Tag: Shane Battier

Amir Johnson; Mirza Teletovic; Alan Anderson

Paul Pierce’s move to power forward adds twist to his career, Brooklyn Nets’ season


BOSTON – On Paul Pierce’s first defensive possession as the Brooklyn Nets’ full-time starting power forward, Serge Ibaka backed him down on the block. Pierce bodied Ibaka, keeping him out of the paint, and Ibaka threw the ball away.

On the Oklahoma City Thunder’s next possession, Ibaka posted up Pierce again. Pierce hardly yielded an inch as Ibaka settled for a turnaround jumper. Airball.

“He’s always telling us how he can lock everybody up that tries to post him up,” Nets center Mason Plumlee said with a laugh. “He’s done that, pretty much.”

Pierce – the NBA’s shortest and maybe most surprising – starting power forward certainly doesn’t lack the confidence to excel in his new position.

Nor the ability defend post-ups.

He’s held opponents to 35.3 percent shooting and forced a turnover on 25.9 percent of post-up plays finished against him, according to MySynergySports. Overall, he’s allowed .64 points per post-up – 16th best in the entire NBA.

A small forward his entire career, Pierce was always crafty and strong enough to handle players his size. But his ability to routinely defend the post-ups of bigger players, often through sheer physicality, has been impressive.

In every other way, though, Pierce hardly looks the part of a power forward – beginning with his 6-foot-7 frame, shortest among the NBA’s 30 starters at the position. Even in era of small ball, Pierce at power forward adds a little wonkiness on both sides of the court.

But wonkiness seems to be exactly what Pierce, who’s reinventing himself at age 36, and the Nets need.

Brooklyn started the season 10-21, but once Brook Lopez suffered a season-ending foot injury, Jason Kidd turned to small ball and turned his team’s fortunes. Since the change, conveniently timed with the flip of the calendar from 2013 to 2014, the Nets have gone 20-9.

Of teams’ most-used lineups, the Nets’ – Deron Williams, Shaun Livingston, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett – has been the NBA’s second best with a net rating +15.9 (offensive rating: 103.9/defensive rating: 88.1).


But Brooklyn’s most-used lineup has played fewer minutes (122 all season) than any other team’s most-used, so sample-size caveats apply.

Still, with with Garnett out injured and Plumlee replacing him as a starter, that lineup has been even better (116.8/86.1/+30.7). Though in just 59 minutes sample-size issues are even more relevant, it seems as long as the Nets go small, they can’t help but stumble into a productive lineup.

For Pierce, whose career appeared to be wilting just a few months ago, the results have been nearly as dramatic.

The slippage began to show during the Celtics’ first-round loss to the Knicks last season. In that series, Pierce posted negative win shares, shooting 37 percent from the field and 27 percent on 3s and turning the ball over more than five times per game.

His first couple months with Brooklyn didn’t go much better, as he posted a PER of 13.6 in 2013. That would have been first below-average PER of Pierce’s career. At 36 and on an expiring contract, he appeared nearing retirement.

By moving to power forward, though, Pierce has increased his season PER to 16.1. That would still be a career low, but it’s solidly above average and ranks fifth on a playoff team.

Careers have been extended – or ended – on less.

Despite all his progress as a quirky small-ball four, the position carries dangers. Whenever Brooklyn’s center gets pulled away from the basket, to defend a pick-and-roll or otherwise, Pierce is often left as the last line of defense near the basket.

In the third quarter of Pierce’s re-return to Boston on Friday, Celtics center-of-the-moment Kris Humphries drove past Plumlee on the perimeter. Pierce slide over and took a charge – and a Humphries elbow deep into his right shoulder.

Pierce immediately went to the bench and sat, grabbing his shoulder and wincing.

Even when Pierce succeeds as a backline defender – a difficult assignment for him – he exposes an area of his body that has bothered him for years.

“Whenever I get hit in that shoulder, just I guess the constant years of banging – especially now that I’m playing the four,” Pierce said.

But Pierce – unlike his partner in crime, Garnett, who openly hates shifting to center – seems to be in no hurry to change the small-ball lineups that feature him at power forward.

“That’s our style. It’s no secret. We’re a small team,” Pierce said. “We don’t rebound well. We force turnovers. We shoot 3s.”

Pierce certainly does his part to contribute to those trends.

