Celtics forward Paul Pierce has long been a candidate to rank among the game's best when he decides to hang up his sneakers.
Breaking the 20,000 point barrier last night is just another in a long line of accomplishments in The Truth's storied run as an NBA star.
While Pierce's career is far from over and he intends on adding another championship to his resume in 2010-2011, now is the perfect time discuss his place in the annals of the NBA.
Where does Paul Pierce rank among NBA greats? Following are reasons why he's near the top.
When asked last night how it felt to get his 20,000th point as a member of the Celtics, Pierce shook his head and seemed to hold back tears.
He talked of how just a few years earlier, it seemed his career in Boston was coming to an end. People forget that before the Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in the summer of 2007, Pierce was an aging star on a rebuilding team.
Sensing he didn't have time to wait for youngsters like Rajon Rondo and Al Jefferson to develop into the players they are today, PP demanded a trade if the front office couldn't turn them into a winner. The rest is history.
Despite his public request to be dealt, Pierce never wanted to leave Boston, and it showed in his emotional postgame interview last night. In identifying Pierce's place in league history, it is important to note he'll have played his entire career as a Boston Celtic.
After pouring in 25 last night, Pierce now ranks 36th among the most prolific scorers in league history, having totaled 20,005 points for his career.
Pierce's playing days are far from over, and if he plays at a reasonable fraction of how he is now for the remainder of his contract, he'll eclipse 23,000 points and assuredly rank no lower than 20th.
While points scored is obviously not the only way to judge an NBA player, it is certainly a positive for Pierce in determining his place in league annals.
In a world of ifs and buts, the Celtics are a stone's throw away from having won the last three NBA titles.
Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and company won a championship in 2008, fell just short in Game 7 last season and were without Garnett in the 2009 playoffs. People fail to realize just how dominant Boston has been since the Big Three's inception. If all had gone right for the Celtics over the last three seasons, they'd rank as one of the true dynasties in league history.
As Captain and crunch time scorer of this Celtics group, Pierce has been as influential as any player in determining the annual NBA champion since 2007. Additionally, he remade his game when Garnett and Allen came aboard, sacrificing the offensive load and rededicating himself as an elite defender.
When we look back on the dominant Big Three era, it's likely that Pierce's face will be the one that first comes to mind.
Since Pierce entered the league in 1998, elite perimeter scorers have come and gone. Vince Carter, Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady and Jerry Stackhouse are just a few of the players still active who are a shell of their former selves.
Pierce, meanwhile, has seemingly been the same player since his evolution into one of the game's best in 2000. He still has one of the game's best mid-range jumpers, still uses a quick first step and understanding of angles to get to the rack and still has the strength to back down opponents and be effective midpost. One could argue that he is a better player today than he was a decade ago.
Pierce and Kobe Bryant are the only players of that ilk who remain elite forces today. Staying power, consistency and longevity is vital to a player's place in history, and it's yet another positive for Pierce.
The only Boston greats that have scored more points than Pierce are John Havlicek and Larry Bird. Clearly, he is among some pretty elite company.
The Celtics are the most storied franchise in league history. Names like Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Dave Cowens, JoJo White, Kevin McHale, Cedric Maxwell and Robert Parish are there with Hondo and Basketball Jesus among Boston greats.
Pierce is clearly worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as those above. In fact, it is arguable that he is the third-greatest Celtic ever, just behind Russell and Bird. Obviously, he's elite.
His place in Boston lore enough is reason to rank him among the game's all-time legends.
2000s Era Wings
- Pierce, generally, ranks anywhere from 45-75 according to most experts. If he wins another title and perhaps a Finals MVP, he could vault to the game's top 40, and certainly a top 10 SG.