NBA, The NBA's 30 Best Go-To Players / Oct 26, 2009 / 10:00 am

The NBA’s 30 best go-to players (#3: Paul Pierce)

Paul Pierce

Who do you want your offense to run through with everything on the line? Counting down 30th to 1st (one per team), I’ve ranked the League’s go-to guys…

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#3: PAUL PIERCE, Boston Celtics

Between thanking God, his mama, and all of Chi-town and South Cack, Kevin Garnett made sure to remind the world that the 2008 NBA championship meant he was “certified.” For Paul Pierce, that certification should have been two-fold, as he copped both a championship and a Finals MVP that night.

And yet somehow, at least in some circles, it went the other way. After Pierce revealed his belief later that summer that he was the best player in the world, the focus shifted toward poking holes in why he isn’t that great instead of highlighting why he is. The ‘chip began to work against him; critics decided Pierce was something of a one-year wonder, that he couldn’t win unless he had two Hall of Famers on his side — ignoring the more accurate fact that those two Hall of Famers won because Pierce was on their side.

Pierce isn’t brand-new to this go-to guy thing. Six years before this new Big Three formed, Pierce was leading the Celtics to the conference finals, putting up 26 points a night at 24 years old while carrying a roster that had Eric Williams and end-of-the-road Kenny Anderson in the starting five. Through thick and thin, he’s going on a solid decade as The Man for his team, a title only a couple of players can actively lay claim to, and that experience is on full display when Boston needs it most. The ’08 Finals was not Pierce’s breakout, it was his coronation.

But that was a whole championship ago, right? Yes, Pierce stared down Kobe and LeBron and beat them at their game back then, but why rank him so high today?

Before getting into the scoring, there is Pierce the playmaker. Last season he averaged 6.2 assists per 48 minutes of “clutch time,” and even with Rajon Rondo‘s recent breakout, has basically been the Celtics’ point guard in tight situations throughout his run.

As a scorer, last season Pierce ranked ninth in the League in clutch time scoring, where he shot 45% from the field and 46% from three-point range (second highest among the Top 15 clutch scorers). But whether it’s one-man scoring runs in the fourth quarter, turning close games into blowouts, sparking comebacks by himself, hitting game-winners or icing wins with free throws, Pierce’s clutch ability isn’t fully reflected in the numbers.

For the same reasons LeBron sits one spot lower, Pierce has an advantage because of the trust factor, even if it is owing a lot to simple perception and preference. I trust him taking a three-pointer with everything on the line; I trust him catching the ball with his back to the basket; I trust his strength driving to the basket and finishing in traffic; I trust he’ll make the right decision to pass or shoot. When Pierce takes that one-dribble pull-up jumper in the fourth quarter, I don’t wonder if it’s goes in; I know it’s going in and I’m surprised when it doesn’t. When he steps to the free throw line with five seconds left and Boston up three, I don’t plan on him missing; and if you’re the opposing coach, you start drawing up whatever play you have for being down by five with five seconds left.

Ask those coaches. No matter how good Rondo gets, no matter how large Garnett’s presence may be, no matter how many open shots it means for Ray Allen, if you’re defending the Celtics at a time when they need to score, your first priority is Pierce. And if he doesn’t deliver, it feels more like his mistake than your accomplishment.

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4. LeBron James
5. Tim Duncan
6. Dirk Nowitzki
7. Brandon Roy
8. Carmelo Anthony
9. Chris Paul
10. Deron Williams
11. Vince Carter
12. Joe Johnson
13. Danny Granger
14. Steve Nash
15. Kevin Durant
16. Gilbert Arenas
17. Derrick Rose
18. Chris Bosh
19. Andre Iguodala
20. Tracy McGrady
21. Baron Davis
22. Michael Redd
23. Devin Harris
24. Kevin Martin
25. Al Jefferson
26. O.J. Mayo
27. Stephen Jackson
28. Nate Robinson
29. Boris Diaw
30. Rip Hamilton

* Follow Austin Burton on Twitter: @AustinatDIMEmag
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  • jay

    so it’s at #2..

    and of course, kobe as the king..

    for now, lebron has to bow down to the ‘real king’..

