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06/26/2012 - 12:38
14 Years After the 1998 Draft, Paul's Still Defying Expectations
by Wayne Lam and the Paul Pierce Team

On June 28, amateur basketball players from around the world will have the privilege and honor to shake David Stern’s hand, and finally become NBA pros. Even after months of research, scouts and team officials will be busy all night looking at data sheets and rewatching game tapes. They will look back at measurables from the NBA Combine, at all the jaw-dropping verticals, all the cat-like quickness, and all the superhero strength.

But those numbers never tell the whole story. For the past 14 years, Paul Pierce has proved that, at the end of the day, all those measurables are just numbers.

 

Even in high school and college, Paul was never the fastest or strongest guy on the court. He was never viewed as a sexy pick. But while playing for Hall of Fame head coach Roy Williams, Pierce made a name for himself. Over three years at KU, Paul was named Big Eight Freshman of the Year, won MVP honors twice in the Big 12 Conference Tournament and earned consensus First Team All American honors in 1998.

KU’s basketball program and its recruits are regarded as some of the best of all time, and Paul Pierce headlines the KU elite. In his freshman year, Pierce was a member of one of the greatest Jayhawk teams in history, one that featured Raef LaFrentz, Jacque Vaughn, and Scott Pollard. In his sophomore year, he helped bring the Jayhawks to the Sweet Sixteen and in his final year as a Jayhawk, Pierce averaged 20.4 points per game. To this day, Pierce’s retired #34 still hangs in the Allen Fieldhouse rafters.

Throughout college, Paul was lauded as an exceptional scorer, but scouts were also impressed with his feel for the game. The Golden State Warriors' then-general manager Garry St. Jean said Pierce “might have more ability to score than any other rookie.

"He can drift and shoot, can come off the screen, can break you down off the dribble and can go down to the box and score,” St. Jean said. In many mock drafts at the time, Pierce was projected to be gone after three picks.

But things didn’t fall into place as planned. Pierce didn’t hear his name called by commissioner David Stern after the first, second, or third picks were announced. In fact, Paul slid to all the way to tenth, where the Boston Celtics were thrilled to see him.

In the lead-up to the draft, Boston's front office was so sure Paul would be gone that Head Coach Rick Pitino hadn't even considered the possibility of Paul in Celtic Green. It didn’t take long for them to realize he would wear it well.

Even though he was selected in the top half of the draft, Paul's selection at #10 overall still qualifies as one of the biggest draft steals in NBA history. Several players selected tenth in NBA draft history, including Horace Grant, Eddie Jones, Jason Terry, and Joe Johnson, have had respectable careers, but none has put together a career as illustrious as Pierce’s. With one championship, a Finals MVP award, 10 All-Star appearances, the second spot on the Celtics’ All Time scoring list, and even a Three-Point Shootout Competition championship, the Celtics’ captain is easily the greatest tenth overall selection in the draft lottery era.

As a fun side note, Pierce is also just one of three players selected in the double-digits to earn the same number of All-Star appearances as his selection spot. Only Karl Malone and Kobe Bryant have been able to achieve the same feat (both were drafted at #13). 

This past season, his 14th in the NBA, Pierce didn’t let father time hinder his production either. While many fell victim to the injury bug during the condensed season, "The Truth” avoided any major impediments. He led his squad in scoring, averaging 19.4 points per game, and along the way, Paul broke new ground too. Thanks to his longevity and scoring ability, Pierce passed Larry Bird on the Celtics’ All Time scoring list and earned his tenth All-Star Game invitation.

Back in 1998, there were plenty of team officials who doubted Pierce’s grit and toughness. His passion for the game and his tireless work ethic were overlooked on draft night during teams’ last minute decisions. They all took a look at his vital statistics, but they missed the most vital organ of all: his heart.

The will and confidence that has brought Pierce NBA success and a near guarantee to Springfield weren’t noticed or appreciated by nine teams. Pierce never had astounding measurables, but his heart and determination ultimately added up to greatness.