Okay, I am going to say this right off the bat: Dwyane Wade had a better career than Paul Pierce.
Did everyone get that? Did everyone see I wrote that? Are we good? Okay, good.
As we saw on Friday night, Paul Pierce lit a fire when he said he had a better career than Dwyane Wade. Before we go any further, I just want you to hear Pierce’s logic:
“If you give me Shaq, if you give me LeBron… if you give me these guys early in my career… If I was 24 years old and you give me Shaq, when I’m 24-25 and you give me LeBron and Bosh, I’d be sitting on 5 or 6 championships”
-Paul Pierce on NBA Countdown
For someone who played his first 9 years in the league with the only “help” being 5+ seasons of Antoine Walker, I think it’s a valid point.
Once Pierce got help during his age 30 season, we saw a winner emerge, one that was there all along without a supporting cast.
It’s obviously not fair to talk about things that did not happen, because you can spin the argument anyway you want. Moving forward, I’ll try to focus on the things that DID happen during the careers of Wade and Pierce.
I’m going to break down their careers in intervals, let the numbers and accolades do the talking, and just try to give the full picture. As I have already said, I believe Wade had the better career, but I also believe it’s more of a conversation than people make it out to be.
First 2 Seasons
Dywane Wade (2003 – 2005)
Accolades: NBA All-Rookie First Team (2004), All-NBA Second Team (2005), All-Star (2005), NBA All-Defensive Second Team (2005)
Stats: 20.6 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.8 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.8 BPG
.473 FG%/.296 3P%/.480 eFG% (15.3 FGA per game)
138 games (133 starts)
Wade was in a loaded rookie class that featured LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh, and he came out of the gate with the most team success of all.
In his first year in the league, Wade and the Heat went 42-20, good for the 4th seed in the East (I could not believe it until I saw it). Miami faced the New Orleans Hornets in the first round, beating them in 7 games. They advanced to the second round to face the 61-win Indiana Pacers. That series went to 6 games before Indiana advanced.
Prior to Wade’s second season, the Heat acquired Shaq from the Los Angeles Lakers, giving the guard an elite teammate (albeit later in his career). The Heat went 59-23 in 2004-2005. Wade averaged 24.1 PPG, taking a big jump in Year 2. The Heat swept the Nets and Wizards in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and faced the Pistons, the reigning NBA Champions, in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat had a 3-2 series lead before losing Game 6. In Game 7 they had a lead going into the 4th quarter, but Detroit soon went ahead and prevailed.
Wade played 27 playoff games during these years, averaging 22.9 PPG, and his teams won three rounds, at least one each season.
Paul Pierce (1998 – 2000)
Accolades: NBA All-Rookie First Team (1999)
Stats: 18.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.9 BPG
.441 FG%/.372 3P%/.493 eFG% (14.4 FGA per game)
121 games (119 starts)
Paul Pierce wad drafted 10th overall in 1998, in a draft class that included Vince Carter, Dirk, and Antwan Jamison.
Pierce’s teams did not see much success his first two seasons in the league, as Boston went 19-31 during his first season, and 35-47 during his second year in the league. Other than Antoine Walker (who was an All-Star in 1998), the Celtics were not a strong team, and had not made the playoffs since 1995, when Dominique Wilkins was in town.
Like Wade, Pierce made a jump during his second season in the NBA (although not as big), showing traits of a franchise cornerstone.
It would not be until Year 3 that Pierce would make his playoff debut, and in a big way.
Seasons 3 through 9
Dwyane Wade (2005 – 2012)
Accolades: 2x NBA Champion (2006, 2012), NBA Finals MVP (2006), 2x All-NBA First Team, 2x All-NBA Second Team, 2x All-NBA Third Team, 7x All-Star (2006-2012), 2x NBA All-Defensive Second Team (2009, 2010), NBA scoring champion (2009)
Stats: 26.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.9 SPG, 1.1 BPG
.489 FG%/.291 3P%/.505 eFG% (19.2 FGA per game)
458 games (455 starts)
This is when Wade stepped it up another notch and began to etch his name into history.
