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His game has changed, but Paul Pierce still draws a crowd when he has the ball.Jackie MacMullan chronicled Paul Pierce's evolving offensive game after he scored a team-high 27 points to pace the Celtics past the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night at TD Garden.
When Pierce injured his knee during the playoffs last season, Celtics coach Doc Rivers talked about a need to bring Pierce off screens more often in order to give him more space to work with. Now at age 35 -- and never the most athletic player to begin with -- the Celtics are again putting a heavy emphasis on bringing Pierce off pin-downs in order to generate open looks.
But it's almost staggering how much of his early season offense has come off screens.
With help from Synergy Sports play-type data, here's a look at Pierce's offensive output over the last four seasons:
A glance at Paul Pierce's offensive production, highlighting his overall points per play (with percentile rank among all NBA players), then the percentage of his top play-types (with points per play and percentile):
Pierce's increase in shots generated off screens has leapt from one of his least-used play-types in 2009-10 (when he was more of a pick-and-roll guy) to his most common method of attack this season. Pierce is clearly still getting used to that increased activity and is doing much of his damage in transition (when he's got familiar room to operate, including the ability to step back for 3-point shots). And as his spot-up numbers suggest (and the eyes have confirmed over recent games), Pierce can still free himself for step-back jumpers against even the most athletic defenders (like Kevin Durant).
The numbers suggest that there's been little drop-off in Pierce's offensive contributions regardless of how he generates it. Rivers talked before Friday's game about how you can put an elite scorer into any offense and that player is going to score. Pierce is proof that regardless of how the Celtics utilize him, he's still going to put points on the scoreboard.
By means of comparison, Ray Allen generated 35.9 percent of his plays off screens in Boston last season. The Celtics likely won't ever get that drastic with Pierce, but there's no doubt the benefit of producing quality looks. Rivers will do whatever is necessary to keep feeding Boston's most consistent offensive presence.
Yet again, Captain Chameleon is able to adapt to his surroundings. Pierce always talks about giving the game what it needs, and even at an advanced age, he's still giving the offense what it needs, just in a different way.