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Is This the Beginning of the End for Paul Pierce?

Keith Birmingham/ Pasadena Star-News/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

*Cues for Taps to be played on a trumpet*

After 18 hard-fought seasons, where his team’s fans loved him and his opposition hated him with a passion thanks to him making the biggest shots and talking the most meaningful trash, it appears Paul Pierce has reached the end of the road.

Averaging 20.5 points per game on 45 percent shooting and 37 percent from three to this point in his career, the 38-year-old small forward is off to a horrid start in his first year with the Los Angeles Clippers, averaging just 4.5 points while shooting the ball at embarrassingly low marks of 31 percent overall and 24 percent from behind the arc. As inevitable as it seemed for the one-time sharpshooter to start to decline over the last few years, Pierce managed to maintain efficient on a per-minute scale, averaging 17.3 points and 16.3 points per game respectively over the last two seasons.

I specifically noted the last two seasons as they took place after Pierce was traded away from the Boston Celtics, where he played the first 15 seasons of his career. More noteworthy, Pierce went to Brooklyn and then Washington to fill a specific role: be the team’s go-to shot-maker on the perimeter and offer a veteran presence that was sorely lacking. A reunion with Doc Rivers in L.A. called for the same order, but to this point Pierce hasn’t been able to deliver:

With all due respect to Matt Barnes, Jared Dudley, Caron Butler and even Jamal Crawford to an extent, the one glaringly weak link that the Chris Paul-Blake Griffin Clippers have had has been at the small-forward position. The three starters before Pierce, who’s only started three of the Clippers’ first 15 games, all filled specific roles and were more 3-and-D wings than key cogs for the team, but the hope behind signing Pierce was that he’d be able to take the offense to a new level, specifically down the stretch in games. So far he’s posting the lowest offensive rating of his career, per Basketball-Reference, with a matching career-worst on the defensive end as well:

https://twitter.com/haralabob/status/668531608757125120

The one potential saving grace here is that Pierce took some time to get going each of the last two seasons as well. In fact, Pierce had his worst shooting months of the season take place in November during both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 NBA seasons, as he combined for a line of 12.3 points on 37 percent from the field and 27 percent from downtown.

With an 8-8 record, the Clippers are desperate for Pierce to get out of his funk, but it’s completely unrealistic to think that Father Time doesn’t play a role in the future Hall of Famer’s struggles. It’s going to be hard for Pierce to get going if he remains in the vicinity of 4.5 field goal attempts per game, and with taking the ball to the basket completely out of his range (he’s taken 3-6 dribbles on just 1.5 percent of his field goal attempts, and has taken one or less dribble on nearly 80 percent, per NBA.com), you just have to hope he gets his legs under him and starts knocking down shots.

For what it’s worth, Pierce is shooting just 29.4 percent on wide open (defender is six feet or further away from him) shots and 25 percent on shots with a defender on top of him (two feet or less), per NBA.com. So maybe he just needs to get into a better rhythm and get accustomed to playing with Chris Paul and company.

At the same time, Pierce is mainly having a negative impact, posting the worst net rating (-6.1) of any player on the Clippers logging over 20 minutes per game, per NBA.com. On top of that, of all three-man lineup combinations the Clippers are using, he only appears in the bottom three of the 20 combinations listed by Basketball-Reference in terms of point differential:

There’s still a lot of season left, so it isn’t fair to bury Pierce just yet. But with him, Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith all struggling in their first year in Hollywood, he’s going to be on the hot seat until he stops looking like old Pierce, and starts to look the Pierce of old.

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