  • jay

    so it’s dwyane at #2..

    and of course, kobe as the king..

    for now, lebron has to bow down to the ‘real king’..

  • ColinCB

    So where is Ray Allen on this list? Pierce is the guy you go to on Boston if you need points or if you have to have a 40 point game, but Ray is the one guy I’d go to if I needed a 3 and you can have the rest of the NBA to pick from. He certainly belongs above some of the other names on your list.

  • Ric Hardwood

    good write-up…

  • Kermit The Washington

    Well-said, sir. Good ranking, good article. No argument here

  • David@Play

    U nailed it re: trust factor. No argument whatsoever!

  • ponky_alolor

    good call with pierce @ top 3. he ain’t called the truth 4 nothing. pull up jumper is money.

    and yeah as long as lbj’s mid-range and freethrows remain shaky, we cavs fans should be humble and objective about it.

    all go-to-guys ice the W on the FT line. Lbj is still far from a sure thing.

  • Kermit The Washington

    Wait. There’s only two spots left. Kobe’s obviously one of them, probably #1. So that means that either DWade or Chauncey Billups did not make the list, with people like Steven Jackson and OJ Mayo. FAIL.

  • jimmy_jacked_corn

    @Kermit — One go-to guy per team. Melo already got picked for Denver. Therefore no Chauncey.

  • therealest

    well said…at the end of the game it comes down to trust…and hate him or love him, pierce handles his biz

  • Kobeef

    With one play to go and a choice between LeBron and the Truth, I’d go with LeBron, even with the shaky FT’s. When LeBron slashes to the basket, there isn’t much you can do.

  • Kermit The Washington

    @ Jimmy_jacked_corn:

    Oh.

  • control

    I disagree with PP in front of LeBron for reasons already mentioned. Each to their own though…

  • scotsman

    @ Kobeef

    except foul him and know you have a better chance of him missing at least one throw than if pierce was at the line.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gabriel-Brogden/507128757 GABRIEL BROGDEN

    THAT PULL UP J AT THE ELBOW = BASKETBALL BEAUTY

  • Kobeef

    @Scotsman

    But anyone not named Shaq or Dwight has a hard time fouling Lebron hard enough to cause him to miss the original shot…pick your poison.

  • lies

    Paul Pierce hasn’t gotten better in the last 3 years. 3 years ago he would not have been a top 10 player in the league. The perception of him has changed because he is the best player on the best team. Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett don’t make Paul Pierce better they make the Boston Celtics better. This article is an example of shameless hype and useless biased opinion.

    this would be the equivalent of saying Vince Carter as a top 3 player in the NBA in 2 years after the Orlando Magic become the NBA champions this year and major contender the next. The player himself has not improved but simply because he is on a better team, the media perception of him changes.

  • BiG ShoT BoB

    What D-wade ahead of PP I definitely don’t agree but I’ll wait to see your reasoning. If it’s just because he put Miami on his back for that chip run against Dallas I don’t agree. That was only one series. PP has been doing it far more longer than one series.

  • BiG ShoT BoB

    Not to mention he has a better jumper.

  • BiG ShoT BoB

    @lies…WTF are talking about this article is about the best “go-to-players” where does it say best player in the NBA? Quit blind hating you sound stupid…

  • radomized

    lies is 100% speaking TRUTH.

  • knock knock

    Um, so i still don’t understand. What’s the difference between winning with two other all stars and winning with two all stars on your side??? Answer: there’s no difference, this article was horribly written.

  • “Tha Boddy” Welcome Back NBA!!!

    I’m sorry DIME but Paul Pierce is hella over rated I could think of 12 people who if put in the same situations as him would have done way better and not lacked like he did during the 08 playoffs

  • Ian

    lies
    huh??

    goh with that he lead a team to the conference finals with his second best player being antoine fuckin walker. when he had the crappy team he did the same thing kobe did with a crappy team a couple of first round exits and one miss playoffs you but him in a good team and he did the samething kobe did one a good team one a ring.

    top ten player yeah why not?

  • ilovehaters

    @ lies

    Paul Pierce hasn’t gotten better? That’s so far from the truth my man. PP has become a much better one on one defender over the past few years, as well as his ability to get to the line. PP has always been able to score, especially when Boston was not as talented and he took more shots. To sum it up….he’s become more efficient over the past few years.

