Love/Hate series: Lance Stephenson

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 20: Lance Stephenson
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 20: Lance Stephenson /

Lance Stephenson is back with the Pacers for a full season and fans are understandably excited. What’s to love and hate about his future with the team?

Ah, Lance Stephenson. The man who debuted the new Indiana Pacers jerseys on Friday is one of the major bright spots of a future that looks… less bright than it did two months ago. Despite bouncing around a few different teams in the past few years, fate brought him back to the Pacers — on a really cheap contract.

While he only appeared in the final six games of the season last year, he provided an immediate end-of-the-year spark to the bench that rode into the playoffs before the Pacers fell to the Cavaliers in a well-contested sweep.

During his short regular season with the Pacers, he averaged 7.2 points, 4.2 assists, and 4 rebounds a game. He turned it up a notch during the playoffs, though, averaging 16 points, 2.8 assists, and 5.3 rebounds a game. All in all, despite it being such a short stint, he showed flashes of the greatness that everyone saw during his original tenure with Indiana.

So, what’s to love and hate about his game going forward?

Love: His skillset and production on a brand new bench

The Pacers really drained the swamp when it came to their bench this offseason.

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Combined with the waiving of Rodney Stuckey before the end of the season, Indiana lost C.J. Miles, Monta Ellis, Lavoy Allen, Aaron Brooks, Rakeem Christmas and Georges Niang. While those guys comprised a bench that was ultimately ineffective last year, a platoon swap won’t automatically fix things.

Chemistry issues have plagued the Pacers bench for years, and introducing an entirely new set of players to fill the rotation will provide some assured growing pains. The team needs someone that has the ability to do a wide range of things on both sides of the floor — Lance is that guy.

Combining his good regular season and great postseason with the Pacers last year, Stephenson averaged 10.7 points, 3.6 assists and 4.5 boards a game. Each of these figures clocks in at #1 on the Pacers bench last year. It’s a 10 game sample, but who doubts that he can sustain those figures over a whole season as a sixth man? That production is going to be crucial for a bench that will start the year with tons of question marks.

Assuming he’ll split time handling the ball with new point guard Cory Joseph, Stephenson should have the weapons around him to allow him to shine. He’ll have knockdown shooters around him like Joseph, T.J. Leaf, and Bojan Bogdonavic. Depending on how his minutes are staggered, he could also do well with some time with the Pacers’ new star, Myles Turner. It isn’t easy to predict how this will all come together, but it seems like he almost assuredly has the resources he needs to perform better than he did last year.

Hate: His tendency to do too much

While this wasn’t apparent during his 10-game span with the Pacers last year, anyone who followed the Pacers during their Eastern Conference Finals runs knows that Lance can be a blessing and a curse. Last season with the Pacers, everyone saw mostly blessings. But he’s still a player that often gets in his own way.

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Let’s not mince words. Lance struggled to stay on an NBA roster last season. He never found success after leaving the Pacers the first go around outside of a brief stint with the Timberwolves. He has the constant mentality that he’s the best player on the floor, which is good most of the time. But when he has that mentality during his cold spots, it does serious damage.

He’ll never be a great shooter. He’s a career 30.7% guy from deep, even though he had a good streak last year during his Pacers tenure. His career TS% is 51.5, which isn’t ideal either. With that in mind, Lance will still continue to shoot during inopportune times. It’s part of who he is. Sometimes he gets lucky and Pacers fans are treated to an amazing play. Most of the time it creates a bad shot and bad possession.

His assist-to-turnover ratio? 1.75.  For someone that Pacers Twitter vetted as a potential starting point guard, 1.75 is unacceptable. He can make amazing passes, such as this one:

But the unfortunate fact is that most of those circus plays end up in a fastbreak opportunity for the other team. Pacers fans have come to accept this, but it’s still an unavoidable truth: the things that make Lance great are the same things that sometimes make him a burden to a team.

If he’s able to control his bad spots and recognize his own limitations, those bad moments don’t have to be consistent. But, in an effort to find a balance, Lance may lose what makes him Lance. The solution probably is to just let him be him on the bench and accept what happens, good or bad. It’s just unfortunate that the bads can be so bad.

Next: Love/Hate Series: Victor Oladipo

He’s a good player on an insane contract. There’s some stuff to hate, but there is a lot to love. And it’s clear that the Pacers and Pacers fans love having Lance back.