Clippers’ Lance Stephenson has perfect chance for redemption


Oct 15, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson (1) looks to pass the ball as he is defended by Detroit Pistons forward Cartier Martin (35) during the second half at Time Warner Cable Arena. Pistons win 104-84. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Lance Stephenson is coming off the worst year of his career to become the sixth man of the Los Angeles Clippers, who are unquestionably a better team than they were last season. In fact, with their plethora of new talent and depth, they’re one of the top championship contenders in the league now. Meaning that Stephenson — who has a great deal of pressure to redeem himself and make a difference on an elite team — needs to adopt the perfect mindset to fulfil his new role.

He no longer needs to be a constant go-to guy or even a starter. He just needs to rediscover his game from his Indiana Pacers days and work towards complimenting the Clippers’ elite core of players in any way possible.

And after the instances of wandering into other team’s huddles or casually blowing in LeBron James’ ear, it’s safe to say that a fair amount of Stephenson’s potential success with the Clippers will come down to his mindset.

First, let’s just look at the kind of season he’s trying to bounce back from. In 25.8 minutes per game, Stephenson averaged 8.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 0.6 steals. His shooting is the worst aspect of his performance, though. After shooting 49.1 percent from the floor and 35.2 percent from three point range in 2013-14 with the Indiana Pacers, those numbers fell in Charlotte to a dismal 37.6 and 17.1 percent, respectively.

Simply put, Stephenson got cold and never heated up. But now he can put that poor situation behind him and work alongside the best true point guard in the game, Chris Paul, Stephenson should start learning to pick his shots, create opportunities for his new teammates, and operate effectively in the Clippers’ league leading offense.

Oct 29, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson (1) sits after falling during the second half of the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Time Warner Cable Arena. Hornets win 108-106. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Stephenson is already an adept passer, as he began to showcase so well during his last season with the Pacers when he led the league with five triple doubles. In addition to his powerful ability to attack the rim through contact and rebound at a terrific rate (7.3 per 36 minutes in 2013-14), his playmaking was one of his top few attributes.

He continued that this year, after averaging 5.5 assists per 36 minutes, as well as creating an impressive 9.1 points per game from his passes (per Player Tracking). What makes his playmaking ability so effective is that not only can he drive to the basket and accurately kick the ball out to teammates, but he often draws so much attention when attacking the paint, that he can create plenty space for a big man in a pick-and-pop.

So when you combine that ability with the improved mid-range game of Blake Griffin, who shot a career best 40.4 percent from 16 feet out last season, Stephenson should be able to work high-screens with Blake to great effect.

And to improve on his passing even further, he has the best floor general in the game to learn from with Chris Paul. Meaning that if he’s playing at small forward, shooting guard or even point guard, he can use his passing and ball handling to take control of the Clippers’ second unit.

With all that in mind, what’s not to like about how Stephenson could flourish in L.A.?

There’s more to Stephenson’s potential success than just rediscovering his Pacers form, though. He needs to go at his new role with the correct attitude and work towards helping the Clippers in any way he can. If that means an entire game goes by and he doesn’t shoot a three pointer, then so be it. If he needs to just hustle for rebounds and use his physical defensive style to guard an elite scorer, then that’s what will help the Clippers most.

No matter what position he spends most of his 20-25 minutes per game at, he needs to learn to read the situation and put aside getting up the number of shots he wants.

Yet, after seeing how Stephenson has carried himself through the offseason so far, it seems like he’s adopted that exact approach.

From the moment he was traded to the Clippers in exchange for Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes, Stephenson clearly found it hard to contain his excitement. In an interview with Fox Sports following his introductory press conference, Lance’s emphasis on helping the team, playing for a great coach like Doc Rivers, and learning from players like Paul and Griffin were his key points of focus.

Stephenson didn’t only say that he wanted to prove himself as an individual or spout some generic response that he was excited to be part of the team for no specific reason. He said he’s ready to learn.

When Stephenson was asked how confident he was that he could return to the player he was in Indiana, the key reason as to why he’s so excited to have joined the Clippers seemed apparent. He responded by saying “I’m very confident. Especially with a great coach behind me, great leaders behind me, and great veterans that can lead me through the right paths. And I feel like these guys here can really help me out”.

More than anything else, his maturity and acknowledgement that other people need to help him is what’s so encouraging about how Stephenson is carrying himself as he prepares for a major comeback season with the Clippers.

More recently, Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times has spoken with Stephenson, and reported his following statement:

"“I’m on a mission to win a chip. I’m on a mission to do great this year. I’m on a mission to prove everybody wrong,” said Stephenson. “I mean, a lot of people are doubting me and saying I’m a bad locker-room guy and all of those rumors, but there’s no facts that I’m a bad locker-room guy, so I’m going to just show everybody and just go hard this year.”"

On a mission to prove that he isn’t a bad locker-room guy and can be a team player? That’s just the kind of attitude he needs to succeed. Because not only will it improve his connection on the court with his teammates, but it should hopefully bring some composure to a second unit that has to work out how he can fit next to Jamal Crawford (if he stays in L.A., that is).

Oct 29, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson (1) drives to the basket as he is defended by Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker (12) during the second half of the game at Time Warner Cable Arena. Hornets win 108-106. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

With the Clippers, Stephenson has the perfect role models to learn from, and star players such as Paul and Griffin to compliment his unique and versatile skill set. So if that can’t help him improve and rediscover his top form, there isn’t much else that can.

Stephenson got his nickname “Born Ready” from playing with guys far above his age at Rucker Park, when he was just 14 years old and trying to make a name for himself. Now, with an opportunity to show what he’s capable of by contributing to a potential championship winning team, he has the perfect chance to prove what he is: “Born Ready”.

Ready to work hard, ready for redemption, and ready to help take the Clippers to a whole new level.

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