Come on folks, Sir Lance-A-Lot, born ready…LANCE STEPHENSON TO THE HORNETS?!?! A move thought by many to change the balance of power in the Eastern Conference…seriously. The Indiana Pacers lost their leading rebounder and assist guy, couple that with the loss of Paul George and last year’s 1 seed in the East seemed to be doomed. LeBron left the Miami Heat for greener pastures…poor word choice for Cleveland, I know. The point is the top tier teams in the East crumbled this offseason giving way to teams that began to emerge as last season waned. The Wizards young backcourt, the Hawks Spur-like basketball, WE THE NORTH and of course the lovable Michael Jordan owned Charlotte Hornets seemed poised to take that next step. Arguably the biggest free agent splash made by any of the aforementioned teams was bringing Lance Stephenson to the Hornets who were a budding defensive team that needed another punch on offense. Well…sitting a ½ game out of the playoffs the experiment seems to be blowing up in Michael Jordan’s face, but why?
First let’s take a look at the major differences between last year’s above .500 Hornets and this year’s…well terrible Hornets. This year’s net rating of -2.21 is 1.92 points worse than last year’s net rating of -.29, which was also not great, coming in at 16th in the NBA, which is where the club finished in the standings. This stat shows the comparison between a team’s offensive rating and defensive rating, or the points scored and allowed by a team per 100 possessions. So basically Charlotte is losing games by 1.92 points per 100 possessions making them a below average team, in fact the 21st ranked team in the league as net rating is concerned. The offensive rating of the Charlotte Hornets is the main concern in these numbers as they rank 29th in that particular category. Lance was brought in to run the fast break for this team and create in transition as he did for Indiana. The offensive punch he was supposed to bring has been adversely effective and is drowning the Hornets as they chase for the playoffs.
Born Ready has seen drops in every statistical category in regards to the offensive side of the ball. Most importantly his point total has dropped 5ppg, his rebounds have dropped 2.1rpg, his field goal percentage has dropped 12% and his 3pt shooting has dropped 19%. This has resulted in his offensive win shares, the measure of how many wins a player adds to his team, being a staggering -2.1 in relation to last year’s OWS of 2.6. The Hornets brought Lance in to be the guy they salivated over throughout last season when Lance was snubbed for an all star selection. He has cost his team 5 games in the win column in relation to the guy they were hoping to get. All these stats are good and well, but what is the reason that Lance is underperforming at a historic level this season?
So much of Lance’s success in Indy was predicated on grabbing defensive rebounds and galloping down the court. He was a one man fast break…literally, and thrived when he had the ball in his hands. He played 97% of his minutes at shooting guard, allowing him to handle the ball more often than not. This played to the strengths of Lance allowing him to show his creativity on the fast break and also in their half court sets. In Charlotte, Lance is playing 74% of his minutes at the 2 guard while the team has him playing minutes at the 3, guarding wing players when Kidd-Gilchrist is either out of the game or injured. Playing against a bigger man at the 3 could be a reason for the dip in rebounds which affects the amount of opportunities Lance has to run the fast break with the ball in his hands. His free throw attempt rate is also down as a result of this which seems to have affected the rate at which he making his free throws, shooting 62%, down 9% from last season. There needs to be something Charlotte can do to maximize the efficiency of a Lance Stephenson because right now he is hurting a team that was supposed to take a step forward this season. I think I know what needs to be done here.
PUSH THE BALL CHARLOTTE. Charlotte ranks 22nd in pace, meaning they like to slow the game down in half court sets. Although this is part of what makes a successful defense, running off defensive rebounds can improve your pace after your tough defense is played. Charlotte ranks 29th in the NBA when it comes to fast break points, with only 9.5% of their points being scored on the fast break. Averaging 95ppg this season, Charlotte is averaging roughly nine of them on the fast break. This is a staggering number for a team that brought Lance in because his strengths matched their weaknesses. Lance is being shut out on the defensive glass by his role in Charlotte’s system and the trickledown effect of that is less time with the ball, less time on the fast break and less time doing what he does best, improvising on the break with the ball in his hands. Now it may seem like I am defending Lance here. To a certain extent I am, but the frustration has boiled over into him shooting terribly, specifically from three point range where he has improved so much over the last few seasons. The season can still be saved with Charlotte sitting a ½ game out of the playoffs, but a one and done in the playoffs won’t be a success this year in regards to their expectations entering the season. You can quote me on the record saying Lance will not be in Charlotte next year.