By: Joe Pohoryles
I recently evaluated the longest- and shortest-tenured players for each DC sports team, and in a similar fashion, I will begin looking at a middle ground of sorts: the best one-year wonders for each team.
A one-year wonder in a sports context can be defined as a player who only had one good season in their entire career, such as Peyton Hillis, who totaled 1,647 scrimmage yards and 13 total touchdowns as a running back for the Cleveland Browns in 2010, and was featured on the cover of the Madden 12 video game for the following season, then never eclipsed 600 rushing yards or three touchdowns for the remaining four years of his career.
On a franchise scale, it can be defined as a player who starred in his lone season with the team. For this series, we will be going by the latter definition. For all four DC teams, players have come and gone after one season, most not making any notable impact, but a select few turning in star-level performances. In this series, we will be looking at the players who made the most of their limited time in DC, continuing with the Wizards.
Paul Pierce (Forward, 2014-15)
“The Truth” made his name with the Boston Celtics, winning a championship and Finals MVP in 2008, and the 10-time All-Star instantly brought a strong veteran presence to join the budding star duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal.
At 37, Pierce was well-past his prime, but he still managed to average 11.9 points (fourth-most on the team) and 4.0 rebounds. He was also a reliable presence despite his age and injury risk, as only Marcin Gortat and Wall started more games than Pierce did that season (73 games).
Pierce’s big-game experience helped prepare this core for future, albeit futile, playoff runs, and it all started with utter domination against the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the 2015 playoffs. Whether it was knocking down shots on the court, or talking trash off of it, Pierce elevated the Wizards to a 4-0 sweep over the favored Raptors. He averaged 15.5 points, 3.3 rebounds and shot 58.3 percent from three-point land in the series.
As entertaining as Pierce’s trolling against the Raptors was, his performance against the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks in the next round gave the franchise one of its greatest moments of the decade, and very nearly delivered a second.
With Wall injured in Game 3, the Wizards had blown a 19-point lead they had built up entering the fourth quarter, and the game was tied 101-101 with seconds to go. Pierce had the ball at the top of the key with six seconds left, with Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder playing tight defense. Pierce pivoted, trying to find an open lane to drive, before taking one dribble to Schroder’s right.
Schroder took a step back, anticipating a drive to the bucket, but Pierce pumped the breaks, took a step-back jumper, and the rest was history.
The Wizards were up 2-1 in the series, but it would end up being the final win in Pierce’s Wizards career. After dropping Game 4 by five points, and falling in Game 5 by just one, the Wizards were in must-win mode for Game 6.
Down by three with 6.4 seconds left in the game, Beal inbounded the ball to Wall on the left wing, who took the ball to the top of the key before flinging the ball to Pierce, who had swapped places with Wall. Pierce dribbled to the left corner, trying to create more space for a shot and launched an off-balance attempt as the buzzer sounded. Remarkably, the shot went in, and the Verizon Center went into a frenzy yet again, as it seemed overtime was coming.
Instead, the play was reviewed, and it was ruled the ball had not left Pierce’s hands by the time the clock hit zero, and so anti-climactically, the Wizards’ season was over.
That final shot from Pierce would be his last in a Wizards uniform, as he would opt out of the second year of his contract and sign with the LA Clippers to reunite with his former coach, Doc Rivers.
In just one year, Pierce accomplished about as much as anybody else in a Wizards uniform has recently, and while his stats didn’t pop off the page, they were certainly impressive coming from a 37-year-old. Not to mention, the example he set for the young stars of the team would end up helping them in the future. The Wizards never came close to being a title contender, (although I will say: had the 2017 playoffs broken differently, I believe that Wizards team could have taken LeBron James’s Cavaliers to six games), but Pierce’s impact on the franchise is still noteworthy.
From a statistics perspective, Scott Skiles put up good numbers in his lone season with the Bullets in 1994-95, averaging 13.0 points and 7.3 assists in 33.5 minutes per game, but in my eyes, the true one-year wonder for the Wizards is Pierce.