Due to the flip flop in the Celtics’ all-time scoring ranks, there has been a lot written this past week comparing the careers/games of Larry Bird and Paul Pierce. The most salient feature these players have in common is their outstanding productivity without uber-athletic talents. Neither could jump out of the gym. Both used guile and a plethora of deceptive fakes to free up their shot. Both used position, anticipation, grit, and court awareness to rebound, defend, poach the passing lanes, and find open teammates.
Pierce is short for a small forward. His relatively low release point means that he uses picks or his patented step-back to free up his shot. He also excels in shooting around his defender when close to the basket. On the other hand Bird was much taller, had an extremely high release point on his shot, and mostly shot over defenders. Pierce is extremely facile with his left hand laying it up at the basket while Larry’s off-hand prowess included both a short hook and jump shots. Both are good passers but Larry excelled at the touch pass, leveraging his brilliant court awareness to anticipate where the next opening would occur. Pierce is much more prone to the bad pass due to it being an afterthought, and predictable, when he has exhausted other options to get off a shot.
That got me to thinking about what other players are good comparisons for Pierce? I came up with two. Neither is spot on but then Paul is an unusual player. One of the most complete players ever to play the game was Elgin Baylor. This Hall-of-Famer brought an unnerving combination of strength, agility, and skill along with an uncanny ability to make shots from every angle and after absorbing contact that would flatten a weaker player. He was quicker, and more athletic, than Pierce but Paul is one of the few players in the decades after Baylor’s career that might legitimately be compared with the Laker great.
Paul might be the poor, or at least middle-income, man’s Elgin Baylor. but he would be the rich man’s Adrian Dantley. Both Dantley and Pierce got their shot off against almost anyone, often absorbing a blow and making a trip to the charity stripe in the process. Both sported chiseled physiques that left defenders bouncing off while doing little to deter their own assault on the basket. Paul is a far better outside shooter and passer than Dantley was, and is a better ball handler. Neither could be considered quick but Pierce is much better creating off the dribble.
While Paul Pierce is larger (6’7” to 6’5”) than either Baylor or Dantley, he is probably similarly as “short” for the small forward position in the modern era as they were in their time. All three brought a brutish strength to their game that literally overpowered many of their opponents. While I consider Elgin better, and Adrian worse, than Paul, these three make a better comparison than Larry Bird whose game was built more around length (and guile). So as the Captain eases by the Legend on the Celtic’ scoring list, cherish both but realize that they racked up those thousands of points in rather different manners.
Boston, and all points beyond