The Hornets got Lance Stephenson for a steal, sort of. Is it a steal if his former team and him didn't want to be together, and nobody wanted to pay him more? This is a good and a bad thing for the Hornets. It's a good thing because Stephenson is going to be playing with a chip on his shoulder. Nobody trusted him to be mature enough for big money. So Stephenson took less money, and less years, betting on himself. He believes that he's going to turn himself into a major player one of these days. This means he's motivated, and nothing is scarier than a motivated NBA player.
But there's a downside to this, there's a reason the Pacers didn't want him any more. It's not a coincidence that nobody wanted to give Lance Stephenson big time money. He's a talented player with a questionable past. Throw in the "performance" he put on during last year's Eastern Conference finals and it's no wonder teams are skeptical of him. If he spends his time in Charlotte blowing in people's ears instead of being a talented young player, the contract won't pay off.
Now, there's nothing wrong with being a fun player and a pain in the ass for the other team. There's just a time and a place, and Stephenson needs to know where that is. In a locker room like Charlotte's, he should be able to find that balance. When he does, he's gonna be a damn difficult player to deal with.
Looking at Stephenson's shot chart, one thing is clear. This guy is deadly at the rim, is a solid 3-point shooter, and likes to go right. This will fit the Hornets well, since Jefferson likes to play on the left block. Every once in awhile, Stephenson is going to take a midrange contested fading jumpshot, and drive fans nuts, but the majority of his time is spent at the rim, and behind the arc. That's perfect for a Hornets offense that suffered from some major spacing issues last year.
What's really great about Stephenson's game is that scoring is only secondary to his true skill. Stephenson is one of the best creators in the NBA, whether it be for himself or for others. Last year, the Hornets liked running Kemba Walker off ball and having Josh McRoberts or another guard initiate the offense. With Stephenson, the Hornets will be able to do even more of that, and get even more creative with it. McRoberts, while a great passer, wasn't a very good dribbler. Stephenson's ability to penetrate should cause real problems for defenses.
Next Year's Ceiling
Lets say everything goes right for the Hornets next year. Big Al is healthy, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist takes this newly discovered offense of his into the regular season, and Kemba Walker gets even better. If Lance Stephenson reaches his ceiling, the Hornets have real conference finals potential. Stephenson at his ceiling is playing at an all star level, filling up the box score, getting triple doubles, and is everything the Hornets had hoped he would be.
What are the chances of Stephenson hitting his ceiling? Surprisingly, he has solid chances. He's already pretty good at everything stated above, he just has to do it on a fairly consistent basis. Of course, that's easier said than done.
Next Year's Floor
Just as easily as things can go well for Stephenson, they can also go just as bad. If things around him crumble for any reason, whether it be injuries or losses, the side of Stephenson that had teams worried could make an appearance. If that happens, then things can get very bad, very fast. Stephenson already has a bit of volume shooter in him. Roy Hibbert was throwing subtle shots in at teammates last year, and many believed he was complaining about how much Stephenson was shooting. Sometimes, Stephenson needs to be contained. If he isn't, 5-for-25 nights of shooting aren't out of the realm of possibility.
What We Should Expect
So which side is more likely? Well, probably somewhere in the middle. Is Stephenson going to have the same amount of consistency and shot creation we see from Kevin Durant and LeBron James? Probably not. Are the Hornets going to crumble as he runs around blowing in everybody's ear? Also, unlikely. Stephenson likes to get in other player's heads, that much is obvious. But he's also a very talented player. We're probably going to have some nights where he can't hit water if he fell out of a boat, and he's trying to get in his opponents head. That's gonna annoy fans. Then we'll have nights where he looks like an all star.
Taking a look at Stephenson's basketball reference page, we see very quickly how much he's improved over the last two years alone. His efficiency was insanely good last year, sporting an effective Field Goal percentage of 54%. We also see a very high assist percentage at 22%. It's not crazy to think a slight increase in usage won't ruin Stephenson. He should be able to maintain his efficiency.
Stephenson might be the key difference this year between the Hornets bowing out in the second round, and reaching the conference finals. There's no way to predict what player the Hornets are going to get, but one thing is for sure, the potential for something really good is there.