Can two wings win a championship together? That’s what Paul Pierce’s comments on Jason Tatum and Jalen Brown really were about.
"They just have to figure out a way to win and help carry their team to the next level. And that's something me and 'Toine were learning as we got to the Eastern Conference Finals. It's just that, you know, when things broke up we didn't have a chance to finish the job. ... They have to learn to be responsible and get their teammates involved a little bit more.”
Paul Pierce, NBC Sports
Are the comparisons fair?
For those that don’t remember or never saw them play - Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker were absolutely brilliant. Walker was a 6’9”, 270-pound-plus player who when asked why he shot so many threes, jokingly responded, “because there are no fours.” He was practically a shooting guard in a power forward’s body. Ultra talented, even if he wasn’t the most coachable. Tatum would definitely fall in Walker’s boat - as although he is already better than Walker ever was - he has a habit of settling for jumpers too often.
Young Pierce was a cocky assassin or, as Shaquille O’Neal famously claimed, the motherfu***ng truth. Completely underrated two-way player who led the league in scoring and could produce buckets on anybody at any time while remaining incredibly durable. This makes Pierce the prototype for Brown, as both have been the more consistent and efficient force on the offensive side of the floor. There was no doubt that the one-two punch of Walker and Pierce were ahead of their time.
But more important than the comparisons is their eventual collapse. You can learn from past mistakes as not to repeat them in the future. So other than Walker’s non-ideal work ethic and the struggles of having a totalitarian extremist in Rick Pitino as a head coach, how many duos without a guard in the mix actually win championships? There’s a reason that concept has worked ever since the 50’s due to the ability for two star players to work off each other in different areas as well as creating mismatches through pick-and-rolls. But what about the other great examples who didn’t utilize this particular playbook?
Larry Bird and Kevin Mchale, while being relatively similar in height, still played this similar format. Bird floated around the perimeter while Kevin Mchale was the greatest post player ever up to his point in time. This is similar to Kobe Bryant’s and Pau Gasol’s dynamic in how they played into the inside-outside dynamic.
Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were special due to what Pippen brought on the defensive end with his size. But offensively, Pippen is on the Mount Rushmore of the greatest cutters ever and was also a willing passer and a lockdown midrange shooter - all qualities for the best triangle offense ever. Steph Curry, as well as Klay Thompson, simply dragged defenders out of sight for Kevin Durant, the greatest one-on-one scorer ever.
But like with Walker and Pierce, we don’t say these things about Tatum and Brown. It seems more like a ‘your turn, my turn’ type of arrangement, which historically speaking is not great. The best example of this was arguably LeBron and Wade, as both took on point guard roles for their teams before the collaboration. But don’t think just because they won, that their fit was great - it was not. Unless Tatum turns into cyborgian freak who can overpower or outrun anybody on-site, in other words 13’ LeBron, then Celtics fans can’t use this as a precedent.
The fact is that Tatum and Brown do not compliment each other at all, and until this is fixed, that 18th banner won’t be in the rafters anytime soon.