Should Lance Stephenson start for the Clippers?


Nov 9, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Wesley Johnson (11) guards Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson (1) in the first half of the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Clippers have had an eventful offseason thus far. Picking up seven new faces headlined by Paul Pierce, Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson. The next step is finding the right rotations and lineups that can bring the best out of every player. Some of the more notable Clippers’ weaknesses from last season were rebounding, defensive efficiency, and obviously the bench.

So, can Stephenson help address these issues?

The Clippers led the league in offensive efficiency at 109.8 points per 100 possessions, but on defense they were in the middle of the pack, ranking 15th and allowing 103 points per 100 possessions. This proved to be the catalyst for the Clipper’s collapse in the playoffs. Although it is important to score, it is just as important to get stops on the defensive end, especially in the playoffs.

Doc Rivers has always preached defense wins championships and that turned out to be true. Last season, Golden State Warriors were number 1 in defensive efficiency.

Jan 21, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) drives against Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson (1) during the second half of the game at Time Warner Cable Arena. Hornets win 78-76. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Why should the Clippers start Stephenson? Essentially he fixes exactly what the Clippers lacked. For a guard, he is an above-average rebounder, averaging 6.3 rebounds per 36 minutes this season. The season before that, a whopping 7.3 rebounds per game. In comparison, Blake Griffin averaged 7.6 rebounds per game this season. Even with Deandre Jordan leading the NBA in that category, the Clippers have never cemented themselves to be a great rebounding team. We know Stephenson is capable of helping in that area and most importantly he’s only 24 years old, and his upside is still ahead of him.

In the Eastern Conference Finals in 2014, Stephenson had made a name for himself on the defensive end. He would often be guarding the best player in the league in Lebron James. During that playoff series, Lebron’s output was significantly lower with Stephenson defending him. For the Clippers, this type of tenacious on-ball defense is exactly what they need at the wing, with both of their guards being undersized (J.J. Redick at 6’4, Chris Paul at 6’0). The Clippers can value some size on the wings, and Lance Stephenson’s 6’5, 220 lb frame addresses that matter as well as creating matchup problems for other teams.

How does this address the bench output issue, though? With Redick coming off the bench, it makes it more balanced. The Clippers are perceived to have Austin Rivers, Lance Stephenson, and Josh Smith play together off the bench. This could be chaos. All three of those guys are known to have iffy field goal percentages and bad shot selections (none shot above 43 percent this year), but have proven in their careers that they can be a menace on both ends of the court if utilized correctly.

Additionally, all three are play-makers, they thrive with the ball in their hands at times and can make plays for themselves and their teammates. Unfortunately, there’s only one ball on the court.

May 10, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) is defended by Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick (4) in game three of the second round of the NBA Playoffs. at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Now, if the Clippers have Redick come off the bench, what he immediately brings is high efficiency. This year, Redick was a 43.7 percent three point shooter, made 47.7 of his field goal attempts and shot 90.1 percent from the free throw line. Redick is always on the move, running, looking for his shots. Something that can be very helpful for Rivers and Smith since it gives them an outlet to pass to.

Rather than having five new faces play off the bench together and gel through time, Redick’s familiarity with Doc’s system can be the glue that holds the second unit together. His offensive spark is precisely what the second lineup needs in substitute of another play-maker.

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Ultimately, Stephenson, in past years, has expressed his desire to be a starter instead of a role player. This could be the primary factor if Doc Rivers ever considers starting him or not (although, Stephenson has recently expressed his desire to win more than anything else).

With all things considered, it will be an incredibly fun preseason to watch. What lineups will Doc use? How will these lineups interact with each other? Essentially, most of the players Doc has signed are mercenaries, auditioning for long-term contracts next year when the cap is expected to explode to 90 million. This leaves me confident that the incredible talent the Clippers have on paper will translate onto the court, even if it is for just one year.

Next: Analyzing Pablo Prigioni's impact on the Clippers