  • http://www.nukedasouth.net Chicagorilla

    P-squared hit me for 42pts in NBA2k10… they must have known how high you guys would rank him. 42pts….
    Ray ray had 33pts himself.

  • control

    I think lies has a point. It’s all about perception, like how any player who plays in NY is an instant legend if he’s a fan favorite (even if he sucks, like Ewing, Dudley, Starks or Spreewell).

    PP really isn’t that special of a player IMO. He doesn’t really do anything exceptional, compared to other players he’s not quick, not strong, just exceptionally crafty. I’m pretty sure PP has come up short in clutch time as many times as he’s come through…

  • Ian

    control
    ewing most overrated player ever in any sports
    First up we have Shaq vs Ewing
    http://www.basketball-reference.com/fc/h2h_finder.cgi?request=1&p1=onealsh01&p2=ewingpa01

    Now we have Olajuwon vs Ewing
    http://www.basketball-reference.com/fc/h2h_finder.cgi?request=1&p1=olajuha01&p2=ewingpa01

    Ewing vs Robinson
    http://www.basketball-reference.com/fc/h2h_finder.cgi?request=1&p1=ewingpa01&p2=robinda01

    he was more seikaly or smits than admiral , dream or shaq.

  • Ehis Murphy

    Alot of people would regret passing on AI. Why is he not on this list

  • Ian

    control
    ewing most overrated player ever in any sports
    i posted his head to head stats vs the other alltime greats but got an awaiting moderation thingy

  • Dagomar

    “Pierce has an advantage because of the trust factor, even if it is owing a lot to simple perception and preference.”

    So it’s not a list of the NBA’s best go-to players, it’s a list of how they are perceived?? Ugh.

  • control

    Ian

    I agree with you, Ewing is MASSIVELY overrated. Shit, he did better in the Patrick Chewing commercial than he ever did in the NBA…

  • http://www.nukedasouth.net Chicagorilla

    PP is a great clutch player because he can hit tough shots and is one of the most (old school) crafty players to come along in a while. Is PP a better option than Tim D, Bron, Melo, Joe Johnson, or Agent Zero in the clutch…hell no. But he does wear that pretty green jersy that says Celtics. That is usually good for a ranking 5-6 spots ahead of where you should be.

    Last year, I actually heard Mark Jackson seriously say that PP is the greatest scoring celtic of all-time….ALL TIME!!!! lol, and DIME wanted to make Mark Jackson the coach of the T-wolves. side note: in NBA 2k10, Cheryl Miller refers to T-wolves coach “Kurt Rambis” as “Kyle Walker”. I have no idea who the hell Kyle Walker is, but apparently 2k did not plan on Kurt Rambis being the coach.

  • KB24

    Seriously..I can name way more players that rank higher than Boris Diaw? Cmon Dime.

  • jimmy_jacked_corn

    @Dagomar — Every list is a list of how the author perceives the people on the list. If that makes sense.

  • NBAMAN

    Yah Patrick Ewing sucked. He averaged 21 and 9.8 a game. Everyone does that for a 17 year career it so easy to do. I mean there was only 1 player that did that last year for the whole season and Ewing averaged that for 17 years. But your right that is overrated. He never won a championship and had some of the greastest players of all time on his team.

    Im being sarcastic, you guys are wrong Ewing is far from overrated.

  • Kermit The Washington

    NBAMAN….hahaha…I love it when people are obviously being sarcastic but then don’t think people will get it so they TELL you they’re being sarcastic.

    LOL like, “Oh yeah, Patrick Ewing really isn’t great, cause he did something that hardly anyone else does in their career, yeah that makes you a horrible player”…

    BY THE WAY I’M BEING SARCASTIC I DON’T REALLY THINK HE IS NOT GREAT”

  • Mike Munger-Return to the Rafters

    You forgot to mention the fact that Pierce can do all of this without the benefit of the officials in his back pocket like Lebron, Kobe, and Wade. How in the hell can Wade be ahead of Pierce?? He’s not as good a 3PT shooter. He’s not as strong in the post. Hell, he’s not as good of a jumpshooter. And everyone knows why Kobe is #1, not because he’s the most clutch but because he plays for the Lakers. People always remember the FEW clutch shots Kobe hits but always want to forget the HUNDREDS he has missed. Game on the line, give me Pierce over anyone in the NBA hands down.

