Clippers-Raptors: The Lance Stephenson-DeMar DeRozan test


Feb 6, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) passes the ball under the hoop as he is guarded by Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Clippers 123-107. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Lance Stephenson has the potential to emerge as the Los Angeles Clippers’ best bench player. He could become the sixth man with the ability to create offense by attacking the basket or by setting up teammates, whilst defending multiple positions to help the Clippers’ 15th ranked defense. If that happens, he’ll look like the best signing of the summer by a mile.

However, in the meantime, Stephenson needs time to develop into Doc Rivers’ offense and learn how to fit into the play styles of his new teammates, which is why his next preseason game could be exactly what he needs to put him to the test. As the Clippers head north to participate in the NBA Canada series, they’ll face off against the Toronto Raptors on October 4 at 4:00 PM PT.

For Stephenson, that means he gets the chance to go against former All-Star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan. Of course Lance has competed against the best players in the league and went toe-to-toe with LeBron James in the 2013-14 Eastern conference finals with the Indiana Pacers, but to add some competitiveness and challenge to the preseason, a matchup against DeRozan is perfect.

It was only expected that there would be issues for the Clippers in their preseason opener against the Denver Nuggets, as after adding so many new faces over the summer, the chemistry simply won’t be there yet; even though there were plenty of encouraging comments and reports that came out of training camp. For Stephenson, though, the main issue against the Nuggets was his shooting, which was far from pretty at times. As his comfort level in the offense improves, that kind of shooting can easily change, and obviously there’s no need for concern after just one game.

However, while the Clippers know they need time to find their offensive rhythm, the Nuggets hardly had much backcourt talent for them to deal with. Chris Paul gave rookie star Emmanuel Mudiay hell as he hounded him all night, while Jameer Nelson and Randy Foye are hardly the most talented guards in the league.

Against the Raptors, though, Stephenson can see how he fares against DeRozan. Not to mention, he’ll have a chance to display his ability as a tough on-ball defender against a highly explosive scorer as well.

Jan 19, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) goes to dunk the ball against the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

DeRozan’s production may have slipped slightly last season, as the numbers from his 2013-14 All-Star season (22.7 points, 42.9 field goal percentage and a 30.5 three point percentage) fell to 20.1 points on 41.3 percent shooting while going 28.4 percent from beyond the arc and making half as many threes (0.4) per game. Largely those shooting declines were due to his mid-range efficiency, yet his driving ability and incredible athleticism still make him more than enough to test Stephenson.

While DeRozan has never excelled as a consistent mid-range shooter, his shooting around the paint is at least enough to make defenders respect his shot. From 3-10 feet out last season, he made 39.3 percent of his shots, and when moving to 10-16 feet out, he made a slightly less efficient 37.2 percent. For some reason, though, he just kept taking long twos last season, and attempted 33.8 percent of all his field goal attempts from further than 16 feet out.

To be fair to DeMar, it’s still puzzling why so many wing players love long twos; we can’t all be Stephen Curry.

After 16 feet is where DeRozan’s threat begins to decrease, but when moving within 14 feet of the basket or cutting to the paint, he can be a serious hand full. He can soar to the rim with ease, and in transition or when a lane opens up to the basket, DeRozan is at his best. That’s the biggest factor as to how he increased the Raptors’ offensive rating by 12.4 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs (even if he was a bit inconsistent throughout the year).

His minutes will probably be slightly limited as it’s only preseason, but the scoring ability of DeRozan still gives Stephenson plenty to worry about. After all, competitive nature and a desire to improve is needed more from Lance than anyone else on the Clippers’ roster, regardless of whether or not a win actually means anything.

In a contest against DeRozan, though, Stephenson’s need for some offensive polish isn’t all he needs to worry about; it’s time for his defense to come into play, too.

May 30, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) is pressured by Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson (1) in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Rowan Kavner of has reported how highly Doc Rivers already rates Lance’s on-ball defense:

"“He’s very competitive. You can see that can get in his way at times, it does in practice every once in a while, but he’s a hell of a defender on the ball.”Doc Rivers said Stephenson’s still learning how to be a better defender off the ball, but people forget Stephenson’s only 25 years old."

His off-ball defense with the Clippers will come with time, as help defense and rotating between players is not only instincts but learning exactly where your teammates are going to be in different defensive systems. On-ball defense, however, is individual determination, athleticism and ability, which is something that Stephenson already uses to guard multiple positions.

With the kind of quickness to cover point guards and the strength to power against small forwards in the post, Stephenson has the physical attributes to handle guys at the one, two, or three. All those physical attributes and his defensive awareness will be put to the test Sunday against the Raptors and DeRozan.

More from Clipperholics

So, when weighing up DeRozan’s talent in comparison to what the Nuggets had to offer, it’s safe to say that even though this is preseason, Lance Stephenson will have a step up in the intensity he’ll need to bring to the game. His gritty attitude is what adds some mental toughness to the Clippers, and he’ll need to continue to prove himself as the stellar on-ball he can be as he did in training camp. On top of that, Stephenson will have an elite athlete to out-pace and outmanoeuvre when he takes control of L.A.’s offense.

With that pressure on Stephenson to perform and carry a lot of the load for the Clippers’ second unit backcourt, his performance against DeRozan will be the key matchup to watch on Sunday. Hopefully we’ll see more glimpses of the potential he has to help this new bench grow.

Next: New Clippers showed glimpses of their potential against Nuggets