I need to start this article with a very large disclaimer: This is not a "Paul Pierce should be MVP" article. This is simply a, "Paul Pierce should at least be considered for MVP" article. I do not believe Pierce is the MVP of the league at this point in the season, but I do believe he should be amongst the Top 10 in all of the various MVP lists being published by the likes of NBA.com and ESPN.com. Pierce deserves credit for the tremendous season he's having and just being in the discussion for something like an MVP award would serve as testament to how effective he's played so far.
Those of us who watch Pierce on a nightly basis and witness first hand not only the obviously dominating parts of his game, but also the subtle aspects that will only be appreciated by watching him nightly. We know his game isn't always flashy and he won't grace SportsCenter's Top 10 every morning like some other stars, however a slashing drive and spin move for a layup by Pierce and a tomahawk dunk by LeBron James both count as two points. However as great as Paul is, and even though he means so much to one of the top teams in the league, he is nowhere to be found in the MVP discussion.
NBA.com's Top 10 MVP candidates as of yesterday:
1) Kobe Bryant...2) Lebron James...3) Dirk Nowitzki...4) Carmelo Anthony...5) Dwight Howard...6) Steve Nash...7) Kevin Durant...8) Dwyane Wade...9) Tim Duncan...10) Brandon Roy
ESPN.com's Top 10 MVP candidates as of Monday:
1) Kobe Bryant...2) LeBron James...3) Steve Nash...4) Dirk Nowitzki...5) Carmelo Anthony...6) Dwight Howard...7) Dwyane Wade...8) Joe Johnson...9) Brandon Roy...10) Kevin Durant
As I'm sure you noticed, there are quite a few duplicates on both those lists. But neither list includes Pierce. Therefore, allow me to present my rationale as to why he should be on both.
Much was made of the sluggish play that was beginning to define this Celtics team after a promising 6-0 start. We questioned the defense, the intensity, the heart and the general interest these guys had in reclaiming a championship in June. Well, amidst questions of Kevin Garnett's health and Ray Allen's age and performance, Pierce was the stabilizer during this stretch, which arguably reached its peak after the Celtics lost to the Magic on November 20 at home. Pierce was the mark of consistency and durability that the team often fell back on when the transparent play was visibly noticeable amidst a 9-4 start. Basically, Pierce kept us afloat while we figured ourselves out.
Kobe and LeBron are obviously both fantastic players and people always seem to latch onto the idea that if they were to be removed from their respective teams, those teams would suffer mightily. I'm sure this is true to an extent, but I'm also sure it's true of any superstar in this league. When the team's best player misses time, the team is bound to suffer. It's a simple formula.
However, a guy like Pierce never really seems to get the benefit of this argument, most likely because he has such stellar teammates like Garnett and Allen. But think back to earlier this season, in the midst of all the hoopla this team was working through. Where would this team have been had Pierce not been in the lineup? Surely this group would not have weathered the storm as effectively as it actually did. Think back to how many close games this team had to deal with against sub par opponents. With Pierce out of the lineup, do we win those games? I'm not so sure that we do.Then the critics really would have been calling for some sort of move to be made.
Pierce's phenomenal play this season has really bailed out many other guys on this roster. Garnett is finally starting to look like the guy we loved in 2008. The KG that started the season was hesitant, arguably a step slow and appeared unsure of his own athleticism. He needed NBA minutes to work his way back and we needed him to do that without the team losing a hefty amount of games. Pierce's play took a ton of pressure off of Garnett, which allowed him to comfortably work his way back and now we're started to reap the benefits of an apparently healthy KG.
The same can be said of a guy like Ray Allen, who wasn't necessarily shooting lights out to begin the season. People wondered if this was the year we'd see a steady decline in Ray (turns out it appears it won't be) and after just an okay start, the trade talk started to swirl. But again, Pierce's play allowed Allen to work his way into a groove and now he's just as deadly as ever.
Imagine if we didn't have Pierce and expected steady production from Rasheed Wallace and Eddie House, who both suffered through nightmarish slumps at the commencement of the season. Pierce's play helped us transition through that tough stretch and now 'Sheed and Eddie are finding their respective grooves as well.
