FanPost

Revolutionizing the Revolution: The Next James Harden?

Yes, I know we are in the middle of a pretty good season for the Suns now and there is a long way to go till free agency. However, I can't help but look ahead and see what moves could lie ahead for the Suns to take that next step we are looking for. I think there is a high caliber free agent available that I think COULD come here and could have a major impact.

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Lance Stephenson is having a fantastic season where you still feel like he is only playing to a fraction of his potential. To summarize his skillset, I quote Ben Golliver from SI:

The versatile Stephenson can score, move without the ball, run an offense, hit the glass hard and defend both guard positions. Ferocity is his defining characteristic, and it serves him well in all facets of the game: He finishes an excellent 63 percent of his shots at the rim, he ranks in the league’s top 10 in defensive rating and, at 6-foot-5 with a 10.9 rebound percentage, he just might be the best inch-for-inch rebounder in the league. (Pacers blog 8 Points, 9 Seconds compares the league’s best rebounding wings by the numbers right here, and Stephenson places tops among shooting guards.)

An athletic guard who can handle the ball, defend, attack the rim and shoot from 3? That sounds like a guy the Suns could be interested in. But they already have enough guards don't they?

What if you play Stephenson at the 3? Why not? You can have THREE ball handlers on the floor who can all participate in the pick n roll and shoot. You can sit Bledsoe/Dragic early in the first and slide Stephenson to the SG. Our current staring SF, PJ Tucker, is a worse athlete than Stephenson who is 6'6 224. Stephenson is 6'5 230. He is a plus defender and will keep any wing from penetrating.I don't see an issue with the transition.

Zach Lowe, prominent NBA writer for Granland, writes:

He’s a strong one-on-one defender, both in the post and in space. Attack him from those places, and you’re likely to end up taking a contested jump shot or difficult floater with Stephenson’s arms in your shooting window. He even managed well on LeBron in the conference finals last season after asking Vogel for the assignment during times George rested or dealt with foul trouble. Stephenson said he’d rather guard a bulky wing like LeBron than a waterbug point guard, anyway.

He strong and a great rebounder to stand tall against even the taller SF. He will be able to take advantage of slower forwards by isolating them in pick n rolls.

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How much?

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Stephenson's true worth is yet to be determined. There is plenty of chatter that he could be named to his first All-Star game this year and a big game in the playoffs could turn him into another Joe Flacco. The good news for potential suitors is that Stephenson becomes a UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT at the ripe age of 23 due to the fact that he was a second round pick.

How much is he worth? Zach Lowe writes:

But he’s also starting to look pricey — like $7 million to $10 million pricey, especially since Stephenson will come with the sheen of having played under bright postseason lights.

How much do the Suns have to spend? To quote the maestro himself, Dave King, he said earlier:

This means that on July 1, 2014, when it comes time to sign free agents, the Suns will likely only have about $11.56 million to spend

This makes Stephenson well within the Suns pay range. Obviously the Pacers would like to keep Stephenson. He is a valuable member of their team and could be a key player down the stretch in the Pacer's quest for the ring. However, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that the Pacers will have the resources to keep him. The Pacers already have 2 players on their max deals and many other cogs like George Hill and Davis West being paid well. Although Stephenson has said that he wants to stay with the Pacers, it is becoming unlikely they will be able to afford him.

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The Next James Harden?

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I don't know about you, but I have flashbacks to the James Harden situation in Houston. A player being let go because you have to, not want to. Those are the deals you want to make. But is Stephenson the next James Harden?

Remember, Harden wasn't Harden before he was Harden (you follow that?). Take a look these threads from our blog before:

James Harden reaction thread

Should the Suns have offered more?

