By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Paul Pierce may be retired from basketball. But the man is still playing games.
The former Celtics great/future Hall of Famer stirred the pot at the end of last week when he stated that he was a better NBA player than Dwyane Wade.
That a proud, competitive 10-time All-Star said such a thing should not be entirely surprising. Nevertheless, the year is 2019, and everyone on the internet went buck wild.
The kids went ahead and CANCELED Paul Pierce.
It was crazy.
And so, when Wade took the floor in Miami on Tuesday night for the final time of his own Hall of Fame career, the Heat fans in attendance wanted to let one of the best shooting guards of all time know where they stand in this newfound Pierce-Wade debate. And they did so by chanting something fairly simple: “Paul Pierce Sucks!”
No matter where you might stand on such a matter, you have to admit that this was just an objectively great moment in sports. And even if you’re #TeamDwyaneWade, you have to respect Pierce’s ability to have an effect on fans, even in retirement. (Raptors fans no doubt approve.)
As for the debate itself, well, Wade’s going to have far more supporters around the country. He’s got three more All-Star appearances (13 to 10) and twice as many All-NBA appearances (8 to 4), he won three titles compared to Pierce’s lone championship, and he’s generally been regarded as a bigger basketball star over the past 15 years. That being said, don’t sleep on Pierce’s career, or the points he made while arguing he could have had similar success if he had been given some better teammates during his prime years. (No disrespect intended for Mark Blount, Jiri Welsch, Chris Mihm, Raef LaFrentz, Wally Szczerbiak and Ricky Davis.) Frankly, not a whole lot of people outside of Boston watched much of Pierce’s career prior to 2007. It’s led to his career overall being criminally overlooked and underrated.
Pierce played 290 more regular-season games than Wade, scoring 3,257 more points and collecting 2,605 more rebounds. In terms of per game stats, Wade scored 2.3 more points than Pierce and recorded 1.9 more assists than Pierce. As a guard, Wade naturally had more assists and actually had more total assists (5,691) than Pierce (4,708), despite the discrepancy in games played.
Pierce was a much more accomplished 3-point shooter, having made 2,143 of them — or 1,597 more total or 1.1 more per game than Wade — during his career while shooting 36.8 percent from distance; Wade shot 29.3 percent from 3-point range in his career. But Wade was better on 2-point field goals, with his .502 2-point field goal percentage besting Pierce’s .478.
Pierce was better from the free-throw line, with his .806 free-throw percentage compared to Wade’s .765, and averaged roughly the same free throws made per game despite getting to the line 0.7 fewer times per night than Wade.
Pierce had a clean .500 effective field goal percentage in his career, compared to Wade’s .496. Steals and blocks per game were close to a wash, too. Wade had more turnovers per game, but again, as a guard and more of a ball handler, that’s to be expected.
(A brief aside: Dwyane Wade absolutely ate it while trying to climb onto the scorer’s table after a postgame speech to the Miami crowd on Tuesday. He sounded like Homer Simpson as his sternum fell directly on top of a small TV monitor. It was hilarious.
That is all.)
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was asked about the debate Wednesday morning on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich, and while Ainge may be bringing some bias to the table, he also brought with him some cold, hard facts.
Using adjusted plus-minus, Ainge told Toucher & Rich that Wade was slightly better than Pierce during their 20s. But in their 30s, Pierce actually improved upon his adjusted plus-minus from his 20s, while Wade’s adjusted plus-minus plummeted below zero.
“There was a time where I thought Wade was as special as there was in the game at one moment. … But I think that Paul just over the course of his career was more consistent,” Ainge said in the interview. “We have an analytic, an analysis called adjusted plus-minus. That’s probably the best number you could come up with a player’s impact in the game. … They were very high in the prime of their career on adjusted plus-minus, meaning they were in the 10, 11 range per 100 possessions, which is enormous, and only the superstars get up there. Dwyane Wade was slightly better in his 20s than Paul Pierce. So Dwyane Wade was like a plus-6.4 from [age] 22 to 29, and Paul Pierce was plus-5.4. So it’s very close; both of those are very good. And then in their 30s, Pierce was actually better than he was in his 20s. Pierce was plus-5.8, and Dwyane Wade was minus-0.4. And that was my initial feeling was that Pierce was a little more consistent than Wade.”
Of course, generally, barroom debates don’t involve adjusted plus-minus stats broken down by specific decades in a player’s career. So Ainge’s information is not likely to settle much of anything.
But that is the makeup of a great yet meaningless and slightly stupid sports debate. If there’s really no objectively correct answer, and if people get really REALLY mad about it, and if thousands of fans are so inspired that they work together to deliver a chant that degrades a player who retired two years ago? Oh yes. That’s the good stuff right there.