Clippers can’t keep using Paul Pierce at power forward

Jan 16, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul Pierce (34) battles Sacramento Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein (00) for rebounding position during the 1st half at Staples Center. Left is Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick (4). Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 16, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul Pierce (34) battles Sacramento Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein (00) for rebounding position during the 1st half at Staples Center. Left is Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick (4). Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports /

Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers keeps giving Paul Pierce generous minutes at power forward, and it needs to stop before he’s even more detrimental to the team.

Well, who saw this coming? Anyone who has been watching the Los Angeles Clippers play this season. Anyone who has acknowledged that, as much as we love Paul Pierce and the very essence and legacy of The Truth, he isn’t the player he once was, he isn’t the efficient shooter he was last season, and his lack of athleticism is hugely detrimental to his performance. While his flaws are going to be a problem at any position on the floor, they’re even more glaring when he moves to power forward.

The Clippers’ recent surging play came to an ugly and lacklustre halt on Wednesday night, as inconsistent effort and a huge reliance on three-point shooting (taking a franchise record 46 to make just 13) saw them drop an easily winnable game to the Denver Nuggets 87-81. There were multiple factors involved of course, with their second worst shooting performance of the season (35.3 percent) leading the way.

Yet, to further their low effort that only really increased when they had a few chances to complete a comeback late in the game, Pierce playing almost 17 minutes and starting at power forward hurt them.

His diminished athleticism, that was never elite anyway, hurts the Clippers’ already depleted frontcourt rotation. From lacking the lateral quickness to guard faster wing players on the perimeter to dreadful explosion to contest bigger power forwards in the paint, he’s totally outmatched.

At the four, he can neither out-rebound genuine big men or hold them away from the basket, let alone prevent top-tier athletes like Kenneth Faried getting to the basket.

In the Clippers’ lost to the Nuggets, they lost the rebound battle (a near-automatic trend this season) 57-47. Faried led the way for Denver with 11 — all of which came in a 16-minute span matched up against Pierce. On top of that in this 16-minute spell, he notched 21 points with a barrage of layups, driving dunks and hook shots over the ageing legs and outreached arms of the 38-year-old Truth.

There’s not much more to say when he’s destroyed in a matchup that badly. When Pierce was off the floor, Faried tallied a grand total of zero rebounds and zero points in his other seven minutes of playing time.

Not all power forwards have the bounce of Faried and the constant hustle to attack the glass, but even if they come in at a superior 6’9″ or 6’10” with little athleticism instead, Pierce is still going to be overshadowed and useless in the paint either way. He’s always relied on IQ and skill rather than athleticism and the same applies to his offensive game, but a few sound rotations here and there don’t make up for his major shortcomings on defense overall.

This season, the Clippers allow four more points per 100 possessions when Pierce is on the floor. From absent rim protection to the basics of boxing out opposing big man and crashing the boards, The Truth can only make a difference on offense during the rare moments he makes threes. And this still doesn’t justify the minutes he receives.

Power forward simply isn’t his position. Over the course of his 16-year Hall of Fame career, he’s never played more than 10 percent of his minutes in a season at the four (according to Basketball Reference). This season, however, Pierce has spent a ridiculous 45 percent of his time there, thanks to the injury of Blake Griffin and Doc Rivers’ small-ball experimentation with the second unit.

More from Clippers News

As a 38-year-old, there’s no way Pierce has suddenly grown more suited to the position than he was years ago. On defense, this is even more painfully obvious, and this season has been a perfect example of that.

6’5″ Lance Stephenson even experienced some playing time at power forward before he was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies, and Wesley Johnson has got in the action as a stretch four at times, too. Now, after trying everyone at his disposal at the position, Doc has landed the Clippers a clear physical upgrade with the addition of Jeff Green.

While he isn’t suddenly going to come to L.A. and become the superstar that his lack of consistency has always kept out of his reach, he can at least make plays like this; unlike the rest of the Clippers’ wing players.

Jeff Green blocks Lauvergne gif
Jeff Green blocks Lauvergne gif /

He blocked another one of the Nuggets’ talented young centers, too.

Jeff Green blocks Jokic gif
Jeff Green blocks Jokic gif /

As well as quickly shooting up to deny the layup attempt of 6’11” Joffrey Lauvergne and rising above Nikola Jokic from behind (two plays Pierce couldn’t hope to execute), he also has his moments where he can chase down clueless opponents.

Jeff Green chasedown gif
Jeff Green chasedown gif /

More clippers: Clippers are far better off without Josh Smith

With the three blocks he tallied against the Nuggets, Green demonstrated that his athleticism (obviously) goes far above and beyond anything Pierce can muster now. Even if rejections like this come inconsistently, Green can still protect the rim better than Pierce, close down on shooters to greater effect, and use far more explosiveness and length to bother players of various positions. At the very least, it’s possible for Green to make a difference defensively.

Again, it just comes down to Green’s problem of consistently being inconsistent. But the point is that he can still do what Pierce can’t; no matter how often these dynamic plays occur, it’s still more than what The Truth is capable of.

More from Clipperholics

Whether Green eventually gets a starting role is yet to be seen. Luc Mbah a Moute is currently the starting small forward, although he still normally receives a moderate 15-20 minutes per game. Green has passed that mark already with at least 23 minutes in his last two games, so it’s clear Doc isn’t waiting around to get him integrated into the team.

Whether he receives more minutes as a starter or he’s used between both forward positions off the bench is something we’ll see develop over the next few weeks.

As the Clippers look to get back on their feet with a far more typical and assertive win against the Sacramento Kings on Friday, it’s hard to see Doc straying away from his favoritism and remove Pierce as the starting power forward.

Next: Looking into DeAndre Jordan's need to evolve

However, it’s going to keep hurting them until he does, so there’s even more pressure on the rest of the small frontcourt to make up for Pierce’s weaknesses. This kind of flaw isn’t one that genuine contenders can afford to have, though.

Maybe if Green can prove himself, Doc will alter his lineups accordingly. There’s no doubt that reducing Pierce’s role and time at power forward will instantly help.