Is Paul Pierce the NBA's Third-Best Player?

John P. WiseContributor IIIMay 31, 2010

BOSTON - MAY 28:  Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics reacts against the Orlando Magic in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on May 28, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts.  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 Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

If LeBron James is the reigning two-time MVP and Kobe Bryant is going for his fifth NBA championship, what do we do with Paul Pierce?

Surely I considered him one of the better forwards in the NBA prior to the 2007-08 season. Then, after watching him lead the Big Three and the Celtics to the NBA championship that year, it was difficult not to consider Pierce an elite player.

And he's struck again this postseason. After a pair of lukewarm games early in the Cleveland series, Pierce got back on track and carried the Cs to the Eastern Conference semifinal-round triumph.

And he was just as dominant in the conference finals at Orlando, leading visiting Boston to a pair of wins in Games 1 and 2, then saving his best effort for the sixth and final game of the series in which he had 31 points and 13 rebounds in a blowout of the Magic.

Pierce can beat you many ways on the offensive end. He's got good enough range to be considered a serious threat from three-point range, he can knock down the mid-range elbow jumper, he can slash or at least craft his way to the basket, and he can bang underneath for some garbage scraps. He truly is a quadruple threat, and he's not a bad defender on the other end. And though he never smiles, he plays with huge heart and passion and that does matter.

While the NBA's great debate continues to ask one simple question—LeBron or Kobe?—I think it's time we start to recognize that Pierce just might be the league's third-best player.