The news of Paul Pierce joining the Wizards couldn't be more startling for reasons that have very little to do with the idea that a future Hall of Famer is choosing to possibly end his career here.
It's startling because no one saw this coming. Wizards management knows how to keep their intentions under wraps, and this is just the latest example. This is straight out of left field and nowhere near Randy Wittman's neck of the woods. His offense has more or less been a traditional attack centered around John Wall's dribble-drive game and the multi-faceted ability of his two starting big men. And his defense, finishing top-10 in efficiency two years running, consists of a string of rotations from his wings while his big men corral ball handlers in the lane.
This signing goes against a lot of that. Pierce may have very well extended his career past it's original expiration date the second Jason Kidd unleashed him as a small-ball power forward two months into last season. With so many weapons on offense and no shortage of players capable of taking defenders off-the-dribble, the focus shifts to Randy Wittman, who has a very interesting dilemma on his hands.
How was Pierce so effective on offense last season?
What made Brooklyn such an interesting case study last season was their roster makeup. They had multiple players that could pass, dribble and shoot, all of whom spent time playing out of position. But what made them so potent was that all of them could play out of the post.
Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston created mismatches all over the floor. Both have size advantages over their point guard counterparts, and they had the entire paint to operate from due to the collection of shooters on the roster. Defenses had to pick their poison. Leave your point guard defender on an island and either Williams or Livingston backed him down for two points. Send help, and they kicked it out to the perimeter, triggering a series of rotations as they whip it around before getting the ball to Pierce or Johnson.
Pierce is hardly even quicker than most power forwards at this stage in his career, but he's had plenty of practice being the slower guy. Even in his prime, he rarely had the athletic advantage over his opponents, yet he always found a way to attack. Few were better at getting to the free throw line, and he's already mastered the art of the pull-up jumper. His shot fake is lethal against hard closeouts and his footwork is second to none once he gets into the lane.
Now, he's slowly taking the next step in his evolution. He was a 39 percent spot up shooter from deep last season and 43 percent in transition, per Synergy Sports. No one expected his game to age this well.
How was he on defense?
The Nets imposed themselves on teams with their length, walking a fine line between trapping pick and rolls and dropping the big man back into the lane, a practice Grantland's Zach Lowe highlighted in his piece earlier in the year.
Playing so many different iterations of small lineups will inevitably leave you at a disadvantage, and Pierce was almost always at the forefront of them. He knows where to position himself on pick and rolls and does a good job leveraging his body against larger opponents, but after so many years of wear and tear, he'll struggle. The Nets were second to only the Clippers last season for the lowest rebounding rate in the league.
The question is if he can shift back to a more traditional setting. The Nets were a train wreck on both ends of the floor when Lopez was healthy and Pierce playing the 3. He wasn't quick enough to defend small forwards full-time last year, which could be problematic if Washington isn't able to fall back on Otto Porter.
Will Wittman go small?
Two things are clear at the moment: Washington must look to taper down Nene's minutes and they must go small in order to get the most out of their latest investment.
What isn't clear is if Wittman fully commits to small-ball. His offense has long been too traditional and with too much structure. Granted, he's never had the personnel to do much else, but giving him the full benefit of the doubt would be selling this team short. They hatched ways to accentuate John Wall's passing ability over the top of defenses by dragging out bigs to the perimeter in order to free up shooters into the corners, but it never really extended beyond that.
One reason for it is Wittman's refusal to go small. This team has taken on Wittman's defense-first mentality, and he wasn't going to sacrifice it for the good of the offense. Whether it was the right decision or not in the long run is up for debate, but now, they have an aging Nene on his last legs to tend to in the next two years.
Big-picture, though, this is still is almost a perfect fit between Pierce and the Wizards. There's some concerns over how he operates away from the ball in Washington's corner-centric offense -- Pierce has hardly done any damage from the corners in his career, and prefers off-the-dribble threes to catch-and-shoots. But that's also, in a way, what makes this signing so great. Some variance never hurts, and Washington can definitely use his shotmaking ability in crunch time.
It's all up to Randy Wittman to put the pieces together, and doing so is no easy task.