—he’s put up a career-low 12.4 points per game in 15 games—his absence from the team will hurt. But it might actually help Brooklyn down the road.
Pierce’s leadership role
It’d be very easy for the Nets to freak out right now. Injuries have plagued every key player not named Joe Johnson, they’ve gotten smacked around both at home and on the road and Jason Kidd’s lack of coaching experience has been exposed.
While Pierce and Garnett are years removed from being able to carry the team offensively, they are invaluable leaders. And when they don’t panic, the rest of the team doesn’t.
On November 21, after slipping to 3-8, Pierce silenced all of that panic nonsense, as quoted by Newsday writer Robert Boone:
Nah, no panic. I know we are going to get better. Obviously, it's all talk right now. But we've got to go out there and do it. But I feel confident in this group. It's a lot of positive things going on every day.
There's no finger pointing. There's no whispering in this locker room. We don't allow that. So, I feel confident this group is going to continue to get better.
He’ll still be on the sidelines, but Pierce’s absence will be felt if only for his leadership. Players look up to him, and for good reason—the Truth is a 10-time All-Star and a former NBA champion. His voice and leadership on the court will be sorely missed.
How Brooklyn’s on-court performance is effected
Those days of dropping 20-plus points a night are over for Pierce. But, make no mistake about it, he can still play
Pierce is like that older guy at the park—the one who isn’t as athletic or physically gifted as those younger bucks, but can still take them to school with impeccable fundamentals and superior basketball IQ.
The Truth scored or exceeded 15 points in six of his first 15 contests with Brooklyn but has yet to eclipse 20 points. His shooting percentages are also way down. Pierce is connecting on nearly 37 percent of his attempts from the field, and has a sub-27 clip from beyond the arc.
A temporary seat on the bench isn’t the worst thing in the world for both Pierce and the Nets, in regards to on-court performance.
Pierce is no longer a superstar, but he's had to try to play like one with injuries to D-Will, Lopez, Terry and Kirilenko.
If Brooklyn can get healthy and develop some flow to the offense with the Truth on the bench, it’d be easier to lessen his role offensively once he returns than it would be to simply demote him.
Candidates to (temporarily) replace Pierce
In the next two to four weeks, someone is going to have to step up.
Since November 16, Andray Blatche has given the Nets over 15 points and five rebounds a game and has had a PER (Player Efficiency Rating), of 18.18 through the first 18 games of the season. Pierce’s rating in 15 games has been 12.07.
To shed some light on how good Blatche has been, Tim Duncan’s PER is currently 18.94.
Four inches taller, 25 pounds heavier and nine years younger than Pierce, Blatche is a good fit to step in while the Truth nurses his broken hand. Even if he doesn’t start, Blatche will surely be able to fill the gap in frontcourt production.
Pierce’s injury also gives Brooklyn the chance to see what they really have in Mirza Teletovic, a Yugoslavian three-point shooter who erupted for 35 points (7-13 3PT) in a pair of games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets in late November.
Kidd is really going to be able to play with different lineups with Pierce out and may develop a more effective way to use him once he gets healthy.
The bottom line
Along with Garnett, Pierce is the team’s biggest leader, and he will be sorely missed in that department.
But Blatche and Teletovic will be able to expand their roles on offense while he’s on the sidelines, and this little break will probably end up benefiting Pierce as well as the Nets in the long run.
And that’s the Truth.