Lance Stephenson’s creativity could help turn Clippers around


Nov 7, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson (1) goes up for a shot during the first half against the Atlanta Hawks at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Lance Stephenson may have had a dreadful season with the Charlotte Hornets, but that doesn’t mean his playmaking ability and diverse talent have just disappeared over the last year. And now that he’s a member of the Los Angeles Clippers, he’ll need to adopt a role as the primary piece in their second unit backcourt and address the pressing issue of his efficiency. However, his versatility, passing, rebounding and ability to attack the basket gives the Clippers something they were entirely without this season.

Back in 2012-13, L.A. had far more notable players in their second unit. At least, they had enough so Jamal Crawford didn’t have to do all the work. They had Eric Bledsoe, Willie Green, Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes coming off the bench. And whilst they didn’t provide San Antonio Spurs kind of depth, they could still make a difference.

This year, however, the duties of bench scoring normally came down to Crawford and Austin Rivers (on the occasion he had a big game).

Even with Crawford’s frightening handles and streaky shooting, the Clippers’ bench production has largely consisted of some three pointers and little else. Now, however, Stephenson brings the kind of interior toughness and playmaking ability that could turn around the Clippers after another second round playoff exit.

And after being one of only five teams in the league to make more than 10 threes per game this season, some added diversity to their perimeter shooters could go a long way in making their offense even tougher for opponents to handle.

Over the course of his five year career, 34.9 percent of Stephenson’s field goal attempts have come from within three feet of the basket. In comparison to the Clippers’ two other primary shooting guards (J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford) Stephenson’s percentage of shot attempts from within that distance is at least 20 percent higher than both of them.

So, if Stephenson continues to take more than twice as many shots as Redick and Crawford at the rim, the Clippers have a new athletic, interior weapon to unleash off the bench.

Stephenson doesn’t just attack the rim at high frequency, though. He’s efficient as well. He uses his strong, 6’5″, 210 lbs frame to force his way past smaller guards whilst having the quickness and handles to take slower defenders off the dribble when driving into the paint. As a result, he’s made 65.6 percent of his shots within three feet over his career.

On the other hand, Rivers and Crawford both have career shooting percentages of 54 from within three feet. Redick is notably better with 62.8 percent, although as a prolific three point specialist, he doesn’t create inside like Stephenson (attempting just 11.9 percent of his shots from three feet).

Obviously Stephenson’s dreadful three point shooting from this season can’t be forgotten, after he made a mere 17.1 percent from deep, yet still attempted 2.4 per 36 minutes. However, if he can work off the high-post passing of Blake Griffin and distribution of Chris Paul effectively, Stephenson should be able to get that number a little closer to his mark of 35.2 percent in his last season with the Indiana Pacers.

It’s easier said than done, but he should improve. Especially as he set the bar so low this year.

On top of that, Stephenson is also a creative passer. Either when he attacks the basket and looks to dish the ball back out to a teammate, or when he uses his vision to set up teammates on cuts into the lane.

Or, if he really wants to make a highlight play, he can pull off mid-air, behind-the-back passes like the one in the video above.

Unfortunately for the Clippers, though, Stephenson can’t make passes like that all time. In fact, his lack of efficiency and turnover percentage is one of primary weaknesses (aside from his 37.6 field goal percentage this year).

This season, Stephenson had a usage percentage of 21.1, which is surprisingly close to that of the best floor general in the league, Chris Paul (23.7). As a result of Stephenson dominating the ball too much at times, he also recorded a turnover percentage of 17.6. So, when comparing that to a young, developing point guard such as Austin Rivers (who’s turnover percentage was far lower at 10.5), Stephenson can’t immediately take over the offense as much in Los Angeles.

That being said, all the Clippers need to do is limit his role. Doc Rivers will use him as a primary ball handler off the bench, and so he should. Yet, once they’ve figured out how to use his ability to attack the basket and set up teammates in the right way in controlled bursts, his diverse skill set is still something that could make a big difference.

Not just for the sake of more highlight plays, but to provide the second unit with a player who can spark some alternate ways of scoring rather than endless three pointers.

Oct 8, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson (1) jumps and passes the ball back to a teammate during the second half of a game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The 76ers defeated the Hornets 106-92. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of the Clippers’ second unit success this year may hinge on Lance. On some nights he can be a potent triple double threat, snatch 15 rebounds, make falling layups through contact and pull off ridiculous no-look passes. Or he can go 0-of-7 from beyond the arc and make little happen for his teammates by hanging onto the ball too much.

For the sake of the Clippers, hopefully they’ll enjoy more of the first description.

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Even though Stephenson will have a prominent role in the second unit backcourt, which will include controlling the ball, it will take Doc Rivers some time to figure out how to best utilize his play making ability.

Even if it takes weeks to initially implement Lance into the offense, though, there’s one thing that is certain: he gives the Clippers a dynamic that was completely non-existent on their bench this season.

All he needs to do is play with the chip on his shoulder that’s left after his dismal year in Charlotte, and work under the leadership of Doc, Chris Paul and Paul Pierce to prove himself.

If Stephenson does that, he adds serious firepower and creativity to a Clippers team with the potential for their greatest season in franchise history.