What Does Losing Lance Stephenson Mean for the Pacers Offense?

Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

With Lance Stephenson having signed with the Charlotte Hornets last week, the already sub-par Indiana Pacers offense is likely going to have to be re-invented. Stephenson was a key component to the drive-and-kick style of play that occasionally yielded great looks, and all his on-/off-court numbers suggest that he was integral to the Pacers’ success last season.

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The defense will likely suffer, but not to the degree that the offense potentially could. Perhaps the Pacers’ best hope is that newly acquired pickups Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles will be able to somewhat replicate the production that Lance put up in the 2012-13 season, when he averaged 9/4/3 and Indiana took Miami to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The loss of Lance seems likely to affect Paul George more-so than anybody else on the team. Per nbawowy.com, here are PG’s numbers with Lance on and off the floor:

lance on off
lance on off /

This large dip in three-point percentages is likely due to the fact that only 71.6% of his three point attempts were assisted with Lance off the floor, compared to 80.2% when he was on. As I wrote about at Nylon Calculus recently, shooting assisted jumpers is huge for PG. He shot 19.7% better from beyond the arc off the catch than he did off the dribble – per SportVu, he converted on 43.8% of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts, and posted an absurd effective field goal percentage of 60.4% on these shot attempts overall. The more catch-and-shoot attempts he gets, the better.

Unfortunately, as represented by those statistics, a lot of those catch-and-shoot attempts occurred due to Lance’s presence, be it drawing some of the attention of the defense, or forcing defenders to rotate and leave PG open.

lance drive kick
lance drive kick /

Strangely, though, surprisingly few of PG’s spot-up shots actually came off assists from Lance himself. They would more frequently occur from ball movement following post-ups or drives. But the numbers don’t lie, and Lance being on the floor was clearly a big factor.

Vogel may be forced to run more intricate sets like these, which at times made Indiana seem as though they weren’t one of the worst offensive teams in the league.

good set 3
good set 3 /

However, when George Hill is at his best – and most aggressive – he too was able to force defenders to rotate and kick out to open shooters. For all his struggles this year, he did frequently display a knack for being able to find open guys.

hill drive kick gif
hill drive kick gif /

Interestingly, Hill too saw a dip in his percentages when Lance took the bench. He went from an above-league-average true shooting percentage of 57.9% with Lance on the floor, to a far less efficient 50.8% without him. He shot almost 7 percentage points worse from 3-point range without Lance! The following table contains a few more statistics detailing Hill’s performance with Stephenson on/off the floor:

hill on off stats
hill on off stats /

Regardless, it wasn’t only about Lance creating shots for Paul George. While the team actually had a higher 3PA-rate with Lance off the floor, they shot a couple of percentage points higher from that range when he was on.

The driving and dishing will definitely be tough to replicate, too. Lance was the only other Pacer aside from PG who could get to the rim without first dragging the big man out to set a screen, and it generally created great looks.

lance dish to scola
lance dish to scola /

This is also the case with the aforementioned ability to be able to draw attention from the defense.

See here, as Scola is standing one pass away and his man has his head turned towards Lance, presumably ready to help if he drives.

head turned to Lance
head turned to Lance /

This puts him out of position to recover when Lance fires a pass to Scola, who knocks down the shot.

scola jumper
scola jumper /

Those are definitely the main issues to do with the loss of Lance: the lack of creation, and of good offensive players that make the defense turn their heads. There’s more to it, but they’re unlikely to be problems too large that they can’t be fixed by the recent roster additions.

Miles was the first signing that Larry Bird made for the Pacers this offseason. He isn’t exactly the defense-first type player that Vogel seems to love, but he has been a valuable floor spacer in Cleveland for the past two seasons, with 3-point percentages of 38.4% and 39% in 2012-13 and 2013-14, respectively — an attribute that Indiana so desperately needs. He has a quick release, and isn’t afraid to shoot with a man closing him out, for better or worse.

Miles is one of the rare examples of a good shooter who shoots poorly in catch-and-shoot situations. Last season, Miles made just 34.3% of his spot-up threes, per MySynergySports, but a ridiculous 53.8% of them in transition (albeit off only 26 attempts). The poor spot-up percentages are likely just a result of small sample size, backed up by the fact that the season before he made around 40% of his spot-up 3s, and just under 42% when coming off screens. Also, his poor spot-up numbers weren’t helped by his late-season slump, in which he made just 3-of-24 attempts off the catch.

Rodney Stuckey was the next acquisition, quite a different player-type than Miles. Stuckey made just 27.3% of his 88 three-point shots for Detroit last season, but was a solid scorer and distributor out of the pick and roll and was able to bully smaller guards in the post with his 6’5”, 205-pound frame.

Stuckey certainly benefited from the great screens set by the Pistons’ big men, so he might struggle to make the transition to having his screens set by the Pacers’ bigs, who are notoriously bad at the act. However, there’s no doubting his ability to make a play once he gets around the screen. He loves the mid-range jumpshot, taking 37.4% of his shots last season within that area, despite shooting just 37% from the range. He also loves to do what I refer to as the ‘Chris Paul trick,’ using his bigger body to keep his defender behind him if he gets caught chasing him around the screen.

stuckey floater
stuckey floater /

This allows him to get off floaters or jumpshots just outside the restricted area yet in the paint, a range in which he connected on an above-league-average 51.2% of his shots.

He’s a solid defensive player, too, more than capable of bringing just as much to that end of the floor as Lance did. A Stuckey-Hill back court should be able to make it a bit uncomfortable for opposing guards, should Vogel choose to play those two together at times.

It’s tough to predict where exactly either of these guys will fit into the rotation: perhaps Stuckey will start at point guard and push Hill to his more natural shooting guard position, where he is arguably more dangerous, or Miles could start at the 2 and bring some much needed floor spacing to the offensive catastrophe.

Barring any more major moves, that’s just about how we can expect the offense to look next season – it has the potential to be uglier we’ve ever seen, but could also come along quite nicely if the two additions slide into the rotation well. Getting Stuckey at the minimum was a steal no matter which way you look at it, and C.J. could prove to be a useful signing as well.

The loss of Lance may be hugely detrimental, but it’s also important to remember how great the Pacers looked in the 2012-13 season when Stephenson played a much smaller role, a void much easier to fill than it now appears after his production last season. If they are able to stay away from the large amounts of hero ball and somehow-worse-than-usual offense that brought them to a slump late in the year, it’s not unreasonable to expect another trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.