Photo Credit: The Ledge
ESPN recently came out with their top 100 NBA players of all time. Within this list, there are the top 10 small forwards of all time. This position is one of the more important positions in basketball, and many greats have come through that wing on the court. While looking through the list, I noticed one player in particular that showed up way too low: Paul Pierce, AKA “The Truth”. In fact, he didn’t show up at all. According to ESPN, Pierce is not a top 10 all-time NBA small forward. While it is usually hard to go against the biggest sports industry in the world, I strongly disagree. After this article, you will too.
It would be easiest to rank my personal top 10 to give a sense of realism to this. It will simply help you know who Paul Pierce is better than, and who he isn’t as good as. First off, I agree with their #1 spot as LeBron James. He is the most complete player ever and deserves this spot. Next, like ESPN, I’d have to put fellow Celtic Larry “Legend” Bird for his competitiveness and all around success. To continue, I would also put my personal favorite player, Julius Erving, at #3 like ESPN did. He was just way too tall and athletic for his time, and he used it to his advantage. James Worthy was 9th on ESPN’s list, but he’s 4th on mine. Sure, the majority of his titles could be chalked up to the Showtime Lakers with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but he still had loads of success himself.
This is where I put Paul Pierce on my list: 5th all-time, in front of Elgin Baylor at #6, Kevin Durant at #7, Dominique Wilkins at #8, John Havlicek at #9, and Scottie Pippen finishing 10th. There isn’t too much argument needed to explain the players better than Pierce. In a nutshell, the four were all more competitive, more successful, and just better in most aspects.
Starting with Scottie Pippen, Paul Pierce was just more of a leader. Pippen is a 6-time NBA champion and always looked good on the court. He was also playing with the “Greatest Of All Time” himself, Michael Jordan. He was an expert at making everyone on the roster significantly better than they really were. We see this when Pippen headed to Portland at an older age, and was so washed up that he became a scrub. Paul Pierce was on a super-team with the Boston Celtics, but he was the leader of his. To add on, he still won a championship. If Paul Pierce played with Michael Jordan, I guarantee he wins championships, and a LOT more than he has.
John Havlicek is also a relatively underrated player. Just remember he averaged 20 points per game, is an 8-time champion, and won an NBA Finals MVP. However, Paul Pierce is better. When Havlicek was in the NBA, there were only a dozen or so teams in the league. Given he also had a top five all-time player in Bill Russell on his team, the titles really mean a ton less. For Pierce, he had to outplay 29 other teams, and he did so when the league was competitive enough to have at least six to even 10 teams competing for the championship. And he found a way to win. The all-time great Dominique Wilkins falls under a similar category to Pierce, but Pierce is more accomplished.
Kevin Durant has been and still is a top three player in the league over the past decade and right now. He is 6’10” with a 7-foot wingspan and can still pull up and shoot beyond 30 feet exceptionally well. However, not only is Paul Pierce better than him from a historical standpoint right now, he will always be. This is because Kevin Durant made perhaps the weakest move in sports history. He joined a 73-9 Golden State Warriors team with the reigning 2-time MVP, Stephen Curry. Let’s also not forget that the Warriors were the team that knocked Durant out of the playoffs this past season with the Oklahoma City Thunder because he waited too long to get aggressive. I don’t care how many titles Durant ends up with. Chances are, the Warriors would have won a couple of championships without him had he signed elsewhere. For that reason alone, Durant cannot prove to me he is better regardless of how well he does and will stay in his current spot.
Paul Pierce in front of Elgin Baylor as well? The answer is yes, and here is why. Pierce came as close as you can get to Elgin’s 11 All-Star game appearances, making it to the big game 10 times. Given Pierce played in the league during a far more competitive era, with stars such as Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, it’s safe to say that Pierce would have made many more than 11 appearances in the All-Star game had he played in a much less competitive 1970’s NBA. To go on, Elgin Baylor could not even win a title in what was supposed to be “his era.” Not only did Paul Pierce win a championship, he also was the NBA Finals MVP, meaning he made a bigger impact than anyone else in the series. He also did it in a league with Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, a young LeBron James, etc. No disrespect to Baylor, but he could not even beat the 70’s Hawks. We all know that should have been easy. Pierce is better, and he is better than all but four.