The Paul Pierce era in Washington is kind of like the dating scene. A guy meets an attractive girl out one night. The two hit it off instantly. Things are going great with this new chick over the next few weeks and then poof… she disappears never to be heard from again.
The Wizards were finally building some momentum over the past two seasons and then the one player with veteran leadership and playoff savvy hops on a plane to go back home and chase a ring with his former coach. Was this predictable? Maybe. Disappointing? Absolutely.
All hope is not lost though. Even with Pierce’s departure, it’s still reasonable to think that the Wizards will right the ship and continue to contend in the Eastern Conference. Here’s why:
As great of a leader as Pierce was, the truth is (no pun intended), he was a liability on defense most nights. At 37 years old, Pierce looked it. And asking him to stay in front of LeBron James, DeMarre Carroll, DeMar DeRozan, Carmelo Anthony and the likes night after night just wasn’t feasible. The Wizards struggled at defending the wings and part of that was due to Pierce’s age and immobility that comes with age.
The Wizards will be replacing Pierce with some younger and fresher bodies next season. Otto Porter will likely step into the starting small forward position and Jared Dudley will spell Porter off the bench. As we saw in the playoffs, Porter is capable of slowing down more athletic wings. Additionally, he brings more defensive intangibles: diving on the floor, deflections, etc. which don’t show up on the stat sheet but still can have a huge impact on the outcome of the game.
Dudley isn’t a lockdown defender by any means, but he’s younger and more mobile than Pierce. Before he was traded to Milwaukee, he was guarding guys like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Chandler Parsons on a nightly basis during his tenure in Phoenix. On top of all that, he is no stranger to guarding the stretch-4 position as the Suns are known to play small ball.
The fact that he feels comfortable guarding stretch-4’s up around the three-point arc is a huge asset and is something the Wizards haven’t lacked in recent years.
It’s no surprise that Pierce averaged a career-low 11.9 points per game last season for his decorated career. Part of this had to do with his limited minutes and his inability to create shots for himself due to his age. His patented step back jumpers that were oh so smooth back in his Boston days were not as effective last season. And that’s OK.
Pierce still made sure to get his as he averaged nine shots per game in just 26.2 minutes. Those shots will now be spread amongst the other guys, and there’s no reason to think that Washington’s scoring will take a hit. The Wizards’ averaged 98.5 points per game last season and I don’t see that number significantly changing one way or the other.
What it does is it opens up opportunities for others to get more shots. John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter; we’re looking at you. The only thing separating John Wall from the elite point guards is a consistent jump shot. Bradley Beal has been working diligently this offseason to become a better scorer with the ball in his hands. And Otto Porter will see his scoring rise with more minutes and experience, as he will continue to be the third or fourth scoring option in the offense.
Pierce’s ability to hit clutch shots is invaluable, no doubt about it. But at the same time, the young trio will continue to develop and the team shouldn’t worry too much about a drop in scoring.
As expected, Pierce’s minutes were limited last season giving other guys opportunities to come in and contribute; mainly Porter and Rasual Butler. With Pierce gone, this opens the door up even more. Porter averaged 19.4 minutes off the bench last season and that number should jump to the 30-34 minute range next season. Additionally, if Pierce was on the roster, it could be assumed that Kelly Oubre Jr. would have only received minutes in garbage time.
With Pierce’s departure and Dudley’s injury, the Wizards will count heavily on Porter and Oubre form the start of the season. More minutes means more experience which is always a good thing for younger players. Both players will be thrown into the fire as there will be no “grooming period” due to the lack of options at the small forward position.
Increased playing time will benefit Porter the most as he will not have to look over his shoulder with doubts of being yanked for a poor play or poor shot. Additionally, the Wizards faithful have been screaming for the coaching staff to take the training wheels off Porter. Well, we’re about the see it.
Pierce’s experience and ability to knock down big time shots is invaluable and will be missed for sure. There will no doubt be instances this season where the game is on the line and players will be looking around wondering who will be taking the final shot. Pierce’s leadership elevated this team’s confidence and swagger especially during this past season’s playoff run. It’s unfortunate that he bolted and he will be missed; but that’s why we brought him here right?