As we have seen in the free agency circus of 2015, thanks to DeAndre Jordan, verbal contracts aren’t exactly binding during the NBA moratorium. So, when Paul Pierce and the Los Angeles Clippers agreed to a three year deal on July 1st, it wasn’t exactly a foregone conclusion that he'd actually follow through with this. It did become binding, however, on July 10th when Pierce signed on the dotted line. As we all know, Pierce is a longtime NBA veteran who has a penchant for the dramatic and produces in big spots. That’s part of the reason why the Clippers went after him so hard. In this edition of the Clippers Film Room, we’re going to take a look back at this most recent season from Paul Pierce and see what, if anything, he can provide.
Suffice it to say that Paul Pierce is a "what you see is what you get" type of player. You know you’re going to get a guy who can make super tough shots, make clutch shots, and is just an all-around scorer. He can score in semi-post up situations by backing smaller defenders in far enough to get a stepback shot off against them when they least expect it and can’t recover fast enough. He can score in spot-up situations, either from the mid-range or corners, and can also get to the rim and finish. But, with the Clippers, he’s going to have a similar role to what Matt Barnes recently had. The only difference will be that Pierce can get his own shot easier than Barnes was able to. This gives the Clippers some leeway offensively when things get bogged down.
Last season with the Clippers, Matt Barnes had 394 of his regular season field goal attempts occur when a defender was at least four feet away from him. Those are labeled as "open shots." 330 of those 394 shots were three point attempts. To put it into simpler terms, 63.75 percent of Barnes’s field goal attempts last year were classified as "open shots" and 88.95 percent of his three point attempts fit that very same bill. He made just 35.45 percent of his open threes. While that’s not a bad number, it’s still not a great number. Paul Pierce, on the other hand, had only 297 of his regular season field goal attempts come with a defender at least four feet away. That comes out to 45.27 percent. Of the 304 three point attempts he hoisted, 69.74 percent (212) were listed as "open shots." Pierce made 42.45 percent of those open threes.
It’s never as simple as a "plug-and-play" mentality might try to make it seem, but Pierce does fit into what the Clippers do well. In fact, he could even improve the Clippers offense; something that seems insane to even imagine considering how fantastic they’ve been the last couple seasons. While a seven percent increase in three point percentage on open shots doesn’t seem entirely drastic, the bigger number here is that Pierce might be able to somewhat bridge that 19 percent gap in open three point attempts between him and Barnes. Because of the attention that guys like Blake Griffin, J.J. Redick, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Jordan draw from opposing defenses, Pierce might be able to roam free on the perimeter and beyond the arc just a tad more than he did last year. Now when the Clippers run their middle pick-and-roll, the weakside corner shooter is Paul Pierce. It creates a perplexing situation for defenses; do you leave Pierce open or do you let the roll man get a freer look at the hoop? Welcome to the question that’ll haunt teams. With that said, let’s look at some footage.
Film Room starts off with a fairly basic premise for offense. The Washington Wizards are playing against the Cleveland Cavaliers and John Wall brings the ball up into the frontcourt whilst being defended by Kyrie Irving. Pierce curls around the top of the arc and receives the ball from Wall before passing back after turning down a Nene screen. Wall catches and goes with a quick dribble to his right that is aided by a screen. Wall gets into the paint and the weakside defender here, which is none other than LeBron James, gets caught watching both Wall and the roll man. James is late to react and all Pierce does is here is fade into the corner for a wide open three that he casually knocks down. Motion, multiple screens, pick-and-roll, and an open three. This is stuff the Clippers do. These are shots the Clippers get for their small forward.
One of the things that Pierce will be bringing with him to Los Angeles is an adept standstill shooter from the corners. On left corner threes last season, Pierce shot 44.4 percent. The previous year he shot 62.5 percent. Granted, these are small sample sizes. In general, Pierce has taken just 81 corner threes over the past two seasons. For comparisons sake, Matt Barnes took 180 corner threes last season alone. He took 111 two seasons ago. So you’re looking at 210 more corner three point attempts by Barnes over the last two seasons. You can even go back as far as three seasons ago and see that Barnes has taken 314 more corner threes than Pierce. Barnes shot 34.0 percent on those attempts; Pierce shot 41.4 percent. Looks like these will be plentiful for Pierce. It’s up to him to hit them but if history is any indication then he should be just fine.