In Year 3, a second year with Shaq by his side, the Miami Heat went 52-30, advancing to the NBA Finals for the first time in the history of the franchise. After going down 2 games to 0, Wade put the team on his back and led them to a title, winning a Finals MVP in the process. At the age of 24, it looked like he was ready to dominate the league.
The next few years did not see as much team success. In 2006-2007, Wade only played 51 games, and Shaq only played 40 games. They were swept in the first round by the Chicago Bulls during the playoffs as Wade averaged 23.5 PPG.
2007-2008 was even worse, as Miami went 15-67. Shaq was traded in February, and Wade only played 51 games as he battled several injuries.
In 2008-2009, Wade had an amazing year, one I enjoyed immensely, as he averaged a league-leading 30.2 PPG. He finished third in MVP voting, and led Miami to the playoffs. They played the Atlanta Hawks, where they beat Miami in 7 games, but Wade did all he could, averaging 29.1 PPG.
The next season was more of the same, as Miami was eliminated in the first round yet again, as Wade’s All-NBA play was not enough (he averaged an absurd 33.2 PPG during the playoffs). They lost to Pierce and Boston in 5 games.
In the offseason, the team tore itself down completely, essentially having no one on the roster… giving themselves enough room to sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh, and of course to bring Wade back… forming the best talent base in the NBA.
Year 1 of the Heatles ended in the NBA Finals, as they lost in 6 games to Dallas and Dirk. They faced Boston in the second round, beating them in 5 games, the first time Wade (and LeBron) had beaten the Celtics in the playoffs. Wade became the number 2 player at this point, an uneasy transition, but one that did occur. He still was able to average 25.5 PPG during the season, and 24.5 PPG in the playoffs.
In Year 2, the Heat faced Boston again, this time in the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston held a 3 games to 2 series lead, but Miami prevailed behind the amazing play of LeBron James. Wade averaged 21 PPG during this series. In the next round, they won the championship, Wade’s first since 2006.
Wade became an elite player during this time, injuries for him and Shaq brought down the success of the team, and it took several years until LeBron and Bosh came to town that he was winning like he was earlier in his career, but at this point, he was a number 2 to King James.
Wade played 83 playoff games during these years, averaging 26 PPG, The Heat won 10 playoff rounds during these years, and were eliminated in the first round three times. Miami missed the playoffs in 2008.
Paul Pierce (2000 – 2007)
Accolades: 2x All-NBA Third Team (2002, 2003), 5x All-Star (2002-2006)
Stats: 24.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.7 BPG
.439 FG%/.358 3P%/.486 eFG% (18.3 FGA per game)
531 games (530 starts)
Just a month before Pierce’s third season in the NBA began, he was stabbed 11 times outside of a night club in Boston. He survived, and thrived for that matter, playing all 82 games in his third season, and breaking out in the process by averaging 25.3 PPG. Boston’s roster did not change much, and saw zero help through the draft; they won 36 games.
The next season, Pierce played all 82 games again, averaged 26.1 PPG, and led Boston to the playoffs for the first time in 7 years, as they went 49-33. During his first playoff series, his Celtics faced the Philadelphia 76ers, the reigning Eastern Conference Champions. Pierce averaged 30.2 PPG, and the Celtics won the series 3 games to 2. In the next round, Boston faced the two seed Detroit Pistons. He averaged 20.2 PPG, and the Celtics won the series 4 games to 1, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals, facing the New Jersey Nets. The series was competitive, split at 2 games, but New Jersey won the next 2 games and advanced to the NBA Finals. Pierce had a historic performance in Game 3 as he scored 19 points in the 4th quarter to help Boston comeback and win, but he could not will his team to the Finals.
In 2003, Boston won 44 games, reaching the playoffs yet again. They upset the three seed Indiana Pacers in 6 games during the first round as Pierce averaged 25.8 PPG. They faced the Nets yet again in the second round, losing once again in 6 games. Pierce would not win a playoff round again until 2008.
