Los Angeles Clippers: Fixing Lance Stephenson


If you’re reading this Lance Stephenson just missed another shot.

All jokes aside, when it comes to doing the most important thing in basketball, putting the ball in the basket, Stephenson has done a very poor job. For exact precision, in two preseason appearances for the Clippers Lance is shooting 14 percent from the field — “Born Ready” shot 2-for-10 from the field in the opener against the Denver Nuggets and 0-for-4 in Game 2 of the preseason against the Toronto Raptors.

Before delving into the change, it should be said that preseason play isn’t the end-all for how a player will perform in the regular season. Just a year ago, it was Matt Barnes who couldn’t sink a rock into the Pacific ocean in the preseason. The troubles even bled into the early portion of the regular season but to the Clippers’ luck, Barnes turned things around and produced the second best three-point shooting season of his career, knocking down .362 percent of outside attempts.

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Lance Stephenson sends bold message to Knicks about hopeful NBA return
Lance Stephenson sends bold message to Knicks about hopeful NBA return /

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  • So maybe Lance can be Matt, though this comparison stops when you dig into the context and see the way Matt gets his shots is opposite of how Lance gets his, bringing us to the problem that should be corrected to fix Stephenson: dribbling the ball less.

    As simple a “demand” dribbling less seems, it’s not that easy. It’s apart of the DNA that made Lance the once-coveted player out of high school. It’s what made him the useful player in Indiana as his secondary playmaker added a dimension to an offense that already had two in George Hill and Paul George. Unfortunately, it’s what forced Stephenson to become a former shell of himself, or at least one of my issues, as he’s doing more damage in an attempt to put on a show before each decision

    Per SportsVU, in the lone season as a Hornet, the number of field-goals attempted by Lance Stephenson that required no dribbles took a steep decline: in ’13-14 (with Indy), 0-dribble attempts accounted for 43.6% of his offense; in ’14-15 (with Charlotte), that number dove to 23.7%, and in the process, field-goals attempted after 3-6 dribbles increased from 22.6% to 28.8%. Citing touch time, moments of Lance touching the ball for 2-6 seconds also increased from Indiana (34.6%) to Charlotte (49.5%). Regardless the situation, efficiency dipped as usage increased, with the most notable change being Lance shooting 44% from the field when touching the ball for 2-6 seconds in Indy (on 3.8 attempts) to shooting 37.6% in Charlotte (on 4.4 attempts) for the same thing. That’s bad, and if he continues to rely on iso ball to make him effective, bad will remain.

    And that stat that captures the issues best? Again citing SportsVU, in both of the last two seasons Lance shot 37.8% (Indy) and 33.9% (Charlotte) on pull-up jumpers — and things were so bad in Charlotte, he shot even worse on catch-and-shoot jumpers (16.2% frequency) at 18.0%; in Charlotte, catch-and-shoot frequency stood at 24.5% and Lance shot 33.8% from the field in the same situation.

    On this Clippers team filled with playmakers, the player Los Angeles needs most is ’13-14 Lance. Because someone in the second unit has to take a step back, a storyline that has yet to rear it’s head but it’s clear as day if willing to take stock in a two-game preseason sample size. Jamal Crawford is an iso scorer; Josh Smith, who phases in and out of being a multi-dimensional player, also falls into the trap of dribble-dribble-dribble-long two-pointer; Austin Rivers is much of the same as Crawford; and then there’s Lance. The lone man not mentioned is whomever doesn’t get the starting nod between Wesley Johnson and Paul Pierce, and giving the lack of a pecking order in the Clippers’ second unit, the offensive freedom could doom Wesley Johnson to the same ills.

    Throughout the Clippers’ preseason, Stephenson’s shot attempts have often looked like this in the half court:

    or this:

    Granted Gary Harris is an impressive defender for a second year player, this type of play is what Lance should want out of his arsenal. Per Synergy Sports, last season Stephenson scored 0.73 points per player on Isolation plays and shot 37.3% (31-of-83 shooting), which accounted for 13.8% of his offense last season, and not to mention a 10.1% TO frequency on the plays.

    And here’s an observation from the two games, as spotted by myself and others: another change from his days in Indy to now is Lance not appearing to be the same player physically, and may have lost some speed when attacking off the dribble. If opponents can spot where Lance is attempting to go off the dribble and beat him to the point, the result will only be more contested pull-up jumpers, which we’ve proven to be an awful idea when Lance is the shooter.

    Against the Nuggets, of Lance’s 10 attempts, only two came on non-iso plays: 1 fast break layup, 1 bricked spot-up three.

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    Where Lance can make an impact on offense in less dribbles or off the ball? For one, in the pick-and-roll. Spotting up would be ideal but only if mostly in the corner as Lance’s three-point shooting is subpar at best and the corner is the easiest spot to knock down three’s from. Cutting would also help, as it puts pressure on defenses to react while opening things up for his teammates. Even a post-up would be ideal as it’d place him closer to the basket against smaller opponents. Anything would help opposite of the dribble-dribble-dribble game he loves so much, so basically being a smarter Matt Barnes would best suite Lance.

    And this isn’t a plea for Stephenson to ditch the dribble completely and become a one-dimensional offensive player; that’s now where his value lies and quite frankly, not why the Clippers traded for him. But he has to find balance, or 2015-16 will be another long season for both Stephenson and the Clippers, and Born Ready will find himself at the bottom of lists accounting for free agents in the summer of 2016.

    Next: For Clippers' bench, spacing is the key to success