This is another left corner three by Paul Pierce and it comes during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks. It’s a side out of bounds play and Otto Porter inbounds to Bradley Beal running off of a staggered double screen. Off the screen action, Pierce gets a weakside screen from Marcin Gortat that stifles Paul Millsap long enough to get Pierce free into the corner. Beal throws a perfect baseline pass to Pierce in the corner and "The Truth" knocks down yet another massive shot in a long line of massive shots for his career. This play doesn’t happen without the Gortat screen and a great pass by Beal. However, Pierce sank the shot they created for him and that’s what he does on a consistent basis.
Left corner shots aren’t the only shots that Pierce can hit. This is yet another playoff game; this time against the Toronto Raptors. The possession initiates when John Wall dribbles into the frontcourt and tries a dribble penetration move into the paint but is stifled by Lou Williams. Wall quickly gives the ball up to Pierce at the right wing. Pierce recognizes the swift off-balance closeout by DeMar DeRozan and attacks it laterally by dribbling towards the baseline – away from DeRozan’s balance. Pierce ends up getting shutdown by Amir Johnson here, and also his own teammate Nene, before attempting a pass to the big man. The ball gets deflected, Wall gathers it, and fires it to Pierce in the corner. DeRozan had left Pierce in a hasty attempt to get a steal and fastbreak opportunity. Bad decision. Pierce is freer than Dobby The House Elf in the Harry Potter series and lines up the three. He splashes it and pulls Washington closer. Somewhat of a broken play that was a backbreaker for Toronto.
This is another right corner three that Pierce nailed last year. Possession begins with John Wall bringing it into the frontcourt against the Utah Jazz and Trey Burke. He receives a solid slip screen from Kris Humphries before Humphries runs over to the opposite elbow to help set a double screen with Marcin Gortat that winds up freeing Bradley Beal. Wall takes an extra second to get Beal the ball, though. The reason for that is because Pierce was trying to run a backdoor cut that Gordon Hayward sniffs out. Pierce attempts to post Hayward up but Hayward holds his ground and Pierce then sets a cross screen on Burke for Wall before bailing out back across the baseline to the opposite corner. Gortat sets a great screen on Hayward that forces Hayward to try and shoot the gap but he’s met by another screen from Humphries. Hayward is nowhere close to Pierce when Pierce receives the pass and Trevor Booker should have stepped out to defend the attempt but he’s lost on an island. Pierce rises, fires, and sinks the trey.
A lot happens on this play. It’s actually interesting to see everything that transpired. Humphries set three separate variations of a screen, Gortat set two screens, Pierce set a screen and tried to post up before traversing the baseline a second time, and Beal ran off of a double screen. There was a ton of movement and screen action. This is pretty similar to things the Clippers do but not to the same degree. The Clippers namely run a pick-and-roll game while the Wizards set a lot of off ball screens. Los Angeles does free up J.J. Redick on some similar stuff as this but, now with Pierce in the fold, you might see it happen a lot more; especially since Pierce and Redick can move so well without the ball. Credit to Utah for defending this really well for about 90 percent of the play. That last 10 percent did them in. And so did Paul Pierce.
While Pierce isn’t the playmaker that he once was – he averaged 4.2 assists per game over an 11 season span between 2002-03 and 2012-13 – he can still make the occasional good read and good pass that’ll lead to a hoop for his squad. Sometimes just being in the right place at the right time and making the right read during that situation is good enough; even when you’re getting older, you can still provide value by doing just that. This play is no different. This game should look familiar to fellow Clipper fans. It was a game the Clippers lost. On this play, Bradley Beal hoists a three point attempt that goes for a long baseline rebound. Pierce beats Matt Barnes to the ball and gazes over the defense to find a passing lane. DeAndre Jordan is caught flatfooted and without good defensive positioning while Blake Griffin is caught being too late running back into the play. Meanwhile, Marcin Gortat makes a simple rim run and Pierce locates him and fires a precise pass for the alley-oop dunk.