Here are some interesting highlights:

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To be clear here, I am not saying definitively that Stephenson will make a James Harden sort of transition. Harden is a unique offensive player with a skillset that is different from Stephenson. Harden is much more of a volume shooter than Stephenson will ever be due to his skillset that will make him more of that traditional "franchise" sort of player. However, Harden is very much a one way player and is a borderline liability on defense. Stephenson is a plus defender, rebounder and even shot blocker. So what are the "experts" saying about Stephenson's potential?

Zach Lowe:

Stephenson just turned 23, and he looks to be making huge strides as a player. But he’s never going to be a superstar. He’s not going to be a no. 1 option on a good team, or a defensive wing stopper on the level of George, LeBron, Andre Iguodala, or Kawhi Leonard. He looks very much like a nice, above-average starting NBA wing. And that’s really good!

Ben Golliver:

In a bit of a surprise, Stephenson, 23, has developed into the No. 2 scorer (13.3 points on 49.5 percent shooting) for an excellent Pacers starting unit in which all five players score in double figures. The fit in Indiana is excellent, as the Pacers’ scoring balance and top-ranked defense limit the impact of his so-so outside shooting, but he’s done enough this season to convince outside suitors that he’s capable of succeeding in a larger role. Stephenson still has untapped scoring potential, given that he’s attempting fewer than 11 shots per game. If the leash is loosened, he’s asked to create more for himself and some of the solid options (including Paul George and David West) surrounding him are stripped away, Stephenson’s potential to score at least 18 points a game starts to seem conceivable.

I don't have the quote but I was listening to the telecast on the Pacers vs Knicks game and there was extensive discussion on Stephenson (he was having a great game). Basketball scholars Reggie Miller and Chris Weber remarked that a wild player like Stephenson is a "system player" that is able to shine in a system where not much is expected of him. He also notes the leadership on the Pacers that helps to keep his attitude in check, citing JR Smith as a player that regressed once key veterans on the Knicks left.

I wonder about all of that though. What reason is there to believe that Stephenson couldn't play better in an expanded role? He already plays significant minutes on the best team in the NBA and has done nothing but grow as a player. Zach Lowe writes about his expanded role:

And, oh, hey, Lance Stephenson is suddenly playing like a point guard with killer 3-point range. Stephenson is averaging twice as many assists per game compared with last season, even though he’s only logging about six more minutes on average. Numbers from the SportVU data-tracking cameras provided exclusively to Grantland bear this out. Stephenson is dribbling the ball about 125 times per game this season, up from a paltry 65.5 bounces last season, according to the data. His per-game time of possession has jumped from about 90 seconds to nearly three minutes, and he’s touching the ball about twice as often. He has assisted on nearly 29 percent of Indiana’s baskets while on the floor, roughly equivalent to last season’s marks for a bunch of high-quality starting point guards with strong secondary distributors around them and/or score-first duties — Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, and others. Stephenson is also using up more possessions for his own shots, and yet his turnover rate hasn’t budged at all.

Watch the Pacers’ starting lineup, perhaps the best five-man unit in the league over the last two seasons, and you’ll often catch Stephenson handling the ball up top, while the nominal point guard, George Hill, spots up on the wing. Ditto for the bench-heavy second units Stephenson is captaining; he has a much higher assist rate than C.J. Watson, the team’s new backup point guard, and, like Hill, a solid shooter who is generally better off sharing point guard duties.

Unlike James Harden, the risk of taking a gamble on Stephenson will be likely cheaper and require no assets to be consumed in the process.

My personal take: When I watch Stephenson's game, I see him ooze talent and potential. I think he already has tapped a lot of that potential but if you still watch him he tends to play out of control and erratic at times. His discipline in fundamentals and basketball IQ can be questioned but it is positive when you see him grow as much as he has. I think you add Stephenson to this young core and see what happens. At worst, you probably getting a very good guard/forward. If you get lucky though... you may just have the next James Harden for a bargain.

Further Reading:

Watch out, Lance Stephenson’s putting it all together

The Growing Legend of Lance Stephenson

The All-Payday Team: Five under-25 players who could cash in next summer

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