Why benching Paul Pierce makes sense for the Clippers


Jan 28, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (34) against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Wizards 106-98. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When the Los Angeles Clippers signed Paul Pierce this offseason, it was only natural thinking to assume that he would become their new starting small forward. He’ll be 38 when the season starts, though, so it’s not like we’d expect him to receive any more than 25 minutes per game. That being said, as a three point shooter with a strong veteran presence and resilient defense for his age, Pierce could easily be the Clippers’ starter over their other new addition Wesley Johnson. However, it could make far more sense to play Pierce off the bench instead.

First off, the fact that Paul Pierce is far more valuable to the Clippers for the playoffs is what makes the importance of preserving his health through the regular season far greater. With the Washington Wizards last season, Pierce still played 26.2 minutes per game, which is more than respectable for a 37 year old forward who’s been in the league for 17 years.

Yet, after being one of the Wizards’ best wing players that had to be relied on at times throughout the season, Pierce joins the Clippers as a player who only needs to be utilized in smaller bursts and in late game situations.

Lance Stephenson will most likely be the primary ball handler and shooting guard off the bench, meaning that Jamal Crawford and Paul Pierce can be used accordingly at small forward and shooting guard if Wesley Johnson receives the starting role for the majority of the regular season. This gives the Clippers depth which is something they didn’t have at all last season, but more importantly, they have versatility and the options to use different players at multiple positions. Which, when looking at Doc Rivers’ plans for Pierce, is to use a small ball lineup when necessary to use The Truth as a more agile, three point shooting power forward.

Plus, to add even more versatility, they have the far more athletic and defensive minded Josh Smith to throw into the mix at both forward positions, too.

Pierce made 38.9 percent of his threes last season, and unless he magically morphs into a better power forward than Blake Griffin, Pierce can only be used at power forward off the bench — especially with Smith who will be the primary backup behind Griffin.

Mar 20, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Reddick (left) and Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (right) battle for the loose ball during the third quarter at Staples Center. The Los Angeles Clippers won 113-99. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Doc Rivers recently said that he plans on using Pierce “a lot” at power forward, and the only way that attribute can be effectively incorporated into his 20 or so minutes per game is if he comes off the bench.

There’s far more than just Pierce’s power forward ability that make him important, though. The confidence, veteran leadership, and late-game ability that he emphasized in the playoffs this year is what the Clippers need more than anything else from Pierce. Because no matter how good 25 or 30 minutes of The Truth each night would be, his buzzer beater potential will be far better when it’s winning the Clippers big games in the playoffs.

When looking at his performance for the Wizards in the playoffs against the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks, the numbers really speak for themselves to prove just how much Pierce can elevate his game in critical moments. He increased his playing time to 29.8 minutes per game, whilst averaging 14.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 0.7 blocks. Yet, the real number to indicate just how deadly his shooting was are the three point numbers he recorded: 3.3 threes per game on a ridiculous 52.4 percent shooting.

To reach that kind of accuracy is impressive enough, but to maintain that kind of accuracy whilst making more than 3 threes per game is incredibly difficult. And to put it into context in comparison to his regular season shooting, Pierce made twice as many threes — after making 1.6 per game before the playoffs — and somehow shot 13.5 percent higher as well.

Even Stephen Curry would struggle maintaining 52.4 percent shooting from deep over 10 playoff games.

Oh, and a discussion of playoff Truth wouldn’t be complete without that buzzer beater to defeat the Hawks in game three of the second round.

The fact that he made 3.3 threes per game through 10 playoff games is something that few players do, and it’s even rarer to see a player who’s 37 accomplish such a shooting display. So, even if Pierce can’t quite replicate that shooting in the 2016 playoffs for the Clippers, he can still be rested more throughout the regular season to give Doc Rivers the best chance of unleashing him at the height of his ability when the postseason begins.

More than anything else, that reason is why it makes far more sense for the Clippers to play Pierce off the bench during the regular season. Even though Wesley Johnson may not be the best 3-and-D guy in the NBA to replace Matt Barnes, he still possesses great athleticism, length and a respectable 35.1 percent three point stroke to use in what will be a very limited offensive role with the Clippers. Also, there’s no reason why Doc can’t change his starting lineup throughout the season and start Pierce on some nights when he deems it necessary to do so.

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Even at 38 when the season starts, Pierce can deliver throughout the year as a veteran leader on and off the court in ways that the Clippers didn’t really have last season. But when it comes to winning the team games and taking them past the dreaded second round of the playoffs, Pierce can immediately take pressure off Chris Paul as a new option when a game is on the line.

If he’s rested well throughout the season, the Clippers can put that dead-eye ability to the test in the postseason, whilst maintaining Pierce’s health and ability to play as a stretch power forward, too.

From his leadership alongside Doc to the potential game-winners as the seconds wind down, The Truth is deadliest during the biggest minutes of the season. With that in mind, Pierce can make a serious difference if the Clippers use him selectively as the year progresses.

Next: Los Angeles Clippers: Top 5 Power Forwards of All Time