Plays like these are ones that the Clippers have made and will continue to make. They fly through the air with the air superiority of The Blue Angels. Pierce just happens to give them someone else who can make passes that dazzle and amaze as big men soar through the heavens and unleash unholy intentions upon the rim below. This play shows that defenders always have to have their hands up against Pierce in an effort to contest a shot attempt or a pass. This is also shows how Pierce, even at his advanced age, can still hustle and get after it while also still making heady reads and plays. It’s great to watch unfold.
This is another play that showcases some of the playmaking ability and awareness that Pierce has. Marcin Gortat sets a screen for Bradley Beal, who John Wall turns down, and then sets another screen for Pierce. Wall hits Pierce in the chest with the pass and Pierce gives one power dribble to his right in an effort to free himself up for a shot. The second the defense sees this, they converge on him. That includes Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, and Al Horford. They swarm and attack Pierce but Pierce never panics. He takes a half second to focus, finds Gortat slipping to the baseline, and hits him with a pass that sets Gortat up for an open jumper that he knocks down. This is a play that you could see Pierce running with Blake Griffin this upcoming season; or even with DeAndre Jordan but, instead of fading to the baseline, Jordan could just be right at the rim for an alley-oop attempt. Options are aplenty with this group now.
Another thing that the veteran can do exceptionally well is get his shot off in the mid-range area of the floor. It’s not the most efficient spot of the floor for a player to operate, but when you shoot nearly 44 percent from the 16-to-24 foot area you’re allowed to do whatever you damn well please. (For anyone curious, Pierce shot 45 percent from there in 2013-14 and is a career 41 percent shooter from 16+ feet on long twos.) The initial action on this play is to generate an open wing three for Pierce. They run him around a Nene screen and he has to pump fake a furiously closing DeMar DeRozan. By doing so, DeRozan jumps out of his shoes and Pierce steps into a wide open mid-range jumper that he nails because, well, he’s Paul Pierce.
As shown, even when you attack the screens for Pierce off the ball and attack the perceived shot attempt well, that doesn’t mean you still can’t get burned by the old man. Pierce still has a few tricks up those raggedy sleeves of his and breaks them out occasionally to teach the young bucks who really runs the show. Here, DeRozan thinks he did a great job. By all initial findings, he did. The issue came with the fact he had to leave his feet and let Pierce waltz into a shot he nails in his sleep. Clipper fans saw this happen quite a bit but it was namely Caron Butler turning down wide open three point attempts to dribble into contested mid-range jumpers. Now we have somewhat of an opposite proposition. It’s turning down a contested three for a wide open mid-range shot and you’ll take that most any day with this guy shooting them.
Nothing detailed here on this play. No elaborate breakdown. This is just one man willing his team to a victory over the outstretched arms of Kyle Korver, Dennis Schroder, and Kent Bazemore. Anytime Pierce gets the ball at the elbow with a smaller defender on him, you might as well just start walking back to the other end of the court. In a career filled with incredible moments, Pierce’s Game 3 shot against the Hawks will undoubtedly rank right towards the top of the list; as it should. It was pure guts and will. These are the sorts of things that Pierce will be bringing to the Clippers. It’s the ability to not shy away from the huge moments. The desire to want the ball and the determination to succeed.
In the postgame interview, Pierce was asked by resident ESPN buffoon Chris Broussard if he had called bank; Paul Pierce simply responded by saying that he had "called game." With that sound bite, Pierce further carved his spot into the NBA historical landscape. Pierce has something the Clippers are searching for; a championship ring. The coach who helped bring him to the Clippers, Doc Rivers, has one as well. They go together like salt and pepper shakers. Now that they’re back together and apart of a team with title aspirations, special things might be possible. It’ll be hard to top the offensive explosion of last season but Pierce’s shot making, playmaking, and crafty ability will be things the team missed out of the small forward position last year. Yes, the team will lose a lot defensively but there are guys who will make up for that. Paul Pierce gives the team someone who has been to the mountaintop; he gives them a voice.