And the ranks of the sixth men grow deeper.
Paul Pierce has returned from his fractured hand for the Brooklyn Nets, but he didn't jump back into the starting lineup against his old squad. Instead, he helped take down the Boston Celtics off the bench, adding four points, three assists and seven rebounds to bounce back from injury in promising fashion.
Now, as Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News reports, it's a role that could become permanent, although nothing is firmly decided.
Pierce showed off his facilitating skills against the C's, and that type of versatility could allow him to continue providing a spark for the second unit. Rather than negating that aspect of his game by putting him alongside Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, it makes more sense to let him function as the do-everything offensive player off the bench.
At least until Andrei Kirilenko is both healthy and ready to make a positive impact.
Per Bondy, head coach Jason Kidd liked what he saw during Pierce's debut off the bench:
I liked him being a leader with that second group. Will it stay that way? I don’t know. We will look at the video tomorrow as a team and coaches. I will talk to Paul and see what his comfort level is, but I would like to get him back, give him more minutes and get him used to that glove.
And we already know that Pierce has a high comfort level, as he told Bondy that he'll do what's best for the team. A stock answer, sure. But it's hard to dispute what comes out of the mouth of this NBA veteran, especially since in the past he's always been about team play and winning basketball.
Believe it or not, this was only the fourth game in which Pierce has come off the bench throughout his entire career, one that started all the way back in 1998. Below you can see how his per-game numbers as a reserve compare to those he produces as a starter, courtesy of Basketball-Reference:
There's a huge disparity, and it's also worth noting that Pierce's team is only 1-3 when he comes off the bench. This was the first victory, and it came in the first game since 2006-07 that featured Pierce in a reserve role.
Paul Pierce checked in against the Celtics at 6:27 of the first. First time coming off the bench in six years.— Sean Deveney (@SeanDeveney) December 11, 2013
That said, we're working with an inordinately small sample size, and not many conclusions can be gleaned from four games, especially when they're spread out over his career and tend to feature him returning from injury.
What should Pierce's role be for the Nets?
Whether it's AK-47 or Alan Anderson starting at small forward, Pierce as a sixth man makes sense for the Nets. This is not a demotion, but rather a strategic move intended to promote winning basketball, an entity that has been scarily absent from the New York-based NBA teams in 2013-14.
It gives them a leader of the second unit, a man who can keep the points flowing when the starters need a rest. It gives them the ability to maximize Pierce's skills rather than create a redundancy next to D-Will and Johnson. That last part is important, as B/R's Zach Buckley writes that Williams is already running out of chances to be considered a star.
But above all else, it gives the Nets the ability to get back on track.