Lance Stephenson has seen better days. The young shooting guard, once renowned for his flashy passes, slick handles, and high motor, has become something of an NBA villain.
His fall from grace began when he was excluded from the NBA All-Star game, despite ranking sixth in Eastern Conference Win-Shares. Determined to prove his doubters wrong, Lance played the rest of the season with a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder, contributing to the Pacer’s collective implosion, and alienating his teammates in the process.
Lance continued his antics in the Playoffs, making veiled threats toward Dwyane Wade’s knee, doing weird things to LeBron, and allegedly punching Evan Turner in the face. The Lance-a-thon now seems to have reached rock-bottom, with a recent report detailing Stephenson’s bleak market value.
Lance Stephenson has always been regarded as a project, a player whose lows will have to be tolerated before the highs can be appreciated. Unfortunately, in light of his recent escapades, many seem to have forgotten what this young talent can offer, preferring instead to narrowly focus on a few (relatively) harmless shenanigans. When putting his previous accomplishments and current potential in the proper context however, its clear that Lance is a player worth the risk.
2014 was a breakout year for Lance, who averaged 13.8 points per game on a .564 true shooting percentage, with a 22.1 assist percentage, and a 11.4 rebound percentage. Using Basketball Reference’s Season Finder allows us to put these numbers in perspective, resulting in only three other perimeter players who have replicated Stephenson’s season.
Specifically LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson. Of these four, only Magic had reached Lance’s stat-line at a younger age. This doesn’t mean Lance is destined for the Hall of Fame, but if a 23-year-old is putting up these kinds of numbers, you don’t ignore it because he blew in someone’s ear.
As alluded to earlier, there’s been a lot of noise surrounding Lance’s free agency, much of it negative. His fellow Pacers have mixed feelings about his potential return, management won’t risk the luxury tax to re-sign him, and other teams may decide he’s not worth the trouble. Such talk is nonsense.
Lance Stephenson is reckless, immature, selfish, and a host of other undesirable traits, packaged into a budding star. He’s all these things, but most importantly, he’s worth it.
Let Lance be Lance, its worth the risk.