Lance Stephenson will be used as Clippers’ top wing defender


Oct 2, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Jameer Nelson (1) shoots against Los Angeles Clippers guard Lance Stephenson (1) during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Lance Stephenson may be struggling on offense right now and has only shot 14 percent from the floor in two preseason games, but as a defender, the Los Angeles Clippers think he can make an immediate impact. Although, to be frank, it’s needed right now if he’s going to make up for his offensive woes until he starts clicking with his new teammates.

Defensive versatility and toughness is something that Stephenson brings to the table from the get-go, though. With his strong, 6’5″, 230 lbs frame and a 6’11” wingspan, he easily has the strength, speed, and length to guard bigger small forwards on the perimeter. And seeing as most of the league’s best scorers happen to be small forwards or tall shooting guards, such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and James Harden, Stephenson has the physical tools to bother any of them.

He won’t be required to stop every elite scorer by himself, of course, but Clippers’ head coach Doc Rivers does intend to use Stephenson as his primary perimeter defender this season.

After talking with Zach Lowe of Grantland, Doc made it clear that he thinks Stephenson can keep up with the best wing players in the game:

"And in Stephenson, they finally have the long, burly wing capable of at least hanging with Durant, LeBron, Kawhi Leonard, and other studs. (For what it’s worth, Rivers thinks [Wesley] Johnson has a shot against them, too, even though he brings a track record of shaky defense. “We watched him in the gym the other day and just said, ‘F***, you can defend!’” Rivers says, laughing. “‘Where the f*** has that been?’”)“Lance is absolutely our no. 1 option against all those guys,” Rivers says. He also wants Stephenson pitching in on bigger point guards so [Chris] Paul can rest a bit on defense."

The use of “absolutely” shows just how much confidence Doc already has in Stephenson as a defender who can take on their opponent’s top scorer, which is something the Clippers really don’t have in anyone else on their roster besides Lance. Even with the gritty defensive small forward they had in Matt Barnes last season, the Clippers have lacked an athletic wing who can consistently get under the skin (or blow in the ear) of top perimeter players.

Also, as Doc mentioned to Lowe, Stephenson can help give Paul some rest after he continually gives 110 percent delivering countless All-Defensive seasons year in and year out.

While Stephenson’s season with the Charlotte Hornets may have been worrying on virtually all accounts, though, the form he had with the Indiana Pacers as a walking triple double machine and top defender can be rediscovered. From his playmaking ability, explosiveness to attack the basket, rebounding, and versatile defense, he can eventually be utilized in multiple ways at both ends of the floor.

At least, that’s the plan for Doc and the Clippers.

May 30, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (left) is defended by Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson during game six of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

So, when looking back to 2013-14 to see how well Stephenson performed defensively with the Pacers, his impact when on the floor really is obvious. To go along with his 7.2 rebounds per game, Lance forced his opponents to shoot 1.9 percent lower than normal from further than 15 feet out, while holding them to 1.8 percent worse shooting on three pointers and 2.7 percent lower on overall field goal attempts (per’s SportVU).

He has the strength to trouble tougher small forwards who can post up (as he showed in the 2013-14 Eastern conference finals against LeBron), and has the lateral quickness to cut off driving lanes to the basket and smother players enough to contest their jump shots. Those attributes alone make him a worthwhile addition for the Clippers; even if his offensive game looks lost for the time being. Plus, with the highflying DeAndre Jordan as a safety blanket behind him to protect the paint, Stephenson could seriously help round-out the Clippers’ defense and improve them beyond their ranking of just 15th in defensive efficiency.

On top of that, his attitude can bother opponents and give L.A. a kind of swagger that they didn’t have last season.

The only problem is him containing that swagger to defense and not thinking that he can drain long pull-up jumpers whenever he likes.

Even if Stephenson can’t stop everyone, his arrival and defensive potential is an awful lot more promising than forcing 6’0″ CP3 to play far above his size simply because he’s the best perimeter defender the Clippers have. Again, that terrible year with the Hornets can’t be ignored, and all those opponent defensive percentages saw a slight increase last season, but it’s only been a year since tenacious-triple double Lance was a serious thing in the NBA.

That hasn’t just completely disappeared in the span of one season.

More from Clipperholics

Now he’s out of his awful situation in Charlotte and has teamed up with an elite coach in Doc Rivers and two All-Defensive first team members in Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan, maybe Lance Stephenson can rediscover his form to become the Clippers’ top perimeter defender this season.

If that can be the case, Stephenson really could emerge as the wing player L.A. need to keep up with the best scoring talent the NBA has to offer. It’s more than essential in a Western conference featuring multiple scorers who can put up 25 points with ease on any given night, and Paul can’t do it all by himself.

The real issue at hand right now is Lance’s offense. Hopefully for the sake of the Clippers, though, that 14 percent shooting and desire to shoot long twos won’t last any longer.

When, and if, that happens, he can truly focus on the things he does best.

Next: Tom Thibodeau could be a perfect assistant coach for the Clippers