Paul Pierce: Underrated and Underappreciated
After last season, Pierce made the bold statement that he was the single best player in the league.
"I don't think Kobe is the best player," he said. "I'm the best player. There's a line that separates having confidence and being conceited. I don't cross that line but I have a lot of confidence in myself."
Now I'm not going to agree with Pierce, because putting him on the level of either Kobe or LeBron James wouldn't be fair to any of the three players, but he is a lot closer than the average basketball fan believes.
Just look at his career. Pierce's teams have always had a tendency to overacheive. Whereas supposed superstars like Tracy McGrady (and even Kevin Garnett for most of his career) failed to lead their teams past the first round, Pierce's Celtics never failed to advance past where their talent level would indicate they should.
Don't believe me? Then let's go to the cold, hard facts. In 2001-2002, Pierce's Celtics had a starting five of Pierce, Antoine Walker, Tony Battie, Eric Williams, and Kenny Anderson.
Now let's talk about that lineup.
Antoine, as it was known then and has become even more evident since, was always an inefficient, volume scorer. While he was a good player then, he was far from great and always had incredibly bad shot selection.
Besides Antoine, though, none of those guys were anywhere near productive. In fact, none of the other starters even averaged double figure scoring (Don't believe me? Check it out).
They were tough, scrappy players, but that team was not a team that should have been very good. Do you know how far that team made it? The Conference Finals. And I'll tell you this much: It wasn't because of Eric Williams.
The next year? The Celtics lost Kenny Anderson and "retooled" in the draft, drafting J.R. Bremer to assume starting point guard duties (Note: I'm not making this up. He actually started).
The Celtics were starting a rookie point guard who was out of the league just a few years later, for God's sake. Pierce and Walker were the only double digit scorers. They couldn't have possibly even made the playoffs with a starting lineup of Pierce, Walker, Williams, Battie and Bremer.
Well, they did. Not only did they make the playoffs, they beat an Indiana Pacers team in the first round that started Reggie Miller, Ron Artest, Brad Miller, Al Harrington and Jermaine O'Neal (By the way, they had five double digit scorers, compared to the Celtics' two).
As I said, Pierce's teams have always overachieved.
Pierce has been the rare player who can raise his teammates play and will his teams to victories. Time and time again, Celtics fans have seen Pierce admirably put his team on his back and refuse to let them lose. While other players have gotten more publicity, Pierce has quietly been a superstar in this league.
His ability to score big buckets for his team has finally been well-chronicled after the Celtics' championship run last year.
Many people called Garnett the Celtics best player and MVP last year, and maybe he was, but it was Pierce who came through when the Celtics needed him.
It was Pierce who carried the Celtics on his back with 41 huge points in the Cavaliers Game Seven, an enormous fourth quarter to overcome Detroit in Game Six, and a dominant series, offensively and defensively, in the Finals.
The NBA championship finally gave Pierce the credit he deserved, but he has always been able to put his team on his back and carry them to victory, whether his team needs scoring or anything else.
When his teams need it the most, Paul Pierce almost never fails to deliver. We've all seen it time and time again; throughout his whole career, Pierce has a history of making big shots.
In fact, we almost all know when it's coming by now. We see him get the ball at the top of the key and the rest of the Celtics clear out. We know exactly what he's going to do, and I'm sure his defenders do, too. A dribble or two to the right, stutter step to get his defender on his heels, fadeaway jumper, swish.
The man takes and makes big shots and leads his team to victories, something very few players in the NBA can say.
Now, I see why Pierce doesn't get his fair due. On the court, he doesn't look nearly as smooth as Kobe Bryant, doesn't have the astounding athleticism of James, nor the great shooting touch of Dirk Nowitzki.
He doesn't make the "wow" pass like Steve Nash, and he's not going to throw down thunderous dunks like Amare Stoudemire. No, Pierce doesn't have the prettiest game. A lot of people judge a book by its cover, and don't respect Pierce because he doesn't look as good on the court as those other guys.
Not me. Give me the guy who makes his team better. Give me the guy who pushes his team to the next level. Give me the guy who has repeatedly allowed his teams to surpass expectations. Give me the guy you want to be in the trenches with come playoff time. Give me "The Truth".
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