Tag Archives: Lance Stephenson

Lance Stephenson remains unpredictable

Mark Runyon | BasketballSchedule.net

Photo: Mark Runyon | BasketballSchedule.net

I’ve been posting little things about the Pacers lately, so I’ll try not to go overboard with them. I can’t resist talking about Lance Stephenson though.

Lance Stephenson’s progression, along with a couple other Pacers in their starting lineup, is one of the main reasons I’ve enjoyed watching Indiana this year. Their starting shooting guard has gone from rarely playing two seasons ago to a key, important cog. It’s a nice story by itself, considering how great the odds were against him carving out a solid career in the NBA when he was drafted 40th overall in 2010.

The all-around numbers are there for Stephenson: 12 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.1 assists, all nice upticks from last year. He’s also had more time with the ball in his hands, 2.6 minutes compared to 1.5 last season, the latter stat according to a piece on him from Grantland. It made me draw a comparison to a higher-paid shooting guard.

Lance Stephenson is Bizarro Tyreke Evans.

But even with the improved stats, Stephenson is still as unpredictable as last season, in my couch potato opinion. Granted, I don’t watch every Pacers game just like I don’t catch every game from every team minus the Minnesota Timberwolves, but I never know what to expect from the Indiana’s starting shooting guard whenever I happen to be watching them.

Stephenson’s unpredictability still leaves two sides of him: Good Lance and Bad Lance. Both are entertaining because neither seems all that conventional. Given how badly he misses some of his shots, I assume he shoots with his eyes closed and more than a few plays he’s made have led to “noooo…YES!” moments like what I wrote about Corey Brewer recently. And ever since Stephenson brushed off his teammates multiple times in the Eastern Conference Finals to take LeBron James one-on-one, I assumed he didn’t have ice in veins but mustard instead. It’s like he was in the film 300, waving off the Spartans so he could take on the Persians himself.

That confidence might not have worked out well nearly six months ago but, like Paul George and Roy Hibbert, you could sense Stephenson was going to make a bang the following season.

And he seemed like an early candidate for Most Improved Player of the Year through the first eight games, averaging about 14 points, six rebounds, and six assists. His turnover rate was only slightly up from 2013, which was even more of a positive when his usage rate went from 15.2 to 19.5 and the total number of assists he accounted for while on the floor nearly doubled, according to Basketball-Reference. He even had a triple double against Memphis with 13 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists while turning it over just once. Stephenson’s progression seemed very encouraging, except for the fact it raised his value six months from now.

But the shooting splits through the first eight games remained bizarre in typical Stephenson fashion: 47.9 percent from the field, 51.4 from three and…42.9 percent from the line. That doesn’t exactly add up.

And then came Bad Lance, who’s just as entertaining as Good Lance but nowhere near as efficient. In the next 10 games, Stephenson shot 10.5 percent from three on nearly two attempts per outing, creating one of most hot-cold shot charts in the process. His offensive rating went from 111 through the first eight games to 93 over the last 10, but he made 72 percent of his free throws and recorded yet another triple-double.

But the turnovers and assists went up and down, respectively, with the turnover rate in the last 10 games up to 24.3 percent and the assist rate at about 20, according to Basketball-Reference. If those rates happened all season they would put Stephenson in similar company as awkward wings like Gerald Wallace and guards like D.J. Augustin.

But that hasn’t been the case all season and at 16-2, Indiana has been fine regardless of whether Good Lance or Bad Lance shows up, the frequency of each nearly split in half.

Sooner or later, though, the Pacers will need the more efficient version on a consistent basis.

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Pacers face tough test over next few weeks

200px-Indiana_Pacers.svg

Most knew the Indiana Pacers would build off their appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals last season, but through one month they’ve blitzed their opponents for the best record in the league: 16-1. Their average margin of victory of 11.1 is best in the league thanks to their usual dominance on the defensive end — comfortably first in defensive rating and defensive EFG% – while getting improvements on offense, most notably from Paul George and Lance Stephenson.

But the Pacers have a three-week, ten-game stretch that will further prove whether they’re truly a title-contending team or raise suspicions they’ve fed off an Eastern Conference that is becoming more comedic each week. The first half of those ten games is a road trip out West, which has started well with a 105-100 victory over the Clips. They’ll play at Portland tonight, then Wednesday at Utah and end the week with a back-to-back at San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Three of those teams left on the schedule are a combined 22-1 at home. (I’m sure you can figure out who was left out.)

It won’t get much easier for the Pacers in the couple weeks following that road trip. Though the five games during that timespan feature four at home, they’ll play Miami twice (once on the road) and cap it off with Houston.

It’s all a great test for Indiana, who trail only San Antonio in SRS thanks to playing the second-softest schedule so far, according to Basketball-Reference. There will be those who think the Pacers are good but overrated because of that, which will only amplify should they falter over the next few weeks. Just like every other team though, it’s understandable for Indiana to drop a few games during a difficult stretch, especially one that features back-to-backs on the road and a couple games against the defending champs.

There’s a lot to look forward to in those games, too. Tonight’s game at Portland features the matchup at power forward between David West and LaMarcus Aldridge. There’s a five-year age difference between the two but they have nearly identical games, at least statistically. Just take a look at them when they each were 27, when West first became an all-star in 2008 and where Aldridge was last season:

aldridge west

via Basketball-Reference (click to enlarge)

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of great matchups over the next few weeks for Paul George, whether it’s against Nicolas Batum, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or Josh Smith. And teams who don’t provide interesting matchups at the ‘3’ make up for it with their presence inside. Utah features Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. Detroit, on the calendar for December 16, features Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe while Houston will have Dwight Howard and Omer Asik (if the latter isn’t traded by then).

Should the Pacers get through the next three weeks mostly unscathed, they can feast on an East-heavy schedule from December 22 to January 18. Eight of the 12 games during that time are at home. Brooklyn and New York, two teams that could be better in a month, are on the schedule but for now are decimated by injuries.

Awaiting Indiana after that, however, is a second five-game road trip out West from January 20 to 28. Let’s see how they finish their first.

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