It wasn’t that long ago that Lance Stephenson was nearly an NBA All-Star with the Indiana Pacers. In fact, that was during the 2013-14 season, which was only two seasons ago. Fast forward to this past week. Lance Stephenson agreed to a contract with the New Orleans Pelicans to have the chance to earn a spot on their roster by competing in training camp. This means that Stephenson may have just a temporary stop in New Orleans.
Lance Stephenson spent only one season of the new three-year, $27-million contract that he signed with the Charlotte Hornets. It was a highly unsuccessful era in Charlotte for Stephenson; he averaged only 25.8 minutes, 8.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, and 2.1 blocks, per Basketball-Reference. “Born Ready” was incredibly inefficient during his time with the Hornets, he shot a horrific 37.6 percent from the field, 17.1 percent on 3-point field goals, 42.5 percent on 2-point field goals, and 62.7 percent on free throws, as relayed by Basketball-Reference.
Many experts have tried to make a quick estimation that a lack of touches was the reason for Lance Stephenson’s struggles with the Charlotte Hornets. What’s interesting is the fact that Stephenson had a higher usage rate (21.1 percent) during the 2014-15 season with the Hornets than he did in the 2013-14 season with the Indiana Pacers. It seems that Stephenson was a poor fit in the style of offense that Hornets ran, and a poor fit with the players that Charlotte had on the floor with him.
The unfortunate reality of the decision to leave the Indiana Pacers was that Lance Stephenson would have had the chance to be a legitimate star during the 2014-15 season. Indiana Pacers superstar Paul George was out for 76 games due to a broken leg, meaning that a significant amount of offense would have been available for Lance Stephenson to do damage. For a player that was close to making the NBA All-Star Team the year before, it would have been a perfect opportunity the following season for Lance Stephenson to earn a spot.
Lance Stephenson could have had the chance to build off of the best season of his career (2013-14 season) where he averaged 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.1 blocks, and 2.7 turnovers. Stephenson posted impressive efficiency by shooting 49.1 percent from the field, 35.2 percent on 3-point field goals, 54.5 percent on 2-point field goals, and 71.1 percent on free throws. There would have been a buffet of statistics for Lance Stephenson in the absence of Paul George.
During June of 2015, Lance Stephenson was traded from the Charlotte Hornets to the Los Angeles Clippers. This deal sent Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes to the Hornets and Lance Stephenson to the Clippers. The third stop in Stephenson’s NBA career lasted only 43 games. The stop with the Clippers was another poor fit for Stephenson because this was another team loaded with playmakers that couldn’t play effectively without the ball.
Lance Stephenson averaged only 15.8 minutes during his time with the Clippers, which was the fewest of his career since the 2011-12 season. Stephenson averaged just 4.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, and 1.1 turnovers during his time in Los Angeles. There simply was not much opportunity for Lance Stephenson to ever succeed in Los Angeles with the Clippers.
In February of 2016, Lance Stephenson was traded from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Memphis Grizzlies. In this particular trade, Jeff Green was traded to the Clippers in exchange for Lance Stephenson and a 2019 lottery-protected first round pick. Stephenson was a crucial part of the sixth seed Grizzlies that could have given up because of their injury-plagued circumstances, but instead, they competed as hard as they could on a nightly basis.
During the 26 games with the Memphis Grizzlies, Lance Stephenson averaged 26.6 minutes, 14.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks, and 1.8 turnovers. Stephenson shot 47.4 percent from the field, 35.5 percent on 3-point field goals, 48.7 percent on 2-point field goals, and 81.5 percent on free throws. An injury-plagued Grizzlies team provided Stephenson with a situational freedom that he was desperately needing. This era in Memphis was by far the greatest stretch of basketball that Lance Stephenson played since leaving the Indiana Pacers.
The New Orleans Pelicans will need perimeter playmaking for at least the beginning of the 2016-17 season, and Lance Stephenson could be an answer. Jrue Holiday is missing an undetermined amount of time to tend to his wife, former U.S. Soccer Star Lauren Holiday, who will soon be undergoing brain surgery and facing the recovery from that. Tyreke Evans is expected to miss the start of the season due to knee surgery. The main issue is that the Pelicans already have 15 guaranteed contracts, meaning that Lance Stephenson will have to prove to the organization that he is more worthy of a roster spot than a player that they have to pay.
Once the New Orleans Pelicans have their two main perimeter playmakers, Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday, there may not be much room for Lance Stephenson to succeed. The goal for Stephenson should be only to make the Pelicans’ roster and stay on an NBA roster for the whole season, and the rest should take care of itself. Being able to play well enough to be a decent target on team’s free agency lists in the summer of 2017 would be ideal for Lance Stephenson since he can hopefully pick an excellent team where can succeed.
The Indiana Pacers could be that team if Rodney Stuckey decides to opt-out of his $7 million player option at the end of the season. There is not much appeal to re-sign Stuckey from the Pacers’ perspective if Stephenson can be signed for a much lower price. There would be an opening on Indiana’s bench for Stephenson to be a key perimeter playmaker alongside Joseph Young, a guard that can play well without the basketball. If C.J. Miles is still on the Pacers after next summer, Indiana could have sufficient floor spacing on their perimeter around Lance Stephenson.
The Indiana Pacers could decide to decline the $4 million team option for Lavoy Allen and allow rookie Georges Niang to eventually take over the team’s backup power forward position as a small-ball option. If that ends up being the case, Stephenson could have a great situation around him where he could make plays without worrying about an always cheating help-defense. With Al Jefferson at center, there would be a relief option near the basket and in mid-range to pass to on drives to maximize his possessions, along with three shooters on the perimeter that are either waiting for catch-and-shoot attempts or are moving without the ball by cutting.
It is hard to tell the future, and before it becomes apparent, Lance Stephenson will have to make the final roster at least for the New Orleans Pelicans and work his way into their rotation. There may not be many opportunities for Stephenson to land a spot on an NBA roster if he fails to make an impact with the Pelicans. It took an incredibly long amount of time for Lance Stephenson to land a deal with New Orleans, so it is hard to imagine that there are an extensive list of suitors waiting to sign him if this stop doesn’t pan out.
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