Filling in the Blanks: NCAA Scouting Reports
April 28, 2010
Toward the end of his freshman season, Cincinnati shooting guard Lance Stephenson surprisingly announced that he would return for his sophomore year. Weeks later, he shocked few when he reneged on that announcement and entered the NBA Draft with an agent (reportedly his lawyer, Alberto Ebanks). While Stephenson always seemed like a one-and-done player, he had a subpar freshman season that exposed many of his flaws and showed the limit of his potential.
Physically speaking, Stephenson has solid height for an NBA shooting guard at 6-5 with good length and a strong frame. As was the case in high school, he relies on his strength to overpower weaker players and compensate for his lack of athleticism. From a conditioning standpoint, he did not appear to be in ideal shape this past season, likely carrying an extra 10-15 pounds on his thick frame. He is quick in the open floor, but lacks the explosiveness and lateral quickness expected from wings at the next level. While he will continue to work on his strength and conditioning, there is no doubt that Stephenson is a below average athlete in the NBA.
His offensive skill set, which is heavily reliant on isolations and muscling his way to the basket, will probably have to be adapted at the next level, given his lack of explosiveness and quickness. While Stephenson’s touch around the basket is not bad, his overall shooting during his freshman season was extremely poor. He shot a dismal 21.9% from beyond the arc, converted under 50% from inside the arc and made just 66% of his foul shots.
On film, his shooting motion with his feet set is not terrible. He has a fairly fluid motion and release. But he has issues with excess lower body movement, and when he shoots off the dribble, his mechanics are less consistent and he has a tendency to fade away while shooting.
The biggest issue here is Stephenson’s decision making. He settles for bad shot after bad shot, in spite of miserable percentages and open teammates. He seems to lack any sort of understanding of shot selection. Even when his shots were not falling, he forced the issue and, if his teammates sought their own offense, he tended to pout and fade into the background. This is likely the primary cause for concern from NBA scouts, as Stephenson has never really shown the ability to play team-oriented basketball and could certainly have issues adapting to a situation where he’s simply a role player.
Stephenson does a good job of creating space off the dribble, showing solid ball-handling skills for his size. The effectiveness of his mid-range game suffers due to his poor shot selection, but he has shown an ability to find shots inside the arc and pull up off the dribble. Similarly, he was at his best last season when he attacked the basket both in transition and in half court situations, where he could use his size and strength to his advantage. He must improve his willingness to find the open man, though, as his tunnel vision often results in offensive fouls and untimely turnovers.
Though Cincinnati did not field the most competitive or disciplined team last season, Stephenson’s lack of offensive efficiency and selfish style of play have been omnipresent throughout his career. During workouts, he must somehow convince scouts that he is capable of playing team-oriented basketball and has the ability to produce efficiently in a smaller role. As we have written before, Stephenson possesses NBA-caliber scoring abilities. His average athleticism and questionable decision making ability, however, may force him to work his way up through the D-League first.
On the defensive end, Stephenson did a decent job at Cinncinati, but his lack of lateral quickness limits his potential in this area at the next level. He will struggle to guard bigger and more athletic guards in the NBA, though his strength and length will likely work in his favor. His strong frame also helps him on the boards, where he averages 7.5 rebounds per 40 minutes, pace adjusted -- solid numbers for a wing player.
His behavior off of the court has also been a well-documented issue in recent years. He stayed out of trouble at Cincinnati, but he has accumulated quite a collection of red flags during his brief time as an amateur basketball player. Any NBA team that considers drafting him will have to do extensive research about his background, and decipher why he was in such a big rush to leave Cincinnati after such a sub-par freshman season.
While there are a tremendous amount of obstacles in his way, Stephenson still has the potential to be a contributor at the next level at some point down the road. While his lack of explosiveness and mediocre shot selection are areas of significant concern, he has good scoring instincts and a decent offensive repertoire. Stephenson is sure to be one of the most controversial players in the draft. There is no guarantee that he will even be picked, but he may be able to carve out a career for himself regardless, a la Stephen Jackson.