Is pairing Lance Stephenson and Gary Neal a bad idea?


The Charlotte Hornets were playing the Washington Wizards. The Hornets had the game under control for most of the first half. Then Brian Roberts and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went to the bench.

In came Lance Stephenson and Gary Neal. The lead dissolved like alka-seltzer being dropped into a glass of water. It fizzed, bubbled, gurgled, and then eventually disappeared.

In watching this team since the Kemba Walker injury, it seems like the combination of Stephenson and Neal has been a disaster. I logged on to to check out my theory.

Net (Per 100 Poss)
7A. Jefferson | G. Neal | L. Stephenson | K. Walker | M. Williams48:13-.141-.058-0.3-16.7-1.2-3.6
11A. Jefferson | G. Neal | L. Stephenson | K. Walker | C. Zeller43:01-.013-.098+6.0-16.5-6.4+2.0
19B. Biyombo | G. Neal | B. Roberts | L. Stephenson | C. Zeller29:34-.011-.010+12.9+9.0-4.9-10.3
20A. Jefferson | G. Neal | B. Roberts | L. Stephenson | M. Williams26:57-.067-.232-15.8-51.7-4.4+16.9

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/3/2015.

Three of the four lineups involving both Neal and Stephenson have been horrible when on the court. Check out the point differentials. Only when they share the floor with Roberts are they effective at all, and even then it is only on the defensive end of the floor.

So Why Are They Worse Together?

In theory, this would be a good pairing. The catch and shoot talents of Neal along with the playmaking skills of Stephenson. Stephenson would setup Neal for easy looks and Neal would knock them down.

In practice, that does not happen. Stephenson is too careless with the ball, and the Hornets do not have the outside shooting to give him the room he needs to operate one on one. Instead, Stephenson becomes a turnover machine when he is the primary playmaker.

He dribbles through traffic and is stripped, or makes bad passes. Stephenson is great in the open court. He is even a decent isolation player. Against a set defense packing into the paint, he is the iceberg with the Hornets being the Titanic.

Meanwhile, Neal is frustrated that he is not getting the ball, and that the offense is not running smoothly. So he goes into hero mode, chucking off-the-dribble three pointers as if he is Stephen Curry. Needless to say, that is a big reason that Neal’s three point shooting has nosedived this year.


Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/3/2015.

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So How Do The Hornets Fix It

First, keep things simple. Do not leave Stephenson and Neal in the game together for very long unless Brian Roberts is also out there to run the offense.

Second, Steve Clifford needs to lay down the law with Neal. No more off the dribble fading away three pointers, or he will be enjoying the bench for the rest of the game.

Finally, there needs to be more packaged plays for Stephenson when he is in the game. Plays that are practiced and that have set flows to them, ending with a good look or easy isolation. Do not let Stephenson ad-lib on the court. That is not his strength, to say the least.

This far into the season, Clifford deserves some of the blame. Clearly Neal has been a useful NBA player for most of his career. Only this year has his careless shot selection and reckless play appeared. Clifford needs to get that under control, keeping Neal on the court strictly as a floor spacer.

Neal showed in the win over the Wizards that he can still catch and shoot at a high percentage. So Clifford needs to get in his player’s ear and make sure that Neal knows that he is not Michael Jordan. And he needs to stop pretending.

Is Clifford To Blame For Stephenson?

This is a much tougher question. Stephenson was never a good fit with the Hornets, but Charlotte has definitely brought out the worst in his game. I think Clifford shares some of the blame, but the majority is still on Stephenson.

Stephenson is not the easiest guy to coach, and injuries this year have forced the Hornets to play Stephenson more as a playmaker.

Everyone knows it is probably for the best if Stephenson moves on to a better situation, it is just a matter of what the Hornets can get back.

Next: Hornets: Keep Your Foot On The Pedal