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Blogcat's Take, 7/19

Don’t listen to the general sport media’s skepticism of the Hornets’ acquisition of Lance Stephenson. They are idiotically fixated on how he one time blew in LeBron James’s ear. In fact, I haven’t seen a blow get this much media attention since Bill Clinton was in office. What everyone should be focused on instead is the other 14,507 seconds Stephenson played in that series. When Rick Bonnell lazily speculates that Stephenson’s ear-blow “helped focused the superstar to negate the Pacers’ homecourt,” he’s a) insulting James, who was already quite focused, thank you, and :cool: ignoring the actual results, which show that Stephenson held James to his lowest PPG and effective FG% in the entire playoffs—Spurs series included—by staying in his face yet still not allowing him to get to the foul line (LBJ’s usage stayed relatively constant compared to what it was vs. the Bobcats and Nets, but his FTA per game were basically sliced in half). Obviously Paul George had something to do with this as well. But Stephenson played essentially the same number of minutes per game as $13.7M breadwinner George (40.6 MPG vs. 40.3) and had the highest offensive rating out of any of Indy’s regulars, 107.4 points/100 possessions. In other words, in just about as big a stage as you can put him on, Stephenson was delivering on both ends of the floor at a marquee level. And the Hornets just acquired this talent for a mere $9M per year for two years and a team option—a team option!!—for the third year. This, my friends, was a masterstroke.

Oh, but that attitude! Won’t he poison the locker room?! First of all, what evidence do we really have of Stephenson’s carcinogenic ways? Okay, the ear-blow, got it, absolutely unforgiveable. Stephenson also went over to listen in on the Heat’s huddle. Yes, I can see how that would turn brother against brother. He makes choke signs. Wow, I’ve never heard of a professional athlete behaving so coarse and ungentlemanly. He’s been fined for flopping. Wait, do you mean to tell me some NBA players intentionally flop!? He’s drawn a lot of technical fouls...although two less than Kevin Durant, who is well on his away to being sainted. He had an altercation with Evan Turner—fat, non-trying Evan Turner who played 3.6 minutes per game in that Heat series because he’s such a bust. It’s all bullshit. Well, Bonnell did get this quote about Stephenson: “He can be a complete knucklehead at times. He’s a time bomb in the same way (Ron) Artest was forever poised to explode.” That would be damning if it actually came from a player on the Pacers’ team. Or even a player, period. Or even a Pacer executive. Instead it’s from a fellow reporter, Bob Kravitz, of the Indianapolis Star. Way to hustle for those sources, Rick.

This over-reliance on narrative works the other way, too. Just look at the tepidly positive responses to Stephenson’s press conference. In fact, based on Stephenson’s press conference, Scott Fowler might now be warming up to Stephenson after vehemently criticizing the move. The only problem is press conferences are totally meaningless. They’re easy to cover because they’re planned in advance and held in a nice, comfortable, air conditioned room. So they generate lots of reaction and pseudo-analysis. I mean, lots. But we’re just getting nothing but churn here.

Thankfully, not everyone is like this. The great Zach Lowe at Grantland did a thorough analysis of the acquisition by going completely outside of the box and focusing on Stephenson’s on-court impact—imagine that. Amin Elhassan at ESPN.com did, too. Read these if you a) actually want to have a relevant opinion of Stephenson, and :cool: want to spring at least a fun-sized Lance boner. Just to add to their analysis: Stephenson was 11th among shooting guards in Wins Above Replacement, which takes into account his overall offensive and defensive impact as well as his playing time. Importantly, this was 14% better than Gordon Hayward’s WAR, by the way, who would have cost roughly $6M per year more than Stephenson. For the Hornets, a team thirsting for offense from someone, anyone other than Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker, Stephenson had a juicy 54% eFG% last year, 9th best out of shooting guards who played at least 70 games (per Basketball-Reference.com). He’s not a classically good shooter, but he’s money at the rim and from the right-corner 3. He’s solidly reliable at getting to the line, too, and in the Sahara Desert that was the Pacers’ offense last year, Stephenson was an oasis of self-generated scoring, netting 57% of his field goals unassisted. But he’s not selfish, either, as he assisted on 22.1% of his possessions. This was slightly better than the dearly-departed Josh McRoberts, and don’t forget that Stephenson did it while on of the few teams that managed to stink nearly as smelly as the Hornets on offense (101.5 points/100 possessions vs. 101.2). Finally, while the rest of the Pacers infamously went down the toilet post-All Star break, Stephenson merely circled the drain, as his Player Impact Estimate (per NBA.com) clung heroically to the edge of the bowl, dropping from only 13.6% to 11.2%. All of the meaningful signs say this guy kept the team together rather than fracturing it.

Lance might be a terrible person like Jason Kidd, or perhaps just really irritating like Fran Drescher. But here’s the ultimate bottom-line: Stephenson registered a 16.1 PER playing the shooting guard and held opposing 2’s to 11.0. That’s terrible, irritating dominance, folks. Meanwhile, he can play offense at the 1 and guard 3’s (though, oddly, he can’t guard the 1 or play the 3). He’s played 78 games in each of the last two seasons, so we know he’s durable; and he’s only 23, so he’s still improving (his PER has moved from 7.0 to 11.8 to 14.7 in the last three seasons). And we got this guy for $9M per year for only 2 years guaranteed, which I’ve not only repeated but also can’t seem to type without also saying it out loud. In short, it was a move with huge potential upside and very little risk, all at an affordable price. If Stephenson were a set of Ginsu knives, he’d have Home Shopping Network viewers wetting themselves. If only the average beat reporter were so sophisticated. In a professional basketball sense, which is the only sense that matters, this was an unqualified brilliant signing.

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    This contract was such a steal for Rich Cho that I'm surprised that he didn't show up at the press conference wearing a ski mask and shades

    Mike Kidd-Trilchrist
    Jul 27 2014 10:42 PM

    QC make a cho gif with the shades at least. (ski mask optional) :)