The next year, Antoine Walker was traded, in a slew of moves made by the team. The best player next to Pierce after this was Ricky Davis. They were eliminated in the first round the next two seasons, swept in 2004, losing in 7 games in 2005, each against the Pacers.
The Celtics did not make the playoffs the next two seasons, further tearing down the roster. Pierce only played 47 games in 2006-2007, and the Celtics went 24-58 (4-31 in games that Pierce did not play in). At a time when Wade got help, Pierce’s prospects looked hopeless, as all that Boston had going into 2007-2008 was a lottery pick they hoped could land them a top prospect.
During these years, Pierce played 37 playoff games, averaging 24.5 PPG. His teams won three playoff rounds, and lost in the first round twice. Boston missed the playoffs in 2001, 2006 and 2007.
Seasons 10 through 14
Dwyane Wade (2012 – 2017)
Accolades: NBA Champion (2013), All-NBA Third Team (2013), 4x All-Star (2013-2016)
Stats: 19.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.6 BPG
.482 FG%/.275 3P%/.493 eFG% (15.9 FGA per game)
319 games (316 starts)
Entering Year 10, behind the best play of the best player in the league, Wade and the Heat went to the NBA Finals yet again after going 66-16, including a 27-game winning streak in the regular season. They swept the Bucks in the first round, and then beat the Bulls in 5 games before facing the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The series took 7 games, but the Heat prevailed. They faced the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, a series they trailed 3 games to 2, but came back to win, capping off a second straight championship season (Wade’s third NBA title). Wade averaged 21.2 PPG during the season, and 15.9 PPG in the playoffs.
The next season Miami went to the finals yet again, but lost to the Spurs in the Finals. This would prove to be the end of the winning road for Wade, as LeBron left Miami in the offseason to go back to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. During LeBron’s last season in Miami, Wade only played 54 games in the regular season due to injuries and rest, averaging 19 PPG (but he shot over 54% from the field); he averaged 17.8 PPG in the playoffs.
As Miami rebuilt without LeBron, they made sure to re-sign Chris Bosh (Wade re-signed too), and brought in Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts. During the 2014-2015 season, D-League call-up Hassan Whiteside proved to be a great interior defender, and the team acquired Goran Dragic at the trade deadline to help them during a playoff push. However, Chris Bosh discovered he had a blood clot in his lung, and was ruled out the rest of the season. Miami went 37-45, missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-2008 season. Wade averaged 21.2 PPG, taking his most shots per game since Year 1 of the Big 3.
In 2015-2016, Bosh was back to start the season, and the Heat went 48-34. Yes, Bosh was back, but again after the All-Star break, a blood clot was found (this time in his leg), and he did not play the rest of the season (or again for that matter). It was a blow to the team, but they went on. Wade averaged 19 PPG during the season, and Miami faced the Charlotte Hornets in the first round. Wade had a battle against a fan (think Reggie Miller v Spike Lee), and his Heat were able to win in 7 games, moving on to face Toronto. In another series that went 7 games, Miami kept the series close throughout, and Wade had a vintage game during Game 3, with 38/8/4, but it was not enough, as Toronto advanced.
In the offseason, Wade and the Heat could not agree on a new deal, and he ended up going to Chicago to play with the Bulls, teaming up with Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo. Wade averaged 18.3 PPG with the Bulls, and they went 41-41 during the season before losing to the Celtics in the first round of the 2017 NBA Finals.
Wade began to decline from his peak during this time, and Miami slowly lost it’s talent base throughout the years. A falling out led Wade to signing with Chicago, and by this time he was still good, but not the Wade of old.
During these years, Wade played 62 playoff games, averaging 17.7 PPG. His teams won 8 playoff rounds, and were eliminated in the first round once; Miami missed the playoffs in 2015.
