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Player A: 12.4 PTS, 36.8 FG%, 26.8 3PT%, 4.9 REB, 2.8 AST, -5.1 net rating, 9.5% PIE
Player B: 8.7 PTS, 36.8 FG%, 40.0 3PT%, 6.0 REB, 4.0 AST, 14.9 net rating, 16.5% PIE
Player A is Paul Pierce starting. Player B is Paul Pierce off the bench.
The Brooklyn Nets have been much better over their last three games since the return of Pierce, and it's not because they missed him starting for them. Quite the opposite.
Though his field goal percentage has actually remained exactly the same, Pierce is clearly a more impactful player when he comes off of the bench. Playing with the second unit, Pierce is averaging more assists, more rebounds, a net rating of 20 points higher, and a player impact estimate (PIE) that is increased by seven percent. Pierce is scoring less points, but he's shooting four times fewer per game. He's taking smarter, better shots. I think the reason his shooting percentage hasn't improved is because of the broken hand. Once that glove comes of, expect his shooting to go up.
In these past three games since Pierce's return, the Nets have gone 2-1, scoring 101.7 points per game with a +/- of +4.3, as opposed to their 5-12 start, where they averaged 95.8 points per game with a +/- of -6.6. They've been shooting 5.3% higher from the field and their net rating has increased from a pathetic -6.9 to a respectable 8.88.
I know it's a small sample size, and it's also a lot of statistics to be throwing out there, but having watched Pierce come off the bench, isn't it evident that he just looks more comfortable?
Paul Pierce is a player who needs the ball in his hands to be effective. The same can be said with a lot of other guys Brooklyn has, especially in its starting lineup (Deron Williams for sure, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson in the post and on isos). Pierce is accustomed to having to create his own shot. He's the type of player who would rather dig, move around, and persist with the ball in his hands and find a shot than just be a spot up shooter. It's just his style. He's used to being a leader. Now he can fill that role.
So it makes sense, then, that Brooklyn's offense had been so ineffective with Pierce in the starting five. There were just too many options, too many guys passing up open looks, too much ineffective ball movement.
Then, when the second unit came in, they were all over the place. There were bad passes, turnovers, terrible shot selection, and basically no team play. There was no leadership among the bench players. This was always the problem: the Nets would start off hot for the first six minutes, then totally fizz out when substitutions were made. This was a huge issue.
Enter Paul Pierce: the coolheaded, slick maneuvering, newly-appointed point forward for the Brooklyn Nets.
All of a sudden, Brooklyn has found consistent rhythm when making substitutions off the bench. They have a leader for a group of players that badly needed one.
Pierce's new bench role – assuming he keeps it – is not a demotion. In fact, I'd look at it as a promotion. He's gone from being one of too many ball-handling scoring options in the starting lineup to the savvy veteran who's been put in charge of his own unit.
Plenty of guys have made a career out of being a sixth man – just look at well Manu Ginobili and Ryan Anderson have been doing in this role.
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If Pierce could reinvent his game like that, not only would he be better this year, he'd also be able to prolong his career. Ginobili's game is much more sustainable than Pierce's – there's not a ton of running required, not a lot of cutting and driving. Hell, he wouldn't even have to really change his game that much. He's already used to being a ball handler and a playmaker because he's been doing it his whole career. Manu is 36 – the same age as Pierce – and is still able to be a very effective and efficient player. There's no reason that Pierce, who unarguably is a more talented basketball player, can't do the same.
And what better coach could Pierce ask for than Jason Kidd to help him reinvent himself as a player? Remember how Kidd totally readjusted his play style last season with the Knicks? A guy whose jumpshot was once ridiculed became one of the better three-point specialists in the NBA last season.
Kidd has looked a lot better as a coach after clearing out Lawrence Frank. He's made good decisions – his substitutions have been much more appropriate and his defensive schemes have certainly improved by leaps and bounds. This is the next big decision Kidd is faced with. Will he make the right choice and keep Pierce as the leader of the second unit?
According to ESPN New York's Mike Mazzeo, he will – for the time being, at least:
Pierce will continue coming off the bench "for now" Kidd said. Lopez is questionable #Nets
— Mike Mazzeo (@MazzESPN) December 15, 2013
Is this the right choice? Let us know in the comments.