  • His total-rebounding percentage (10.0) ranks in the bottom five of starting power forwards. Only Shane Battier, Wesley Johnson, Josh McRoberts and Thaddeus Young are lower.
  • Pierce’s steal rate (2.0) is his highest since 2004-05. He excels at jumping in front of passes to power forwards whom other bigs typically couldn’t get around quickly enough.
  • Pierce has taken 39.7 percent of his shots from beyond the arc, easily a career high. Because he’s tangling for defensive rebounds more and isn’t as exactly as quick as he once was, Pierce, shooting 35.2 percent from beyond the arc, is one of NBA’s more dangerous trailers.

Can Pierce keep this up? Has becoming a power forward saved his career?

“It’s not about being a four,” Kidd said. “He’s a basketball player. So, he’s out there taking advantage of maybe a bigger guy. But his basketball IQ is extremely high, so he knows how to play no matter what position he’s in.”

Chris Bosh says if NBA wants to ban slurs on court it has to ban them all

Detroit at Miami

I’m not sure how you can really regulate “smack talk” on basketball court or a football field or any other sporting venue. It’s not that lines of basic human decency are not crossed verbally all the time — they are — and when that happens there should be something for referees to fall back on as a tool/penalty. However, once you ask the referees to step in on this issue it creates a new web of enforcement problems — where is the line drawn and how can referees in a loud stadium always be sure what they thought they heard was actually said?

The NFL is discussing imposing a new 15-yard penalty for racial slurs uttered on the field. It may not be approved in that form — PFT’s Michael David Smith suggested to me the NFL might just expand the existing taunting rules and have officials watch for flagrant cases — but it has certainly created conversation around the issue.

Should the NBA follow down the NFL’s path?

Miami’s Chris Bosh said you can’t just ban “the N-word” or one kind of slur, you need to ban them all. He spoke with the Palm Beach Post about it.

“I’m OK with penalties, but then it gets tricky,” he said. “What if I say this? There’s a bunch of things I could say and not get a penalty. If you’re gonna bring one thing in, you gotta put them all in the hat. That’ll work out a lot better.”

Would it really work out better? Should lawyers in suits in the Manhattan league offices be deciding what can and can’t be said on a court?

Shane Battier likes the general idea of assessing a penalty for slurs, but understands it is in the application of the law things get tricky.

“The arena of professional sports is highly, highly, highly emotional,” he said. There are a lot of things I’m ashamed I said, but I probably can’t say them in this interview. At the same time, we are a league that is in the public view and we sell ourselves as a family entertainment business. There are a lot of kids, and whether we like it or not, we are role models for millions of kids out there. To at least address the issue is responsible by the league….

“All of the sudden you’re asking our referees to be grammar judges when reffing an NBA basketball game is hard enough,” he said. “Ask any of them.”

Well, if referees handed out foul shots for incorrect grammar on the court NBA games would be six hours long. They could then come in the media work room and call fouls on a few of us, too.

In an image-conscious league you can bet this is something that will be discussed at the NBA offices. Compared to a huge NFL field, the NBA court is small and some fans sit courtside — pretty much everything said out there can be heard. Or picked up by courtside microphones. Maybe it’s something the league should ask its referees to look at.

But you can be sure the referees don’t want to wade into that water. They have enough on their plate.

D-League to start calling technical for flopping in game, see if that works

Josh Smith, Paul Pierce, flop

The D-League is where the NBA likes to try out rule changes first to see how they work. For example, this season the D-League uses quicker timeouts and is using the international goaltending rule (once the ball hits the rim it is live and can be knocked off).

Now the D-League is going to try handing out in-game technical for flopping in an effort to slow a trend the NBA finds embarrassing. They will start trying it out on Feb. 20, the league announced.

Right now referees can call a personal foul for flopping, but that is rare. To be clear, they are defining flopping as “any physical act that appears to have been intended to cause the referee to call a foul on another player.”

Referees will be told to call a flopping technical more aggressively, but then will have to go to the instant replay monitors to confirm the call (not at that moment but at the next time out or quarter break). The foul shot with the technical would be taken after that confirmation.

The NBA needs to try something because the slap on the wrist fines currently assessed — just a warning the first time, a $5,000 fine the second and escalating from there — simply isn’t working.

Players flop, they embellish contact because it works — they do get foul calls and the penalty is not a deterrent. Maybe these in game penalties would help, but if they are sometimes getting the calls they want in game for flopping they likely will risk the technical to continue.

Personally, I’m with Shane Battier on this — if you want to do away with flopping, make the fine $25,000 for the first offense and have it escalate fast. Make it hurt in the wallet and guys are more likely to stop.

But we’ll try technical in the D-League first, I guess.