Paul Pierce (2007 – 2012)
Accolades: NBA Champion (2008), NBA Finals MVP (2008), All-NBA Second Team (2008), All-NBA Third Team (2009), 5x All-Star (2008-2012)
Stats: 19.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.5 BPG
.466 FG%/.387 3P%/.524 eFG% (13.6 FGA per game)
373 games (373 starts)
It took until his age 30 season, but the Boston Celtics finally gave Pierce a supporting cast that could help him achieve NBA glory. The draft pick that was supposed to be a young prospect helped Boston acquire Ray Allen, and with some young pieces like Al Jefferson, and a 2009 first round pick (via Minnesota), Boston put all its eggs into the win-now basket, and acquired Kevin Garnett, forming a brand new Big 3.
During their first season together, Boston won 66 games, the first time they won over 50 games since 1991-1992. Pierce’s shots went down as he now had teammates who could help pick up the slack, and he averaged 19.3 PPG during the season. In the playoffs, Boston beat the Atlanta Hawks in 7 games, and the beat Cleveland, the reigning Eastern Conference Champions, in the second round (also in 7 games). Game 7 featured a legendary battle between Pierce and LeBron James, and Paul scored 41 points. They beat the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, as Pierce reached the NBA Finals for the first time in his career. The Celtics faced their rival, the Los Angeles Lakers, and beat them in 6 games. Pierce averaged 21.8 PPG in the series, and was named the Finals MVP.
In 2009-2010, the Celtics looked even better than the year before, starting 27-2. They were 44-11 before a game versus Utah, where KG suffered a knee injury that ultimately prevented him from playing in the postseason. The Celtics finished the year 62-20, and beat the Chicago Bulls in the first round in 7 games. In the second round they faced the Orlando Magic, where they had a 3 games to 2 lead, but lost in 7 games. Pierce averaged 18.9 PPG in this series, but it was not enough. He averaged 20.5 PPG during the season.
Year 3 of the Big 3 started slow, but they were able to get the 4 seed in the East after finishing the year 50-32. In round one, the faced Wade and the Miami Heat, where they put it together and beat them in 5 games. In the next round, facing the first seeded Cleveland Cavaliers, the Celtics won in 6 games, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. They were able to redeem themselves, beating Orlando in 6 games, reaching the Finals for the second time in 3 seasons, and once again facing the Lakers. During this series, Boston had a 3 games to 2 lead, but lost starting center Kendrick Perking in Game 6 to a torn ACL. In Game 7, they were winning through 3 quarters, but the Lakers prevailed, winning their second straight championship. Pierce averaged 18.3 PPG during the season, and 18.8 PPG during the playoffs.
In Year 4 of the Big 3, the Celtics brought in Shaq, but he was clearly on his last legs. They traded Kendrick Perkins at the trade deadline for Jeff Green (the same Jeff Green who was drafted with the pick the Celtics gave Seattle, now OKC, in 2007 for Ray Allen). They went 56-26 during the season, and swept the New York Knicks in the first round. They faced the newly formed Big 3 in Miami, and lost in 5 games. Starting PG Rajon Rondo was hurt during Game 4 as Wade fell, and seemed to initiate contact that ultimately separated Rondo’s shoulder. Pierce finished the year averaging 18.9 PPG, and averaged 20.8 PPG in the playoffs.
2011-2012 would be the last season of the Big 3. During the lockout year, they went 39-27, good for 4th in the conference. They beat the Atlanta Hawks in 6 games in the first round, and then beat the Philadelphia 76ers in the semifinals in 7 games, advancing to their third Eastern Conference Finals in 5 seasons. Once again they faced Miami and the Big 3. Miami started 2 games to 0, before Boston won 3 straight games, the third game being capped off by a game-winning shot from Paul Pierce. It looked like a stunning turn of events, as Boston was on the doorstep of reaching the finals yet again, but it would not happen. LeBron had a historic Game 6, and in a close Game 7 where Boston was leading, Miami went ahead in the 4th, and stayed there, advancing to the finals yet again. Pierce 19.4 PPG in the regular season, and 18.9 PPG in the playoffs.
