The Subtle Ways Lance Stephenson Has Improved

After it was announced that Danny Granger would miss significant time, I started out the year just like most people, thinking that the team was in trouble. Stephenson had never played a meaningful minute in the NBA, so who (other than Larry Bird) thought he would be able to fill in adequately? In fact, the starting job — let alone the “closing” job — wasn’t even his until he went out and earned it.

But it quickly became evident that Stephenson was very, very good at this sport. Before long, when he would make a nice play, my in-game reaction on Twitter would be: “Lance Stephenson, basketball player.” He clearly lacked experience on this level, often played too quickly and showed questionable decision making at times. But the talent —  especially an ability to see the court like none of the other nine players out there could — was visible.

So “Lance Stephenson, basketball player” was a simple reaffirmation that this dude wasn’t just some athletic scorer who could make the occasional highlight. His impact was showing up everywhere in the team’s numbers. He was making nuanced, fundamental plays that led directly to points. Then, soon after, he was mixing in similar stuff on defense to prevent points. Each time, I was surprised to see it happen — until, as anything that happens over and over does, it became unsurprising.

The growth was so vast that it really wasn’t that surprising when he had a career night to close out the Knicks in the second round last postseason. The jump he made this summer, however, has been even more impressive that the improvement he over the course of last season. Now, “Lance Stephenson, basketball player” is no longer necessary. Anyone who watches can see all the good he does out there.

Sure, there are still some head scratching moments and he still looks like an overeager puppy who chews up the couch cushion at times. But the highlights and the triple doubles are indisputable. And as Brent Barry shows in the video above, so are the small, subtle aspects of his game.

It’s stuff like this that have helped him make the transformation from “Lance Stephenson, basketball player” to “Lance Stephenson, playmaker” to “Lance Stephenson, basketball savant.”

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