Lance Stephenson was bad last year. I mean, he was really, really bad. Between injuries and DNPs, Lance missed 21 games for the Charlotte Hornets in his worst season since he started playing meaningful minutes for an NBA team. He shot less than 38 percent from the field and only 17 percent from three (he was historically bad from three) while putting up a PER under nine (for reference, an average player’s PER is 15).
Stephenson’s poor play lost him his starting position for the Hornets and made it look, more and more, like his success with the Indiana Pacers was more the result of their system than his own talent. Luckily for Lance, Doc Rivers is giving him another shot, and Stephenson will take advantage of it in a bounce-back season.
The Clippers traded Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes to acquire Stephenson from Charlotte. The move had the Clippers take on some extra money with Stephenson’s contract, but Hawes’s deal has three years remaining, while Stephenson’s only has two (and one is a team option). The Clippers will be done with Stephenson’s contract sooner if he doesn’t perform, and they’d be able to use that flexibility earlier than they would’ve by keeping Hawes. Of course, the Clippers would prefer Stephenson be a productive player for them, and the good news is there’s nowhere for him to go but up.
It’s really important that we remember, again, just how bad Stephenson was last season. In addition to his poor shooting, he also averaged 2.1 turnovers while only averaging 8.2 points. That’s a turnover for every two made baskets.
Just as important to how bad Stephenson was last year is how good he was the year before. In his final year with the Pacers, he shot 49 percent from the field and 35 percent from the three-point line. Also, his shooting percentages had increased every year with the Pacers and only fell when he left for Charlotte.
It’s hard to believe that Stephenson would improve consistently for four years and then fall off a cliff in his fifth NBA season without any chance of bouncing back. The positive for Stephenson is he’ll be on a new team with a much better offensive infrastructure that should give him a better chance to succeed.
Part of Stephenson’s issues had to do with his physical ailments, but the Hornets’ roster can’t be excused when looking for a culprit that caused his sharp decline. The team was ranked 28th in offensive rating last season, and while Stephenson was a big part of that disappointment, some of that can be explained by a poor fit on a spacing-starved offense that’s struggled for years. They say a rising tide lifts all boats, well, the inverse is true for falling tides, and if last season showed us anything, it’s that Stephenson is better at riding the high tide than raising it himself.
Stephenson functions better as a complementary offensive weapon, which is exactly what he’ll be for the Clippers next season. Even if he were playing for the Hornets again, he’d certainly improve at least a little from last season, because it really couldn’t be any worse. But putting him in a better offense, giving him fewer expectations and less focus from defenses will all do wonders for Stephenson’s game. He may not be a starter, but he’ll be a significant part of the rotation and bolster a Clippers bench that’s stunk for several years.