I want to take a closer look at the NBA.com and ESPN.com lists. The top four teams in each conference all have representation on ESPN's list - except the Boston Celtics. Cleveland has LeBron, Orlando has Dwight Howard and Atlanta has Joe Johnson. Now please tell me, how is it that the Celtics, Cavs, Magic and Hawks have extremely similar records, yet Pierce is the only one on the outside looking in? What's the difference? A player from a 15-4 Orlando Magic squad is going to grace the top six on that list, but a player from a 16-4 Boston Celtics squad isn't going to crack the Top 10?
Then I look at a guy like Brandon Roy gracing the ninth spot on ESPN's list. Portland is 12-8 and sits fifth in the Western Conference. Now, If Portland was currently 17-3 or 18-2 and in the top three in the West, largely due to the play of Roy then I could certainly see why he would be considered. But they're just 12-8 and that's supposed to be enough to get some MVP love? And leading a team to a 16-4 record and the top spot in the Eastern Conference isn't going to cut it? A similar argument could be made against Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Sure, they're an up and coming team and Durant plays the pivotal role for them, but they're 10-9 on the season and are currently out of the playoff picture. Again, if they were 16-3 or 15-4 and challenging the upper tier teams, I could certainly see Durant getting the nod, but not when his squad is a mere game over .500.
Another reason those lists bother me is because back in 2008, Garnett was held out of the major MVP debate because everyone thought he had too much help around him. Well, this season, that excuse cannot and should not keep Pierce from being in the discussion, because the vast majority of the guys on that list have practically all the help they need this year.
Here's the breakdown of the help:
Howard: Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, Mickael Pietrus and Jameer Nelson (when healthy).
Kobe: Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum.
Johnson: Josh Smith, Al Horford, Marvin Williams, Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford.
LeBron: Shaquille O'Neal, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon and Mo Williams. Coming into this season everyone said Shaq was the solution to LeBron's problems. Well, don't hype up this duo at the start of the season and then start this talk of these two not gelling together on the court properly. If Shaq isn't what LeBron needs, please voice these claims now, rather than waiting until April or May.
Tim Duncan: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Richard Jefferson.
I will say that guys like Carmelo, Nash, Dirk and Wade absolutely deserve to be on this list because they don't have as much help around them as some of the other superstars they share the list with. But because the Magic, Cavaliers, Lakers, Spurs and Hawks are so loaded, Pierce can no longer be ruled out because of his superior teammates.
Many of the players on those lists are defined by the numbers they put up every night, but has Pierce's play ever been defined solely by his numbers throughout his career? Pierce has always defined himself by being the ultimate team guy and asserting himself in whatever area the team needs production in. Pierce is an analyst in true form - he assesses the situation, realizes what the team needs and more than adequately supplies it. Sometimes scoring over 20 points is not what this Celtics team needs and Pierce realizes that. Sometimes they need a guy to grab more rebounds or hand out more assists or slow down the opposing team's best perimeter player. Whatever the scenario, Pierce always answers his team's calls.
Sometimes these MVP debates are defined too heavily by numbers, which is a shame, because it plays into the hands of guys like Kobe and LeBron. Does Kobe realistically need to average over 27 points per game in order for the Lakers to win? Probably not. But that's how Kobe plays the game. Can Pierce realistically average over 25 points per game this season? Probably. But that's not how Pierce plays the game.
I alluded to it in an article on Friday, but how many times has Pierce passed up open shots in order to get his teammates involved? I've lost count of the number of times he could take a lightly contested three, only he dishes to a guy like Brian Scalabrine instead. And this trend with Pierce didn't magically develop when Garnett and Allen showed up two seasons ago. Remember when Wally Szczerbiak first showed up here and Pierce immediately allowed Wally to start shooting the free throws after opponents committed technical fouls?
And isn't that the point of an MVP? An MVP make his team better by making his teammates better. An MVP sacrifices at times so his team benefits. An MVP is much more than just the numbers he puts up.
That's interesting. An MVP sounds an awful lot like Paul Pierce.