The NBA is a constantly evolving landscape. What was true seven months ago may not be true now, and no one has any clue what the league will look like two years from now. Players get old. Players hit their prime. Players fall off. Teams make trades, go through coaches, sign and draft prospects and even go through name changes. Predictions are almost never right, and anyone who calls themselves an “expert” may not have anymore insight than the regular fan.
Enter Paul George and Paul Pierce, two small forwards on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. We tackled this exact argument earlier this year — just seven months ago — but with the way George is improving and with the Truth on another Eastern Conference juggernaut, we figured it was worth bringing up again.
There’s a good possibility Brooklyn and Indiana will face off in a deep playoff round next spring, and with both teams being almost mirror images, it’ll make for some great basketball. George and Pierce would be at the center of it all. But who is better? We argue. You decide.
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If you take Paul Pierce back to his prime, it’s almost a spitting image of Paul George. Funny, because both were taken in the first round with the 10th pick in their respective draft classes. It’s hard to argue against a player with as much stature as Paul Pierce has in the NBA. But for everyone that was apart of the Paul George show this past postseason, it makes it a little easier. It was hard to NOT become a Paul George fan with his postseason performance. He was like the Steph Curry of the Eastern Conference the way everyone fell in love with him. Didn’t you scream at the top of your lungs when you saw George drive right past King James and dunk all in the Birdman‘s grill? Yeah, this guy is the real deal.
Paul Pierce is the grizzly veteran that’s been through intense playoff battles with the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Paul George is our young superstar that rose from the hardwood and took the NBA by storm this season. He even developed his own rivalry with LeBron James. That new rivalry made for a very exciting Eastern Conference Finals this past season. Paul Pierce has his NBA resume maxed out. Paul George is just beginning his and it’s already very impressive. Respect to the great that was Paul Pierce, but King George is ready to take over the NBA.
Paul George is the leader of the Indiana Pacers, much as Pierce had been the leader of the Celtics for years. It’s funny, because when you compare the stat lines between the two, they are eerily similar. Paul George averaged 17.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg and 4.1 apg this past season while shooting 42 percent from the field and 36 percent from deep. Paul Pierce averaged 18.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg and 4.8 apg while shooting 44 percent from the field and 38 percent from deep. One stat line that starts to separate the two is the +/- stat. This statistic represents the amount of points a team scores when that player is on the court. George had a +/- of 4.6 this season, while Pierce had only a +/- of 1.6. George is essentially doubling the point differential the Pacers are producing when comparing his 4.6 to Pierce’s 1.6. When you compare those stat lines, Paul George holds up strongly against a great like Paul Pierce. That says a lot for George who’s been in the league for three years, compared to Pierce’s 15 years of experience.
Breaking down the statistics even more, we see a player in Paul George who has statistically exploded each of his three years in the league. Comparing stats year by year, especially with a young player like George, is important to be able to mark improvement. During his rookie season (’10-11) George only averaged 7.8 points and 3.7 rebounds a night. George’s sophomore campaign saw him improve his scoring to 12.1 and rebounds to 5.6. Last season (George’s third) saw the young star explode to average 17.4 and 7.6. George increased his scoring by roughly five points from ’11-12 to ’12-13 while playing in only 13 more games. During the playoffs, George upped the scale even more. He averaged 19.2 points in the 2013 Playoffs, along with 7.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. Three years ago we have a player that couldn’t averaging double-figures in points and rebounds. In present time, we have a player that is almost averaging 20 points, along with eight rebounds and five dimes (compared to LeBron, who averaged 26.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg and 7.3 apg last season). Paul George has essentially doubled his scoring from his rookie season to now. Talk about growth.
With Paul Pierce, we are seeing a player that’s been on the decline for a few years. Pierce hasn’t had a season where he’s averaged 20 points since the ’08-09 season. During George’s rookie season (’10-11), Pierce was shooting an impressive 50 percent from the field. The two seasons after that, Pierce hasn’t been able to shoot over 45 percent from the field. The decline is written in the numbers, whereas in George’s numbers, we see a player whose scoring has been trending upwards in copious amounts every season. Actually all of George’s numbers have almost doubled since his rookie season. His assists have gone from 1.1 to 2.4 to 4.1 last season. George’s rebounds went from 3.7 to 5.6 to an impressive 7.6 last season. All of his statistics are improving in large quantities, without any sign of regress. Based on his playoff performance where his points increased from 17.4 to 19.2, we can only assume that George will continue this massive improvement in his game.
When Paul Pierce raises up in clutch time, you know it’s going to fall in the bucket more times than not. I’ve watched Pierce closely for many years as a Sixers fan. Whenever I saw him do his famous step back, my heart dropped every time because I knew it was going in. We see George developing this same demeanor in clutch time. Both are exuberant and confident when the game is on the line. They step up, not step down. But, being clutch isn’t always about putting in the game-winning bucket. It can also be about stepping up to your competition when the stakes are high. The stakes were at their highest in this past season’s Eastern Conference Finals against the NBA champion Miami Heat. Paul George averaged 19.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg and 5.1 apg when the lights shined the brightest on his young career. He put up that solid stat line while shooting 48 percent from the field and 44 percent from range. Paul George stepped up to the greatest player in the NBA, LeBron James, and almost took his crown from him. Mind you, Paul Pierce was watching this all from his couch at home, because he was knocked out in the first round against the Knicks, a team Paul George and his Pacers defeated in the second round.
Comparing a player going into his fourth year in the NBA with someone who will be a first ballot Hall of Fame entry isn’t easy. The way Paul George exploded this season when everyone expected his Pacers to bow down to the Heat says differently. There’s no doubt in my mind that I would take George over Pierce. Like I said earlier, Pierce’s resume in the NBA is all but maxed out. Paul George has a whole career ahead of him, one filled with promise and success.
It was a good ride, Paul Pierce, but there’s a new sheriff in town. Paul George rose from an average player to an emerging All-Star in the last half of the season and the playoffs. What do you think will happen this season? Continued greatness. Paul Pierce? Continued decline. Welcome to the land of the greats, Paul George. Get ready to see a takeover in the NBA this season by Paul George and his Indiana Pacers.Subscribe to UPROXX