During these years, Pierce was the leader of the team, and their best scorer. Boston had the team success that Wade and Miami enjoyed during parts of his prime, and Pierce was able to stay efficient on a reduced workload. He played in 93 playoff games during these years, averaging 19.6 PPG. His teams won 11 playoff round during these years, and were never eliminated in the first round.
Dwyane Wade (2017 – present)
Accolades: “All-Star” (2019)
Stats: 13.0 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.8 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.6 BPG
.436 FG%/.312 3P%/.470 eFG% (11.6 FGA per game)
136 games (3 starts)
In 2017, Wade signed with the Cavs to join forces with old friend LeBron James. He was originally a starter, but ended up being put on the bench in favor of J.R. Smith. He only played 46 games with the Cavs before being traded back to Miami. Wade has not started a game since going back to Miami, and in the season plus he’s been back he has averaged 13.0 PPG.
Miami made the playoffs in 2018, facing the 76ers in the first round. Wade averaged 16.6 PPG coming off the bench, but the Heat lost in 5 games.
As his final season in the league wraps up, Miami is currently on the outside of the playoff race.
Paul Pierce (2012 – 2017)
Stats: 12.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.4 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.3 BPG
.431 FG%/.366 3P%/.511 eFG% (9.2 FGA per game)
318 games (263 starts)
After 2012, Ray Allen signed with the Miami Heat, leaving Pierce and Kevin Garnett as the only players left from the Big 3.
During the next season, Boston went 41-40, earning the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. Boston faced the Knicks in the first round, where they took a 3-0 lead to start. Boston won the next 2 games, and had a historic comeback in Game 6, but it was not enough, as New York prevailed. Pierce averaged 19.2 PPG in the series, and 18.5 PPG during the season.
This turned out to be Pierce’s final year in Boston, as the Celtics underwent a rebuild following 2013. During the summer, he and Garnett were traded to Brooklyn for a treasure chest of assets (in the form of draft picks), joining a win-now team featuring Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and Pierce’s old teammate Joe Johnson.
In 2013-2014, Brooklyn went 44-38, earning the 6th seed in the conference. They faced Toronto in the first round, and beat them in 7 games. Pierce had a late game block in Game 7, securing the victory for the Nets, and advancing to face… Miami and Wade. They lost the series in 5 games, and Pierce got punished for asking to cover LeBron James during Game 4, and James put 49 points up during the game… an L for Pierce and the Nets. During his first (and only) season in Brooklyn, Pierce averaged 13.5 PPG, and 13.7 PPG in the playoffs.
During the offseason, Pierce signed with the Wizards, joining on as a role player to compliment John Wall and Bradley Beal. Washington went 46-36 during the season, earning the 5th seed in the conference. Pierce had his way against Toronto yet again, scoring 20 points in Game 1, as they ultimately swept the Raptors. In the semifinals, Washington faced the 60-win Atlanta Hawks. Washington took a 2 game to 1 series lead as Pierce hit a game-winning shot during Game 3, but the Wizards lost their next three games, losing the series in 6. Pierce averaged 11.9 PPG in Washington, and 14.6 PPG during the playoffs.
Once again Pierce moved on in the offseason, this time joining his former coach Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers. Pierce began shifting between the bench and starting lineup during the season, ultimately starting 38 out of the 68 games he played. He started one game in the playoffs, but was largely a non-factor, as the Clippers blew a 2-0 lead in the series (Blake Griffin and Chris Paul got hurt during Game 4 and missed the rest of the series).
During his last year in the league, Pierce was mainly around for the front court seats, as he only played 25 games. His final playoff series in the NBA would be against Utah and future Celtic SF Gordon Hayward. The Clippers lost in 7 games.
During his final 5 seasons in the NBA, Pierce gradually went from a top option, to a valuable role player, to a bench-riding veteran. He did his job well in Brooklyn and Washington, and by the time he got to LA he was just enjoying the sun (which is fine, he earned it).
