Ghost In A Shell: What Happened to Lance Stephenson In Charlotte?

Mar 1, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson (1) looks on against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. Charlotte Hornets defeated the Orlando Magic 98-83. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 1, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson (1) looks on against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. Charlotte Hornets defeated the Orlando Magic 98-83. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Lance Stephenson is a ghost in a shell of his former self now, relegated to the Charlotte Hornets’ bench and occasionally completely left out of the rotation. A season ago for the Indiana Pacers, he was a triple-double threat, averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 4.2 assists a game. In Charlotte he’s not even coming close to averaging a double-double with 8.3 points, 4.1 assists, 4.7 rebounds a game.

He’s says he doesn’t regret leaving Indiana, but what else is he suppose to say?

What is happening where he was a key player for the Eastern Conference’s top seed a year ago, but now an irrelevant player on a soon-to-be-irrelevant team?

Jesus Gomez of SB Nation does a good job breaking down the numbers with Charlotte, pointing out that the Hornets are better when Stephenson doesn’t play, he’s not the player he was in Indiana, and that his defense has fallen off.

"When Stephenson has shared the floor with Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson — the two most important players on the team — Charlotte has been outscored by almost 10 points per 100 possessions. Stephenson was supposed to be the team’s starting shooting guard, but he’s been unplayable next to the team’s stars."

On the first point (and leading into the second), I believe part of the problem Stephenson is having in Charlotte stems from the fact you have several ball-dominant guards trying to share the floor. Mo Williams, Kemba Walker, and Gary Neal all have usage rates above 24%. Throw in Al Jefferson’s 26.3% usage rate and you don’t have a lot of possessions left. Stephenson’s 21% usage rate is up slightly from his time in Indiana, but that seems a little deceiving to me.

Stephenson’s role in Indiana was split between being a second or third option with the starters and leading the second unit after getting early rest. His usage rate got driven down significantly sharing the floor with Paul George, but he was taking plenty of shots and leading the team when he was playing with the bench. We watched Stephenson rack up stats against second units and tacking on a few more points and rebounds when the starters were on the floor.

Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel did this to keep Stephenson happy without him trying to overwhelm the starting unit — as well as bolster an offensively inept reserve unit — but it wasn’t perfect in Indiana either. Just look at how George Hill is playing this year without needing to share as much with another ball-dominant player. Hill’s stats this year are slightly juiced by a lack of Paul George as well, but too often Hill was standing around waiting for a kick-out pass instead of creating his own opportunities when he played with Stephenson. Vogel saw a way to make it work and take advantage of Stephenson’s strengths, something that isn’t happening in Charlotte.

Charlotte coach Steve Clifford admitted to the Charlotte Observer that he hasn’t found a role the suits Stephenson with the Hornets. “Lance is here because of me. I’m the one who wanted Lance. It’s simply I can’t find a group where we play well with him out there,” Clifford said.

In Indiana, Stephenson served as a compliment to the starting unit and the heart and soul of the second unit. Charlotte doesn’t have a player than can take over a game like Paul George in their starting line up. You end up having multiple players trying to be the alpha dog, and while Jefferson is a leader, his body isn’t want it once was. In Indiana the roles were much more clearly define for each player. It doesn’t feel like that is as clear in Charlotte.

Another reason for Stephenson’s drop off in production is the increased number of mid-range shots. If you throw out the 12 games he played his rookie season, Stephenson will end this season with the highest amount of mid-range shots his entire career and over double the percentage he took a year ago. He’s shooting 7% worse from mid-range as well. He’s basically flipped around from what made him so good in Indiana. Instead of getting to the rim and hitting 3-pointers, he’s shooting in between the two, and doing it poorly.

He’s being more passive with the Hornets, and a passive Lance Stephenson isn’t a good Lance Stephenson.

For better or worse in Indiana, it was Stephenson’s full-throttle approach that worked so well, especially in an offense that got bogged down at times. He didn’t have to put the team on his back often, but there were times when Indiana won games thanks to Lance Stephenson and his aggressiveness.

This season Indiana certainly could have used some of Lance Stephenson’s aggression with so many injuries early on and even inquired about getting him back in a Pacers uniform. There were several reasons why it didn’t happen, but keeping him hasn’t been a great experience for Charlotte.