How Paul Pierce's Game Has Eroded Since Last Season

Matthew SchmidtFeatured ColumnistJanuary 29, 2013

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 27: Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics walks off of the court after their double overtime 100-98 win against the Miami Heat on January 27, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Paul Pierce is 35 years old. He has now been in the league for 15 years and has logged over 39,000 minutes of playing time. That is essentially the equivalent of playing basketball non-stop for 28 days in a row.

That is how much mileage Pierce has on his body.

So, it's only natural that the skills of the future Hall of Famer are going to erode.

This is not a knock on Pierce. This is just the natural course of events. The fact that he is still a fringe All-Star caliber player at this stage of his career is absolutely remarkable, a testament to just how good The Truth really is and shows how fiercely his heart beats green.

Pierce's graceful decline has been most salient in his efficiency. A career 44.7 percent shooter, the captain is hitting on only 41.9 percent of his shot attempts this season, his lowest mark since 2003-04. If you've watched Pierce at all this year, that number comes as no surprise, either.

We are seeing the veteran settle for more three-pointers than usual, attempting five per game. That is up from the 4.5 he averaged in 2011-12 and the 3.7 he was taking in the two years prior. Obviously, this is a result of Pierce losing a bit of quickness, as he isn't as able as he used to be in getting by defenders and getting to the rim. Below is a look at the amount of deep jumpers he is taking in each month thus far.

Contrast those five trifectas a game with the amount of shots he is taking near the basket. Pierce is only taking 3.5 shots at the rim per contest. Last year, he was averaging four.

Given that little piece of information, it's no wonder that No. 34's efficiency has taken a dip this season.

Of course, this is also a product of Pierce conserving energy for the playoffs, but we have never seen him conserve this much.

Another concern is Pierce's free throw percentage. He's shooting only 79.3 percent from the charity stripe, the first time he has shot below 80 percent since 2006-07. As a matter of fact, Pierce's worst mark in the years between 2007-08 and 2011-12 was 83 percent, and the last three seasons, he shot no worse than 85 percent from the line.

Could The Truth's nosedive in free throw percentage thus far be a result of more tired legs than usual?

Perhaps the most alarming thing about Pierce is that his .116 win shares per 48 minutes are, by far, his lowest since 2003-04.

All of that said, we all expected this to happen at some point. Pierce is undoubtedly one of the best Boston Celtics to ever lace them up, but being that he has now been in the league for a decade-and-a-half, it's no surprise that he is trending downward.

The good thing is that his decline was not really sudden. You saw it begin last year when Pierce put up his lowest field goal percentage since Kevin Garnett arrived in Boston, so it's not like he has fallen off of a cliff or anything. He remains a very productive player, and in fact, he is doing some things this season that he hasn't done in a long while.

For example, Pierce's number of 6.3 rebounds per 36 minutes is his best since 2004-05, and his 1.5 steals per 36 minutes represents his best since 2003-04. He is also putting up 19.9 points per 36 minutes, his second-best mark since Garnett came over.

It's just that we won't see The Truth dominating games as much as he used to. He still has it in him to do it once in a while. We just won't observe it as often as we once did.

Now, with Rajon Rondo out for the rest of the 2012-13 campaign, Pierce will face his biggest challenge in a long while. He will need to shoulder even more of the load, meaning he will have almost no choice but to be more aggressive and attack the rim.

We may now see whether or not Pierce's drop in efficiency has been a result of him coasting or if we really are witnessing the slow downfall of one of the greatest small forwards to ever set foot on a basketball court.

All statistics in this article are accurate as of January 29th, 2013.