Pierce played in 40 playoff games during the final chapter of his career, starting in 29. He averaged 11.3 PPG, and his teams won two playoff rounds, and were eliminated in the first round three times.
Well, I hope you learned a lot here, because I certainly did as I put this piece together. I think it’s pretty clear that during the first 9 seasons of their career, Wade has a clear edge. Pierce obviously put up a ton of points, and had some playoff heroics of his own, but yes, they pale in comparison to what Wade did, especially in the 2006 NBA Finals.
During their 10th through 14th seasons, I honestly believe Pierce has the edge. No, this is not his entire career, but it took until his age 30 season to get someone not named Antoine Walker to help him (yes, Walker was a 3-time All-Star, but lets be honest, is that legitimate help?). During Wade’s first 9 seasons in the NBA, he had Shaq at an efficient level for 2 seasons (then whatever was left of Shaq for 1.5 seasons), and the best player in the league (LeBron), as well as another All-Star (Chris Bosh) at the same time for 2 more seasons. Yes, Wade played the rest of his age 26 season, as well as his age 27 and 28 seasons with no help, but that’s the burden Pierce had for essentially his entire career prior to 2007. At least with no help Pierce won three rounds in the playoffs, versus Wade, who won just one without Shaq and before LeBron came to town.
As Wade played two more seasons with LeBron and Bosh before James left, Pierce entered an all-in, win-now mode. Each won a title in Year 10 of their careers, and lost another (Pierce and Boston in 7 games, Wade and the Heat in 5 games). Without James, and with Bosh’s health problems, he only made the playoffs with Miami one more time before going to Chicago. During years 12 through 14 for Pierce, his teams reached the finals, lost in the second round and conference finals respectively.
During the remainder of his career, Pierce transitioned into a role player until becoming a veteran on the bench in years 18 and 19. For Wade, the transition to the bench began during year 15, where he is during his finals days in the league.
Pierce was able to spend a longer time as a top option, and started longer than Wade did. Wade began to decline from his peak earlier, but was still efficient, fairly on the level of Pierce during the same points in their careers.
Overall, Wade has the titles, the accolades, and the per game numbers, but Pierce was never too far behind in accolades, and won a title too. Due to playing longer, Pierce will ultimately have better career totals than Wade, but that is not to bring down the career he had. Wade was an elite two-way player at his peak, and averaged 30.2 PPG and finished third in MVP voting on a team he carried himself. Pierce’s career high was 26.8 PPG during a season he also carried his team, but only to a 33-49 record. Pierce was an elite scorer, but once he had a supporting cast, we saw him shine as a clutch player who had a knack for making the right play and hitting the game-winning shot when everything was on the line.
Going back to Pierce’s original argument: if you gave him Shaq or LeBron when he was entering his prime, he’d be able to win at an elite level too. Wade was lucky to have legends of the game when he did, and he capitalized and won three titles. Seeing what Pierce did during his first two playoff appearances, if he had Miami Shaq, he easily could have gone to the finals. But as I said from the start, these are things that did not happen, so we will never know.
Based on their bodies of work, Wade had the better career, but Pierce was no slouch. Even at an older age, he was able to win at an extremely high level (he was 263-110 in regular season games he played between 2007 and 2012), but was not able to win multiple titles and raise his case to players like Wade in that respect. We can argue each was only the best player on one championship team, but even then, Wade in 2006 was much better than Pierce in 2008.
I could go on, but the fact I even made this piece will not please everyone. I just wanted to show Pierce had a great career too (which, contrary to Bomani Jones, people have said he did not). Wade has the edge, relax, but let Pierce enjoy his career too (don’t take him too seriously during a segment called “Truth Serum” that compares him to other players, what is he supposed to do, flat out concede and say he sucked?)
And remember… minutes before on ESPN, Jalen Rose said Isiah Thomas was better than Wade, which is BS if you ask me (Pierce picked Wade, in case you’re wondering).
Both were great, can we all agree on that… probably not.
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