Looking at Paul Pierce‘s stats for this season and his year could easily be split into three parts — his first four games with the Nets, the middle 11 and the most recent five.
During his first four games, he averaged 20.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists per 36 minutes while shooting 55.6 percent. Over the next 11 games he averaged 13.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists per 36 minutes with a field goal percentage of 31.1. More recently he has averaged 16.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists per 36 minutes while shooting 52.6 percent.
What explains the turnaround? Well, he is coming off the bench, but he was a starter earlier in the year when he does well and is playing similar minutes so that’s probably not it. Instead it seems likely that he was nursing an injury all that time and just didn’t say anything about it.
“This is as healthy as I have been all season,” Pierce explained Wednesday night. “My hand is feeling good, my groin is feeling good. I’m understanding the system and understanding my spots.”
Did you see that? He mentioned his groin injury and it was completely unprovoked by reporters. Was Pierce, who did sit out one game earlier this year due to the groin, hiding an injury? Kevin Garnett thinks so.
“He’s been struggling with a couple of injuries with his hand and The Truth is not going to tell you about what he’s got going on,” KG said. “That’s just not how he’s programmed. He got into a good rhythm with his shooting and his timing and he had a nice night (Wednesday).”
That explains a lot because Pierce was getting pretty brutal for a while there to the point where many Nets fans were relieved to see him coming off the bench in favor of Alan Anderson, who has been little more than a journeyman player before signing with Brooklyn. His broken hand, which he’s seen little effect from since returning and wearing a protective glove, may have been a blessing in disguise as it allowed him to rest that groin.
Now the question becomes — should Pierce be returned to the starting lineup? It’s not a clean cut answer though because he does provide a lot more depth playing with the second unit. But then again, Deron Williams would provide more depth playing with that unit as well and nobody is suggesting benching him to start games. Pierce says he has adjusted well to that roll and doesn’t care if he starts or comes off the bench.
“I really don’t care,” Pierce said about starting or coming off the bench. “I’ve been a starter my whole career and I’m making adjustments coming off the bench, but it doesn’t matter.”
Jason Kidd didn’t provide a much better answer either as he simply said that he would talk to the coaches, talk to Pierce and then make a decision.
It would be an easier question to answer if Andrei Kirilenko was around. Having Anderson starting in Pierce’s place certainly hasn’t been a liability, but there is a reason he was a journeyman and Kirilenko was an All-Star. The ability to plug Kirilenko into that starting role would really be a weapon and make the Nets appear much deeper than they currently are.
It’s hard to say when Kirilenko will be back though. He’s already had three setbacks and admitted that these back spasm, which have been a problem for him in recent years, are worse than ever. The good news is that he’s had three doctors rule out surgery and has been practicing more heavily this week. He could be poised to return any day now if he doesn’t have another setback.