Even though the Wizards were coming off what was one of the most exciting regular season victories they have had in the post-Gilbert Arenas era last Wednesday, there was also at least one critic and perhaps many more that were silenced with Bradley Beal's heroic efforts.
Over the past several months, many NBA pundits have talked about how the Wizards would regress from last year's 46-36 season and second round playoff appearance. On the surface, it is plausible that regression could happen. But for anyone who regularly follows the team, it is quite honestly an extremely uninformed and lazy argument.
Here are three reasons why:
1. It discredits the fact that the same core of players minus Pierce got to the same exact position in the 2013-14 NBA season.
A huge shout out goes to Trevor Ariza who played very well as the starting lineup's 3 and D player for a couple of years, but let's not forget the impact he provided when he was in D.C.
No, the Wizards did not sweep the first round in 2013-14. But they did beat a heavily favored Chicago Bulls team 4-1. If Nene -- arguably the Wizards best player that series -- wasn't ejected in Game 3, who knows? Maybe they could have swept them too.
Outside of that, the Wizards dominated the series with excellent defense and timely shots. Certainly, Ariza played an important part in the success of that team, but we were constantly told that having Paul Pierce would be an upgrade over him, and yet we still had the same postseason result.
2. It ignores the overall body of work and instead focuses on few, yet spectacular, big shots in the playoffs.
Let me preface this by saying, I love Paul Pierce and his heroics in the playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks is one for the ages. The Truth is clearly a Hall of Famer, a legend in this league and one of the best players of the late 1990's and 2000's.
But with that said, we did not get THAT player last year. What we got was a declining veteran who had career low numbers in a number of key statistics like playing time and scoring. He also struggled against more athletic opponents at times, struggled playing on back-to-back nights, and whose play dipped after the All-Star break.
During the 2014-15 season, Pierce had an individual offensive rating of 103.6 and a defensive rating of 98.6. Here is how the rest of his numbers break down and how they compare to John Wall's:
|Regular Season Off Rtg||Regular Season Def Rtg||Back to Back Off Rtg||Back to Back Def Rtg||Post All-Star Off Rtg||Post All-Star Def Rtg|
Numbers from NBA.com
When you compare Pierce's numbers to Wall's, it's clear that the team's play on the defensive end did not dip nearly as much when Wall was on the floor as opposed to Pierce (of course not mutually exclusive). This gives a clear illustration that Pierce was not as effective or as much of a key cog for this team as the media portrays. You can also argue that his offensive play definitely helped the team, even if it was just the attention he received but with the dip in defense, it's unclear if his impact was truly a net positive.
3. It discounts the improvements that the team has made after he left.
The Wizards have improved their bench by adding veterans like Jared Dudley, Alan Anderson and Gary Neal. None of these players are Paul Pierce, but they do bring much-needed elements to the team that was lacking bench scoring, a small-ball 4 and outside shooting.
Of course, who can forget to mention the improved play of the Wizards' two young star guards, John Wall and Bradley Beal? Certainly those two have shown that they can at least do a little more to fill the void that was left by Pierce.
The skinny: Appreciate Pierce for what he did, but he was never going to be a savior
So how should we objectively view Paul Pierce's time in Washington? He was professional, he was entertaining, he was a leader who instilled a confidence that can only be contributed from a championship pedigree. But his impact on this team is not nearly as tangible as some might want you to believe.
There may be moments like what we saw on Wednesday that we could certainly debate if he impacted the confidence of players like Beal to hit such a big shot. But the reality is that it's going to be hard to find tangible evidence that losing Pierce left the team in a worse spot this year.
When we look back at the 2014-15 season here in Washington, we should appreciate the confidence that Pierece has given this team. However, we should also understand that his biggest impact didn't necessarily have to do what he did on the court. For all the amazing game-winning shots (or close to game winning shots), we still need to remember that we received an all-time great past his prime. And it was to both sides' short and long term best interest that Pierce played in a Wizards uniform for just one year.
Simply put, Paul Pierce improved the Washington Wizards. But keeping him beyond one season was never going to take them further in the postseason than they already have.