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Blogcat's Take, 11/8 - Lance Stephenson: Spectacularacuolous!

Lance Stephenson’s spectacularacuolous bank shot buzzer-beater last night not only created enough delirious squealing in my household to warrant a call from animal control, but it also dramatically changed the planned theme of today’s article. Given the acute hemorrhaging of the team’s performance this week, I had planned to go into full blog triage this morning. Instead, at 3-3, I feel like the patient is—if not out of intensive care—then at least off the ventilator, so let’s just check vital signs.

First of all, about that record: based on RPI, which accounts for strength of schedule, the Hornets are exactly middle of the pack. They had a pretty narrow loss to the Grizzlies, who are ranked 4th, and that total submission to New Orleans might not be as shameful as it felt at the time, because the Pelicans are all the way up to 8th. The real black mark is that Knicks defeat, which sticks out on Charlotte’s resume like a drug arrest, because NY is down to 21st and probably one Amare Stoudemire shower slip away from the abyss. But even still, the evidence suggests that the Hornets are by no means the worst in the league, or anywhere close. Also, defensively, the Hornets are giving up .984 points-per-possession, which is 6th in the league and right where they were last year—in fact, from a raw score standpoint, it’s better, because they allowed 1.012 in 2013-14. So as much as Coach Clifford might bemoan the team’s lack of stops at key times, he’s punishing the dude with the bag of weed while looking the other way from child molesting priests.

Okay, that analogy might have been a little extreme, and it definitely was in bad taste, but it was only to prepare you for the nightmarish horror that is the Hornets offense. They’re currently drooling out just .965 points per possession, 6th worst in the league, and playing as though the ghost of Mike Dunlap is haunting everyone who touches the ball. To be fair, they were 7th worst in offensive efficiency last year, so it’s not like they’ve fallen out of the penthouse into the outhouse; they were already there. As fans, we were just hoping they’d get promoted to floor-mopper and instead they’re still scrubbing toilets.

And if the Hornets ever want to gaze up at the stars or anything other than a yellow-streaked urinal, someone’s got to learn how to put the rock in the damned hole, because that’s the problem. The offensive rebound rate is not great, but it’s a conscious decision on Coach’s part to fall back and help preserve that gleaming defense. And assist-wise, we drop dimes like snitches at a 6th-best 64.1%. Beyond assists, in sheer volume of passes per game, we’re 2nd in the league at 348.4. Coach Clifford’s boys are apparently more generous with their touches than Vegas waitresses in a VIP lounge. We might actually be too unselfish, in fact, because it doesn’t seem like anyone is effectively creating for himself...

...which leads to the uncomfortable truth, especially given his heroics last night: but the blame for the offensive woes falls heaviest on Lance Stephenson, and it hits him like a safe. He’s played the 2nd most total minutes so far, ahead of even Kemba Walker and trailing only Al Jefferson, and he’s taken the fourth most shots. But his true shooting percentage is a vomit-inducing 37.5%, second-worst on the team, and down from 56.4% last year. There appear to be a couple of reasons for this. First, he inexplicably hasn’t hit any corner-3’s yet this year, which along with generating useless, pondering articles about his attitude, is one of his great strengths. His conversion rate from any distance is down from last year, so the corner-3 thing is not particularly illustrative, but it is one of the most valuable shots in the game, so Lance’s underperformance there is especially damaging. More significant, perhaps, is that he’s getting fewer open shots compared to last year. Per NBA.com, Lance attempted 4.9 shots per game last season without a defender within 4 feet of him; this year that number is down to 3.3. It’s a lot easier to be Born Ready when you’re birthed in a warm, wide-open pool as opposed to the back seat of a Datsun. I don’t know if it’s Stephenson or the team’s fault, but somehow he’s got to find more space. There’s also less evidence that he’s creating his shots like he’s capable: his pull-up attempts are 30% of his shots this year, up a bit from last year’s 23.4%, but he’s been WAY less effective at them—scoring on just 5.6% of them, compared to last year’s 37.8%. And because he’s not getting to the line any more often (his rate of free throws has held pretty steady, as has his FT%), he hasn’t been able to compensate.

It’s certainly not all on Lance, of course. Of our seven best TS% performers last year, only three of them are still on the team. Of those three, one of them is Bismack Biyombo. Newcomer Brian Roberts has been absolutely unsightly; he’s dead-last on the team in TS%, which was theoretically the only thing he did well. There’s also either the curse of the first three quarters or the magic potion of the fourth quarter, depending on how you want to look at it. If the game only consisted of the fourth quarter, the Hornets would have the 11th best TS% in the league. I’m not sure what to make of that beyond the painful and obvious fact that Lance has sat a couple of fourth quarters out. In conclusion, though I’ll be forever grateful for moments like last night, they’re not sustainable; we’ll need more from Lance earlier. He wasn’t born ready in this offense; perhaps after last night he’ll be reborn.

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    Last night, in front of a packed arena... Lance Stephenson made love to pressure.