Evaluating Paul Pierce’s Impact With The Washington Wizards


It’s almost time for free agency and one of the needs for many young teams trying to take the next step in their development is the acquisition of a veteran presence.

NBA teams with potential are often advised to seek out veterans with experience, toughness and leadership. Certain players have a skill that is not measured in the box score — they are considered to be great “locker room guys”.

While team chemistry and these sorts of intangible qualities like experience, veteran presence, and championship pedigree are generally unquestioned as assets for any team, these qualities are still tough to measure, even with the progression towards more and more advanced statistics.

Paul Pierce’s role on the Washington Wizards this past season is an oft-cited example of this.

Pierce has been given a great deal of credit for showing the younger players what it takes to win and setting an example of what a championship level player looks like. There is no doubt that Paul Pierce has done these sorts of things for the Wizards this year, especially aiding in the development of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr.

Wall and company definitely learned from the example that Pierce set in his work ethic and toughness. His competitiveness and confidence were always on display as well and there is no doubt merely being around Pierce allowed some of that to rub off on the younger Wizards’ players.

However, this idea of a veteran leader making younger players better simply through his presence does not tell the whole story. What is often left out of these narratives are the real, tangible examples of how Pierce affected his young teammates.

Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

From his big shots, to his pre-series trash talk, to his celebratory trolling, Pierce emphatically made his presence felt in the round one series against the Raptors, but his real impact on the Wizards can be seen in the second round against the Hawks.

No, I’m not talking about his big shot in Game 3 (or in Game 5 … or in Game 6). I’m talking about a moment that Wizards’ fans may not even remember. One that happened during an intense Game 1 in Atlanta.

In Game 1, the Wizards trailed most of the way. The Hawks took the lead early in the first and extended it to double digits for most of the first half.

The Wizards never even tied the game until early in the fourth quarter. Throughout the game, the body language of the Wizards was generally bad, and they seemed unable to shake off the rust of a couple day’s rest. I had the advantage of watching the game from a spot directly above the Washington bench and had the opportunity to observe several interactions.

During one timeout, Pierce took John Wall out of the huddle and talked with him intently, one on one for the entirety of the break. Then during the next timeout, Pierce allowed Randy Wittman to make a few points, before cutting him off and emphatically talking to each player on the bench.

What Paul Pierce was bringing to that Washington timeout was a sort of positive intensity that I had never witnessed in my 16 years as a Wizards fan. Michael Jordan definitely brought intensity in his short stint with the team, but it lacked Pierce’s positivity and was the type of intensity that cause young players like Kwame Brown to crumble into disappointments of historic proportions.

Gilbert Arenas brought that type of energy, but his came with so much ego and distraction that it eventually self-destructed in a blaze of hand-guns and Javaris Crittenton. What Pierce was providing was something different and something that I had not experienced with the Wizards before this.

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With seven minutes left in the game, Washington made their run and took a six point lead, their largest of the game at that point.

It was clear that John Wall and the Wizards felt they controlled the game.

Washington then went cold for two minutes and the Hawks came storming back with a run that cut the lead to one.

Kyle Korver hit a three and blocked a Wall pull-up which lead to a Teague lay-up and Philips Arena leaping roaring to its feet.

It was then that Paul Pierce showed what all this talk about veteran leadership, and championship experience really means. The crowd was the loudest it had been all game and the Wizards’ jitters was starting to show.

Wall was almost up to half-court, frantically calling for the inbounds pass after Atlanta’s made basket. Beal was on the bench trying to decide how serious his ankle injury was. Ramon Sessions and Kevin Seraphin were on the floor for Washington.

The arena was so loud that no one could hear what anyone else was saying. Pierce looked at Wall calling for him to inbound the ball, and he completely stopped walking towards the basket. He stared at Wall and made a “calm down” gesture with both hands.

He then walked slowly to where the ball was resting out of bounds and threw the ball into Wall in a way that forced him to come back to Pierce and get a short bounce pass. As the Hawks fan base screamed “DEFENSE”, Pierce jogged next to Wall, practically yelling into his ear.

When the shot clock wound down to the final seconds of the Wizards’ offensive position, Wall got the ball into Pierce’s hands and he hit a contested pull-up jumper that completely silenced the Atlanta crowd.

There was still over five minutes left in the game when Paul Pierce hit that shot, and the Hawks’ players still had some fight left in them, but the veteran impact had been made.

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Porter and Wall made a few more huge plays to keep the lead for Washington.

With less than 30 seconds remaining and the Wizards leading by four, Wall connected with Gortat on a nice pick and roll to put the game away for good.

In the timeout immediately following that insurance basket, Wall was demonstrative in his high fives and interactions with his teammates.

The body language of the Wizards had completely changed.

The positive intensity that started with Paul Pierce had spread to the younger stars on the team. Even though the Wizards eventually lost the series, Wall, Beal and Porter all made crucial strides in their development during the series and gained valuable playoff experience competing alongside Pierce.

This indeed was why they brought him here.

Paul Pierce has decided to opt out of his contract for next year with the Wizards. He will supposedly play one more year with either the Clippers or the Wizards, but with his ties to Doc Rivers, Sam Cassell and L.A., that seems to be the likely destination.

As enjoyable as it would be to have Paul Pierce back for another season next year, there is no guarantee he will return or be capable of playing at the same level that he did this past year. It may even be that the Wizards would be better served to move on to a younger option at small forward and a more athletic option at the stretch four spot anyway.

No matter what happens with Pierce this offseason, his impact on the Wizards’ young core has already been felt significantly, and it will continue to be seen as Wall, Beal and Porter move forward in their careers.

Next: Wizards' Options If Paul Pierce Decides To Leave

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