Nobody can question Lance Stephenson‘s value to the Indiana Pacers in terms of intangibles. He’s a locker room glue guy, a fan favorite, and one of the reasons the Pacers’ team chemistry is such a massive improvement over the joyless death march that was the last two years with Paul George as the clubhouse leader (were this the kind of publication that dealt in eye-test talk, I’d go into more detail on this, but just suffice to say that Myles Turner in particular has said more than once how much more fun it is playing basketball this season, and from that you can draw any conclusion you like.)
But this is not an eye-test publication. As much as Stephenson is beloved by teammates and fans, there was a point earlier this season where he was putting up negative Win Shares, when it wouldn’t have been out of bounds to say that Lance should’ve been waving a towel and only playing in the most victory-cigar garbage time that comes along for maybe 10 games a year even on good teams.
So let’s run the numbers and see if indeed Lance justifies his position in the Pacers’ rotation.
The Counting Stats
8.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, on 43.3 percent shooting and 30.5 percent from three in 23.6 minutes. That’s your cold hard numbers right there.
His 13.3 points per 36 minutes is the third-best of his career, but that shooting is pretty cover-yout-eyes awful to get there.
But it’s production off the bench. That’s more than Indiana could say for themselves last year.
The Advanced Stats
Here’s where things go off the rails. Lance belongs to a class of player that has historically included the likes of J.R. Smith and Josh Smith and Kyrie Irving. They’re the guys who, when their shots have been falling, will put a team on their shoulders and carry them to a win.
They’re also the guys who, when the shots aren’t falling, will shoot you out of the game and do more damage than the best defensive players on the opposing team could do to your offense.
Lance has, for his career, failed to crack the 100 mark for Offensive Rating. He has just 1.3 offensive Win Shares in 9,836 minutes, a career offensive WS/48 of .006.
Which, of course, means he’s a fantastic defender. Indeed, the Pacers’ defense has been solid with Lance on the floor this season as well. But it comes at such a monumental cost that Lance’s on/off split for Net Rating is minus-8.3.
He’s got a negative VORP, the kind of advanced stat that suggests that you could fish any decent shooting guard out of the G-League and expect a better performance on a per-possession basis than Lance gives you.
Feast Or Famine
When a guy can singlehandedly win or lose games for you, you’d expect it to show up in the splits between wins and losses.
And this is where Lance’s volatility really shows itself.
In Indiana’s wins, Lance has an average plus/minus of +1.8, while posting an Offensive Rating of 100 and a Defensive Rating of 105. In the team’s losses, those numbers drop to minus-9.0 on the plus/minus and 98 on the Offensive Rating, while defense goes out the window; Lance’s DRtg in defeat is 117.
In Victor Oladipo‘s absence, Lance-as-starter was a complete disaster; he had a per-game plus-minus of -23.9, an offensive/defensive rating split of 100/121, and his turnovers rose from an average of 2.44 per 36 minutes to 3.07.
The simple fact is that for all the good Lance does in terms of motivating the team, he kind of sucks as an actual basketball player. Whenever he is asked to take on a greater role in the offense, bad things happen. When he starts in place of Victor Oladipo, the team goes completely off the rails. And when he gets it in his head to shoot through a slump, the Pacers would be more efficient just committing a 24-second violation on every possession because it would give the other team fewer opportunities to narrow a gap or extend a lead.
Fans love Lance. Teammates love Lance. The stats? They don’t love Lance.
The question becomes whether you can really trust the parts of basketball that can’t be measured; is “clubhouse glue guy” really worth having a guy who’s worse statistically than someone from the G-League?
I don’t know. That’s why this is running on Pacers Tuesday rather than me playing basketball Mythbusters and asking if Lance is any good.
But from where I’m sitting, I’d rather see the Pacers trade Lance for someone who won’t kill their offensive capacity on the second unit, especially if that someone is even so much as an average defender.