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Paul Pierce makes list of top 40 NBA players of past 40 seasons

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Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce, center, dunks as Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, left, and center Anderson Varejao of Brazil, right, watch during the second half of Game 4 in a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Sunday, May 9, 2010, in Boston. The Celtics won 97-87, tying the series at 2-2. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce, center, dunks as Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, left, and center Anderson Varejao of Brazil, right, watch during the second half of Game 4 in a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Sunday, May 9, 2010, in Boston. The Celtics won 97-87, tying the series at 2-2. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Debating where basketball players rank in the annals of history is a time-honored tradition in the NBA — like Marv Albert yelling “Yes” on a broadcast or the Los Angeles Clippers failing to advance past the second round of the playoffs.

So you can imagine the arguments ignited by The Washington Post’s newly published list of The Top 40 players since the ABA/NBA merger, 40 years ago, as constructed by Tim Bontemps. The Michael Jordan-LeBron James disputes, of course, are inevitable. But so, too, are the “Why isn’t Player X on this list?” and “Who put THAT guy on here?” dissensions.

Although others might debate his inclusion, University of Kansas basketball fans will be glad to know the Jayhawks are represented among The Post’s top 40 of the past 40 seasons, with Paul Pierce coming in at No. 36 — even ahead of a pair of hall of famers, Kevin McHale and Reggie Miller.

A recent retiree and future hall of famer himself, Pierce averaged 19.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals over the course of 19 seasons, after Boston made him the No. 10 pick in the 1998 draft. “The Truth” was a 10-time all-star, four-time member of one of the three tiers of all-NBA teams and the 2008 NBA Finals MVP.

Bontemps explains his place in NBA history:

“Pierce’s quiet end to his career with the Los Angeles Clippers shouldn’t diminish what was a remarkable run, largely with the Boston Celtics, where he partnered with (Kevin) Garnett and (Ray) Allen to usher in a new era in the sport. He also had the most duels with James, and came out on the winning end more times than just about anyone else, too.”

As referenced by Bontemps, Pierce and LeBron put up some classic battles before the former KU star hit the declining years of his career arc. Pierce and the Celtics knocked James and the Cavaliers (the pre-Miami, pre-Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love incarnation) out of the playoffs in both 2008 and 2010. And although LeBron’s Heat teams would later defeat Pierce and company in three other postseasons (once after Boston traded him to Brooklyn), giving “King James” a 3-2 advantage over Pierce in terms of playoff series won (17-13 in postseason games), this generation’s greatest talent, who has since won three titles, learned much from his early battles with “The Truth.”

"Obviously he gets a Cliff note or a couple notes in my book as far as guys that helped me get over the hump or kept me where I was at the time," James said in 2015 of Pierce. "I knew I had to become much better individually. He's one of those guys."

That praise, along with Pierce’s many accomplishments, some may — you know — argue, should be enough to rank Pierce higher than 36th on this compilation of all-time greats.

Check out The Post’s interactive top-40 graphic and decide for yourself.

Among the 40 players highlighted, Pierce ranks 26th in points, 27th in rebounding, 25th in assists, 24th in steals and 25th in blocks.

Comments

David Robinett 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Based on that last paragraph, shouldn't he be ranked about 25th? Rather than 36th

Joe Joseph 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Kevin Garnett is grossly overrated at #8. And in front of Kobe? On what planet?!

Tracey Graham 6 months, 1 week ago

These lists are all really subjective. Just glancing at it quickly, I see at least 2 things on this one that seem remarkably wrong: Nowitzki being ahead of Jabbar and Nash being ahead of Stockton. There is no statistical or historical evidence that would back up those rankings. Jabbar was a far more dominant player, than Nowitzki was; Jabbar averaged 20+ PPG in 10 straight years from 1976-77 to 1985-86, pulled down 10+ RPG in the first five years of that streak and won 5 NBA titles between 1976-77 and his last season (1988-89). Nowitzki won 1 title with Dallas and while he was a scoring machine, was never a particularly good defender and has never averaged 10 RPG. On the Nash vs Stockton comparison, Stockton was a 5-time All-Defensive selection, nash was one of the worst defensive players I've ever seen. Stockton went to 2 NBA Finals, nash to none. Stockton is the all-time leader in career assists and steals by a wide margin. He also has the higher career FG% (51.5% to nash's 49.0%). I know some people think of nash as a far better scorer, but their career averages are pretty similar -- 14.3 PPG for nash, 13.1 PPG for Stockton.

I'm sure if I looked more closely, I'd see many more rankings that I disagree with. But like I said, it's all subjective. The fact that Paul Pierce is even on the list is nice (although unsurprising).

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