Was Lance Stephenson Destined to Fail?


Was Lance Stephenson Destined to Fail in Charlotte?

The Charlotte Hornets are desperate to unload Lance Stephenson and undo what might go down as the worst free agent signing of the 2014 NBA off-season.

Stephenson was known to be a risk, but when the Indiana Pacers could not come to terms with their volatile swingman, Charlotte made what many thought at the time was a good move in swooping in and grabbing the high risk / high reward player on a relatively team friendly deal.

However, his contributions this year have been dismal. His shooting, effort, and body language have not been what the team hoped for. The team has regressed after making the playoffs last year, although a recent stretch of good play, the rout by the Cavaliers notwithstanding, gives hope for the second half.

Nevertheless, Stephenson this year is shooting a horrific 39%, according to Basketball-Reference.com, down from the 49% he shot from the field last year. And because this is Charlotte, home of the black hole of three point shooting, his accuracy from beyond the arc has also plummeted. In 2013-14, he shot 35% behind the three point line, this year he is an abysmal 15%.

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Have the Hornets Failed Him?

Still, you have to wonder if selling super-low on Stephenson is the best idea, and whether the Hornets themselves are at fault for his down year.

Stephenson was brought in as the new “leader” of this team, despite the fact that he has never shown good leadership qualities. Remember, Stephenson is only a few years removed from knocking his pregnant girlfriend down a flight a stairs. He was once a lost man, who happened to find new life in Indiana on a good Pacers team.

That team was full of veteran guys and locker room leaders to keep Stephenson in line. David West, Paul George, Luis Scola, and others contributed to a solid locker room, and with hall-of-famer Larry Bird watching over the team, Stephenson had little room to cause mayhem.

It is a different story in Charlotte, where there is a young team without a strong organization in place to keep guys like Stephenson from self-destructing. Michael Jordan might be the greatest on-court player of all time, but off-the-court, he has more interest in his latest Hanes commercial and his golf game than in mentoring a guy like Stephenson.

Its His Shooting, Not Any Arrests

This is very true. Stephenson has not gotten into much trouble during his time with the Charlotte Hornets. It has been his poor on-court production that causes fans to groan. So what happened to his game?

This year Stephenson is chucking up long jumpers more than ever, and rarely getting to the basket. Last season in Indiana only 13% of his shots came from a distance greater than 16 feet. This year? He is chucking those up 28% of the time.

He is also averaging almost one more assist per 36 minutes, again via basketball-reference.com. This is because Stephenson has been tasked with the playmaking duties whenever Kemba Walker is not on the court. The Hornets have a terrible time creating good looks, and Stephenson is often depended on to create both for himself and for his teammates.

So Then How DID the Hornets Fail Him

On paper, the signing seemed like a good idea. Check out this report from ProbasketballTalk from when Stephenson inked the deal over the summer:

"This is a great fit on the court for the Hornets, who count on Kemba Walker at the point to create offense and Al Jefferson in the paint to put up numbers. Stephenson both brings another shot creator and a good defender to a team that made the playoffs last season based on its defense."

This was a bad fit from the start. Stephenson is a finisher. Even in this disastrous campaign, when inside of three feet from the basket, he hits over 61% of his shots. That is almost as good as Al Jefferson, for comparison.

Stephenson is great in transition, becoming a one-man fast break capable of finishing at the rim. However, the Hornets are one of the slowest paced teams in the NBA. They are 23rd in the association for pace, primarily trying to win through defense.

In addition to their slow pace, the Hornets rarely get into transition, ranking dead last in the NBA in steals. Charlotte has nearly 200 fewer steals than the top ranked team, the Houston Rockets.

This Hornet team plays solid, conservative defense. Rarely makes a steal, does not fast break, and shoots poorly from long range. In fact, the only thing Charlotte does well on offense is get to the free throw line.

That is great, except that Stephenson rarely gets to the free throw line, and even when he does, he only shoots 67% for his career.

This was a poor fit from the start, and it is hard to blame Stephenson for his lack of production.

A smart team out there is going to trade for Stephenson, and if they use him right, could make the Hornets look silly for dumping him.

Next: Lance Stephenson for Joe Johnson: A Positive to the Potential Trade