  • knock knock

    “kobe has hit a few clutch shots but missed hundreds” LOL whatta loser. You could make that same comparison about lebron, tmac, garnett, allen, wade. How bout making a comparison that makes sense.?

  • Skeez

    Anybody who has a problem with the Top 3 doesn’t know basketball. Im a huge Miami Heat fan and have lived in Boston the past 6 yrs. Yes, a few yrs ago Pierce was not ‘considered’ a Top 10 player but he always had the talent to be one. I’ve personally seen this man stick clutch shot after clutch shot. Even when the C’s were terrible (Bassy at starting pg, Chris Mihm at center, Ricky Davis was their prized offseason acqusition)the man came to play nigh in and night out (except the mysterious injury that led to their 21 game losing streak, lol). He is ‘The Truth’ for a reason. Wade and Kobe shouldnt even be up for debate. I totally agreed with LBJ @ #4. Until he hits another game winner (and no I dont count the one he hit at the end of game 3 in the playoffs…..all that did was kept them from being swept) he is behind these 3

  • dreams

    Ray Allen>Paul Pierce

  • NBAMAN

    Kermit, if someone thinks Patrick Ewing is overrated I would think they would be dumb enough to not realize sarcasm.

  • control

    NBAMAN

    Where would you rate Zach Randolph as far as greats in NBA history? Just wondering…?

  • NBAMAN

    In 8 seasons only playing more than 70 games three times and averaging like 17 and 8…I would rank him #2 only to dwayne schintzius.

  • sh!tfaced

    ^^^ Now, that is THE TRUTH… hahaha

  • http://82games.com just facts 101

    THIS IS OK, BUT NOT FACTS OVER THE LAST 5YRS!MAJORITY OF YOU’RE TO INFACTIUTATED WITH YOUR FAVORITE PLAYER, AND SPORTSCENTER SHOPPERS(ETC.). GO TO 82games.COM AND YOU WILL SEE THERE IS ONLY PERSON ON THIS LIST THAT HAS THE MOST CLUTCH SHOTS INCLUDING REG.& PLAYOFFS. TAKE A GUEST? IF YOU THINK IT’S ONE OF THE TOP 3, YOU WOULD BE WRONG! HE’S JUST 24 and no were near his PRIME. BEING CLUTCH DOES’T JUST MEAN TAKING THE SHOT, CLUTCH ALSO IS MAKING THE BEST DECISION FOR YOUR TEAM IN GAME OF BB. I’M NOT BEING BIAS, MY FAV PLAYER IS D-WILL. just stating the FACTS!

    GO VISIT 82games.COM

  • 92021SpurMD

    Any idiot who thinks a)that Lebron should be higher than Pierce, b)thinks Pierce ISN’T underrated, and c)Kobe isn’t second to MJ in the clutch, has NO BASKETBALL IQ WHAT-SO-EVER!! A)Lebron’s FT and jumpers are too shaky, which is why he has to drive. B)The Truth’s been getting it done year in and out, can’t help his team never had D. C)How many times have you puked cause Kobe just brought LA back from 20 down on your team? How many times have you gone “here we go again” when Kobe started hitting shots in the 4th quarter when down by 16? Hi Haters!

  • Ross

    Pierce wouldn’t have made my top 5, yet alone ahead of LeBron and Duncan. Just my opinion.

  • Miranda

    Wouldn’t take anyone else in the clutch! This article is about CLUTCH – NOT the best player.
    Plus, he’s got the sweetest smile. :)

  • got beef

    i dont know y yall hate on pierce… it aint an accident that they call dis dude the truth he is SO clutch it aint even funny, take that game they just beat cleveland for example or when they cam from 22 down to beat the lakers, or in game 7 of the eastern conference semi’s 2 years ago against who?? lebron, or when he brought the celtics back from 26 down vs the NJ nets, on this list i think kobe is the only other guy with more gamewinners or clutch shots than pierce… and thats the TRUTH