Paul Pierce displaying his diversified game to Nets
In the days leading up to the Nets' season opener, Paul Pierce professed he'd morph back into the player everyone's come to know and become more assertive the minute the Nets put the preseason behind them.
"I think I'm going to be a lot more aggressive once the regular season starts," Pierce said then. "Right now, I'm trying to get a feel for the offense, get a feel for where my shots are going to come. But I'm still going to be myself. I'm still going to be the aggressor."
The man nicknamed "The Truth" is staying true to his word.
Pierce's tenure with the Nets is off to a strong start, the latest evidence coming in Tuesday's 104-88 pasting of the Jazz. Even at age 36, his court vision remains a distinct trait. He's distributing pinpoint passes with a keen eye and is easily spotting the open man, helping keep the ball swinging around until the Nets can find a quality shot.
Through their first four games, Pierce has emerged as the Nets' second-leading scorer behind center Brook Lopez, tossing in 15.8 points per game. He's shooting 55.5 percent from the floor, which includes 35.7 percent on three-pointers and 94.7 percent from the free-throw line, and is registering 3.3 assists per game, third on the team behind point guards Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston.
"He's kind of kick-started us every game," Joe Johnson said after the Nets beat Utah, "as far as whether it's a three or a big play, period, offensively. He did it [Tuesday] and then he started facilitating. But the ball will find you. We've got so many guys who can penetrate and kick, we'll be shooting darts and shooting wide-open shots. So, you've got to be ready."
Pierce, immensely comfortable playing alongside Kevin Garnett from their days in Boston, is creating a nice rapport with Lopez. He's made a conscious effort to get the Nets' 7-foot All-Star center the ball, whether it's by dicing through the lane and handing it off or tossing it into him on the low blocks and letting him operate.
Three times in the first quarter Tuesday, Pierce found Lopez in rhythm for baskets, collecting a trio of assists that Williams had to appreciate.
"He's always been a playmaker," Williams said. "He's been able to rebound and push the ball. He's been a willing passer and a great passer in this league. So, we're lucky to have someone like him, someone like AK [Andrei Kirilenko] to make plays. We have a lot of versatility on this team."
Pierce's diversified portfolio has been on full display as he settles into his role, exploring the different avenues he can travel down to push the Nets in a championship direction. So far, he's showing he has plenty of game left, which bodes well for the Nets provided the 16-year veteran can stay healthy.
"He's just a true pro, as good as they come," Nets coach Jason Kidd said. "It's basketball. He's been doing this for a long time, so he understands the opportunity that we have as a whole. He's one of the guys that are playing extremely well for us on both ends, and that's what we need from our leaders. And that's what he is. He's a leader."