Top 50: Paul Pierce, no. 27
The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.
Just prior to last season, the powers that be at the SLAM Dome tapped me to pen a Paul Pierce feature for the mag. That meant getting from New York City to Celtics media day in Waltham, MA—which, while extremely exciting, was on this particular day also nothing short of a travel nightmare.
Without re-hashing the gory details, I arrived at the Celtics practice facility with barely a wink of sleep over the previous 24 hours, ready to stake out Pierce no matter what. (I got a natural shot of adrenaline upon seeing Michael Sweetney’s cartoonishly round figure in person. Holy hamburgers!) When No. 34 finally emerged, I positioned myself directly in front of his solid 6-7 frame, boxed out a dozen Boston reporters and blurted out a few questions before getting lost in the scrum.
Pierce was loose, relaxed and as always, poorly shaven during his media availability. He walked away after joking about his age, and asking aloud “When did Bird retire?”—which is roughly the moment I realized I’d have to go back to the lab and sum up the career of a living legend in a few thousand words.
That was prior to 2012, when the surefire Hall of Famer was said to be nearing his last go-round (along with the rest of the Celtics’ Big Three).
All he did last year—his 14th in the League—was bump his scoring a half-point (to 19.4 ppg), average the most assists he has since leading Boston to the ‘08 title (4.5 apg) and bring the Cs to the brink of an NBA Finals appearance before dropping Game 7 of the ECF to Miami. And pass Larry Bird for second on the Celtics’ all-time scoring list. And join John Havlicek and Robert Parrish as the only players to log more than 1,000 games in a Celtic uniform. All as a 34-year-old, in a lockout-condensed season they said favored young legs.
Is it possible for a first-ballot Hall of Famer to be underrated? Overlooked? To be unfairly pushed aside because he’s a modern player wearing the jersey of one of the League’s most storied franchises?
The question came up this summer on a walk to get a sandwich one day with a few members of the SLAM fam. And while I’d tend to say Yes, it’s perhaps an irrelevant question, at least to Pierce himself.
Because it’s not one that he’s probably ever considered.
His signature sneaker line isn’t the most popular (yes, it does exist). Kids don’t scream his name when they put up a game-winner like they do others (even though, in clutch terms, they probably should). He’s not a fashion trendsetter (alright, so he wore the thick-rimmed glasses once). Shit, dude’s rocked that stubble for a decade-plus without half the pushback of LeBron’s hairline or Ant Davis’ unibrow.
I get it though; we’re not here to debate career stats, lifetime resumes, or facial hair.
This is about ’12-13—year 15 for The Truth. A year in which Paul will once again, like clockwork, lead the Celtics in scoring, earn an All-Star bid and take the big shots in the big spots for Boston.
Quick tangent: How many shots are more patented in the L right now than Pierce’s pump fake, get the defender in the air, draw the foul joint from the top of the key? And why was that PP’s go-to move for two points even a decade before he was considered a wily vet? And most of all, why can’t opponents stop falling for it?
Simple and plain, Paul Pierce produces. Night in, night out, he puts in work.
On a list of the NBA’s most exciting players, Pierce might not crack the Top 100. But while many of the players we rank ahead of him this year will outshine him in well, shine factor, Pierce will quietly position his team in the top half of the Eastern Conference with numbers fitting of a Top-5 Celtic of All Time, despite sometimes looking like he couldn’t jump over a quarter or out-sprint Dick Bavetta.
See how I slipped that in there? Top-5, Top-10, wherever you like Pierce in your personal rankings of Boston Celtics, there ought to be a conversion table that automatically slides him from that list into this one, with a free pass into the Top 30. Right?
Numbers aside, what Pierce has lost in athleticism, he’s more than made up for in wits, savvy and just straight up having played more ball than most of the guys who line up against him. And, with the help of an energetic, young pass-first point guard and the Most Intense Man in the World, he just may take the Cs on one more post-season adventure.
|SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012|
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.