“Last one! Let’s go! Last question!” A voice yelled in the background as a media scrum surrounded Washington Wizards’ All-Star point guard John Wall. That voice was the voice of Paul Pierce, a 17-year veteran and surefire hall of famer, calling on his teammate to hurry up so they can get back to business.
After media day was through, it was clear the type of mentality Paul Pierce would be bringing to the Wizards this season. There will be no more moral victories, no more petty losses to sorry teams and everyone will be held accountable for any mistakes made on the court. That mentality is something the Wizards have been missing for quite some time.
The aura of a champion goes a long way in the locker room, and even with only a limited sample of time together, Pierce has already helped change the tune of this Wizards team from a good one to a great one.
“He wants everything to go fast,” John Wall said of Paul Pierce when asked what impact he has had on him so far. “He’s making me want to work. Making me want to be great.”
With a new season comes new expectations for a not-so-young-anymore Washington Wizards team. After falling in six games to the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the playoffs last season, this team has pressure coming from everywhere to make it even farther this year.
“Just being around him and hanging around, he works very hard and wants to get better,” Wall said. Pierce has changed the dynamic of the locker room, according to Wall, and brings a championship mentality the rest of the team needs to have along with him.
“I have never been in a position to have that championship mentality. We just had a mentality to make the playoffs for the first time,” Wall said. “It’s pretty big to have that type of guy come in with that type of leadership. And now, all we can do is come in and bring it tomorrow and try to get better every day.”
Bradley Beal echoed the sentiment of Wall and said he’ll learn a lot from his new teammate. “Me, I’m gonna take his cockiness, his arrogance, his trash talking and I’m gonna implement it all into my game,” Beal said jokingly when told Paul Pierce said Beal and Wall would need to carry the team. “But, no, it’s great hearing that from him. Because he’s going to be a hall of famer, for sure.”
Beal said the addition of Pierce shows what this team is capable of doing and how they’re rising up throughout NBA circles.
“He’s proven himself. He’s won championships,” Beal said. ” And for us to be able to have him on this team, for one, is a great look for us. And it just shows what we’re capable of doing and this young team is on the rise.”
Both Beal and Wall said Pierce has already challenged both of them to raise their free throw percentages this season. Wall said Pierce wants him to shoot above 85% and Beal said Pierce said there was no way he should be shooting free throws the way he has throughout his two year career.
Beal said Pierce is going to hold them accountable throughout the season and give them the confidence they’ll need for the season. “He’s going to push us to be the absolute best we can possibly be,” Beal said.
“This last week, when we were playing open gym, he was saying how important it is for us to take care of home court and make our free throws. I told him my percentage and he told me ‘there’s no way you shouldn’t shoot higher’,” Beal said. “So he’s holding me accountable for a lot of things already and I’ve known him for two minutes.”
Beal shot a meager 79 percent from the foul line on only 3.8 free throw attempts per game. He is a career 79 percent shooter from the foul line. That mark will have to increase, Beal said, if he’s going to meet Pierce’s standards. Beal said he hasn’t had a chance to pick Pierce’s brain yet, but he said he will definitely be getting advice from him this season.
Pierce isn’t nearly the player he used to be just years ago. He registered career lows in minutes and points per game last season. His age finally caught up to him a bit and he played a stretch 4 role with the Brooklyn Nets unorthodox team last year.
This season will be different as he’ll slide back to the small forward position, his more natural, but maybe less effective, one, and he’ll be leaned on for his steady three point shooting ability along with his craftiness late in games.
Pierce may not be as productive as he used to, but he still commands the same amount of respect in the Wizards’ locker room. With Pierce in the helm, the Wizards will have an entirely new perspective on this season with a chip on their shoulders and championship desires in their hearts.
“I think this is the big step to be a successful team,” Marcin Gortat said when asked about the state of the locker room. “I think the organization is going in a really good direction right now. These guys can secure the legacy for this team over the next three, four, five years.”
Gortat said there won’t be much of a difference between this year’s locker room and last year’s locker room, even with the addition of Pierce and the loss of Trevor Ariza. But he said the team still has a lot to prove, even with Pierce. “We have to show that we became a better team than we were last year,” Gortat said. “We gotta grow as a team. We got to learn to finish games.”