Jared Wade: How Lance Stephenson Has Been Critical to the Pacers’ Success
I wanted to try really hard to bail on this game, but the truth of the matter is that there
was nothing else to do, and I was too lazy to try really hard. Despite my first version of
these grades, I ended up watching the whole game, which really came down to the
Pacers showing up and being absolutely dominant for one quarter, then making plays
down the stretch.
Early in the season, the Pacers looked lost without Danny Granger. The offense was
abominable. Despite a relatively easy schedule to start the year, Indiana simply could
not put points on the board.
The season-long numbers have not changed much. The Pacers still have the league’s
third worst offense
, producing a measly 98.4 points per 100 possessions. The absolute
bottom limit that should be considered acceptable for an NBA team is one point per
possession, and Indiana needs to show some sustained improvement to reach even
that paltry benchmark.
As with most of the Pacers’ problems, however, a lot of this is due to the bench. Since
Thanksgiving, the starting lineup has actually been producing.
One of the key reasons has been Lance Stephenson.
Stephenson came off the bench in the team’s first six games of the season. To replace
Granger, coach Frank Vogel first tried Gerald Green (for three games). That didn’t work,
as Indiana dropped a game to the Bobcats and needed an overtime to beat the Kings at
home. In the process, Green missed 14 of his first 19 shots and looked more like the
guy who played his way out of the NBA than the man who resurrected his career last
year in New Jersey.
Sam Young then got the nod.
Indiana lost those three games.
Sitting at 2-4, with an offensive rating of 92.3 points per 100 possession, the team
turned to Lance. In his first start, he scored 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting as the Pacers
beat the Wizards. It was, after all, just the Wizards, but Vogel found something that
worked and he stuck with it.
Stephenson has started every game (as long as he has been healthy), but especially in
the early going, the fourth quarter lineup varied
. It almost always included the four
undisputed starters (George Hill, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert), but
Stephenson was sometimes interchanged with Young or Green depending on the game
Lately, however, Lance has been playing so well that his production has demanded he
get the vast bulk of the important minutes on the wing next to Paul George.
“My trust level with him, on both ends of the court, is as high as it’s ever been,” said
Vogel of Stephenson in a pregame press briefing on Monday. “But it certainly needs to
maintain itself — he needs to maintain the play — to keep that trust. He’s still a young
player. He’s still going to have some inconsistent moments. And he’s got to keep building
Coaches love certainty. They abhor not knowing what they will get from a player.
No doubt, Stephenson is still a wild card. He has his bad games, he blows defensive
assignments, and he over-dribbles at times. But compared to the other options at Vogel’s
disposal, the flaws are something the coach will likely just have to live with until Granger
One chart shows all you need to see.
(statistics as of January 2)
The numbers are indisputable: the Pacers have not been able to score when Gerald
Green and Sam Young play with the four true starters, but they have put the ball in the
hoop just fine when Lance Stephenson plays alongside Hill, George, West and Hibbert.
The number of minutes played by each does allow for some statistical noise, but all the
lineup data points in one direction. The Pacers shoot better and score better (and turn
the ball over less, which isn’t show in the chart above) when Stephenson is on the floor
with the starters. They also have shoot a blistering 40.7% from three-point range,
thanks in large part to Lance’s 39.0% shooting from behind the arc this year.
Yes, Lance Stephenson has been the Pacers’ best three-point shooter this season.
And this offensive output hasn’t come only when he plays with the starters.
In addition to the 497 minutes Stephenson has played this season with Hill, George,
West and Hibbert, he has played another 294 minutes in various other lineups. Overall,
the team has scored 104.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor versus a
depressing 92.1 when he sits. That is the type of differential you would expect from the
2006 Cavaliers without LeBron James or the 2007 Celtics without Paul Pierce.
Not Lance Stephenson.
To put that 10.6 point swing in perspective, it is exactly the same difference that exists
between the NBA’s best offense, Oklahoma City (at 110.6 per 100), and the 22nd “best”
offense, Minnesota (100.0 per 100).
Lance Stephenson’s individual numbers don’t bowl you over.
He generally produced throughout December, finishing the month by scoring double
figures in five straight games, including a season-high 16 points — not to mention a
career-high 7 assists — during a win in Cleveland on December 21. But given his high-
minute totals, there isn’t a single stat line that makes you say “Whoa Boy
It has just been steady contributions paired with accurate shooting.
Setting aside individual numbers...CONTINUE READING AT 8p9s