Class of '98: Paul Pierce vs Vince Carter

Paul Pierce and Vince Carter will always be linked. Coming out of the same NBA Draft (1998), playing against each other in the 1995 McDonald's All-American high school game, they both played for perennial NCAA powerhouses, and their NBA statistics are eerily similiar for careers spanning 19 years. Here's the two career numbers (per game averages) and you tell me which guy you'd rather have:

Player A:

18.8 Pts - .439 FG% - .373 3pt FG% - .800 FT% - 4.6 Rb - 3.4 Ast - 1.1 Stl - 0.6 Blk - TOV 1.9

Player B:

20.0 Pts - .445 FG% - .369 3pt FG% - .807 FT% - 5.7 Rb - 3.6 Ast - 1.3 Stl - 0.6 Blk - TOV 2.7

Pretty remarkable for two guys that have played this long to put up numbers so similar. If you guessed Carter was Player A and Pierce was Player B, you were right. When you look at other career accolades though, an NBA title and Finals MVP, Pierce gets the edge for a better career as Carter has neither of those in his trophy case. Although in the twilight of his career Pierce has become a NBA journeyman of sorts, Carter spent a good portion of his better days jumping from team to team. From Toronto to New Jersey to Orlando to Phoenix to Dallas and finally to Memphis where he still resides today. He played on some very good teams in that span. Carter on managed to reach the Conference Finals one time, in 2010, where he lost to Paul Pierce's Celtics.

Although Pierce has had the more successful career, Carter has managed to carve himself a nice niche role in the NBA these days. As the only current NBA player that's a member of the 40-plus club he's logging just over 24 minutes a game for a good Memphis Grizzlies team, and still show's spurts of his old self from time to time:

Pierce on the other hand is nearing his last games. He announced prior to the season that this would be his final season, and has been essentially reduced to a veteran presence as he's only played in 12 games this year. I would argue though that Pierce's contribution just being around that team is still invaluable, and once in a while when Doc lets him turn it on we still see shades of the old P-Double:

Vintage Truth. While Vince benefitted from becoming a role player with reduced minutes several years ago, Pierce was still starting games midway through last year with the Clippers. Paul has logged an extra 2400 minutes (roughly) in his NBA career, and those extra miles certainly took some extra tread off his tires. He was still playing with ultra-efficiency for his stints in both Brooklyn and Washington, but he really fell off a cliff with the move to LA.

Last week ESPN did a piece on Pierce, Carter, and Dirk Nowitzki. All three of them are from that 1998 draft class, and they're the only members of it still playing today. Both Pierce and Carter had nothing but great things to say about one another. Here's Pierce on the athletic specimen that Carter was:

Paul: "He had unique ability, something you hardly see: great athleticism and great shooting touch. Usually you see one without the other. He had the combination of both. That's rare. It's something this league has not seen in a long time."

Carter noted Pierce's aggressive drive as the catalyst for his success:

Vince: "He was a killer. He's been like that since high school. I remember us playing against each other in the McDonald's [All-American Game] and just being around each other. He's always had the mentality to score and wanted to dominate while having the ability to do whatever he wanted...I've had many, many, many great battles against him and know him very well."

Speaking of many great battles, more of those took place right here in Boston at the TD Garden than any other arena. With Carter playing the bulk of his career on Atlantic division foes Toronto and New Jersey, that means that they played at least two games at the Garden every season for 11 years. Now since the TD Garden opened in 1995, it's kind of obvious to figure Pierce is the all-time leading scorer in the arena. Nobody has played more games for the Celtics in that span, and Pierce was a scoring machine. Fun fact though, Vince Carter is the all-time visiting scoring leader there:

The aforementioned trio of Pierce, Carter, and Nowitzki also have another chance to make history - they're in the running for highest scoring threesome from any draft class ever. They trail the group of Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Hakeem Olajuwon by about 2500 points. With Pierce not contributing much more to that total he's putting the weight on Vince:

Pierce: "It's going to be tough. It's not looking good. I'm not playing much. Our only chance is Vince Carter now. Dirk has been hurt. But who knows? Man, we've got a shot. We've got a shot."

Vince says he's gonna need help from Dirk to get it done:

Carter: "It's possible. It's possible. I mean, God willing with health, of course, and opportunity. I think it's possible if we stay healthy. Dirk wants to play another year, and with his ability to score, he's going to get touches. I'm putting all of the pressure on him."

If these guys can pull it off and capture that total from those guys, it would really be the icing linking Pierce, Carter, and their historic careers.

Photo Credit - Yahoo Sports/Getty Images

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