Does Lance Stephenson Make Clippers Title Contenders?
The Los Angeles Clippers lacked an impact small forward last season that could consistently facilitate and produce offense. Matt Barnes could help in a pinch and was a capable defender, but both areas were seen as a clear weakness for the Clips.
Now it’s possible they’ve made the upgrade they so sorely needed. Per multiple reports, a trade with the Charlotte Hornets has gone final that will land L.A. the disgruntled Lance Stephenson and ship both Barnes and Spencer Hawes to Charlotte.
Hawes was a completely failed (and expensive) offseason signing from last summer, but Barnes was a quality role player the Clippers could miss. It was a necessary move, though, albeit one that comes with a good amount of risk.
Stephenson was supposed to turn into a superstar in Charlotte last year, as he signed a huge contract after stepping up his game during the 2013-14 NBA season and playoffs. Viewed as an elite defender and play-maker, the wide belief was that if Stephenson could continue to develop as an offensive go-to player, he could become a star.
None of that happened, as Stephenson shot a putrid 37% from the floor with the Hornets and an even worse 17% from long range. While Stephenson still was able to defend and create at a high level, his atrocious percentages hurt the Hornets so badly that the team eventually took him out of the starting lineup and ultimately out of the rotation, completely.
The problem isn’t completely Stephenson, though, which is why the Clippers are right to take a chance on him. Still just 24 years old, there is plenty of room for growth in his game, and it’s highly arguable that he simply was paid to be something he’s not: a star.
Stephenson’s skill-set is that of a very strong role player that defends the opposing team’s best wing player and helps the offensive flow. Instead, Charlotte initially asked him to be a shooter and scorer, and he really isn’t either of those things.
On the surface, L.A. gets a lot better with this trade. They lose a solid shooter and defender in Barnes, but Stephenson is a superior defender and play-maker. If the Clippers can help him get his shooting percentages back to the 49% overall and 35% from deep that we saw in his last year with the Indiana Pacers, they’ll have scored a huge upgrade in every regard.
The idea is that in L.A., Stephenson isn’t asked to be “the man” and he simply will need to find a role to fill. With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin shouldering much of the scoring load, Stephenson can slide back into a familiar role like he had with the Pacers, and just stick to what he does best. Hypothetically, it should end up resulting in more efficient offense and Stephenson feeling less pressure to live up to unrealistic expectations.
Even if it doesn’t end up being a perfect marriage, this was still a strong play by the Clippers front office, as Hawes was a total failure and Barnes wasn’t necessarily the answer at the three spot anymore.
This is a big move for Los Angeles, but it still can’t be the last one they make. The Clippers scored an upgrade for their starting lineup, but their greatest weakness (and the one that probably sunk them in the playoffs), is their lack of depth. They gave up two bodies for one in this deal, so Doc Rivers and co. will absolutely need to be on the hunt for viable depth pieces in the draft and in free agency.
The Lance Stephenson of two years ago might end up playing a huge part in making the Clippers as we know them legit title contenders. Unfortunately, we can’t know just yet if he’ll return to form.
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