SG/SF, 6'5, 230 lbs
2013 regular season statistics: 78 GP, 35.3 MPG, 49% FG%, 35% 3P%, 71% FT%, 13.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 4.6 APG
I'm going to get this out of the way right away. I love Lance Stephenson. I love the balance in his game. I love the unique way he plays. I love his heat checks. I love how he is a little too crazy to be trusted. I love all of it. With his free agency starting up on July 1st, could this insane person possibly fit on the Suns? Let's look into it.
The thing that makes Stephenson special and the first thing you want to look at with Lance is how well rounded of a basketball player he is. He led the NBA in triple-doubles with five last season. He was 1st in the NBA among all guards in rebounds per game with 7.2. He's in a small class in terms of his balance, as only Joakim Noah, Nicolas Batum, and Kevin Durant beat him in both assists and rebounds per game. He really works his ass off on the floor and he earns those merits with his rebounding numbers and with his defense. The Suns would highly benefit from Stephenson's balance, particularly in the bump he would bring in both rebounding and assist numbers for whatever position he replaced.
Defensively Stephenson extends that balance. He can guard three positions, and was partially responsible for some of Paul George's explosions against the Heat because Stephenson was able to give George a rest on defense by taking LeBron instead. His tactics are unique, as he likes to wave his hands around, establish contact, and just be a pest. He's long, and although he plays like an immature child at times, he really knows what he's doing and can shut some people down. It's impossible to shut down LeBron James, but I thought that some of the best defensive possessions we saw on LeBron in the entire playoffs came from Stephenson. Overall, I rate Stephenson as a good defender who will keep improving given his age.
Stephenson has a complete playmaking package when it comes to having the ball in his hands. He's very good at getting to the rim. At 230 pounds he's able to bounce off of defenders very well and is a good enough ball handler to make the moves he needs to get inside or make the pass to the open man. He's a maniac in the open court, as he gets to top speed quickly and can finish so well if he needs to. Stephenson shot 58.4% on drives last season, a number only topped by LeBron James, Manu Ginobili, and Kevin Durant. This complete package he has as an attacker is why there were moments in the playoffs like Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals where head coach Frank Voegl just let him take over, which resulted in Stephenson having 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists.
The inconsistencies for Lance scoring are when he's not moving. For players who played at least 70 games and took at least 2 catch and shoot field goals per game, Stephenson was 112th out of 117 players, shooting 33.6% in those situations. On strictly three-pointers, Stephenson was slightly better, shooting 34.4% in those catch and shoots from deep. That's still in the bottom half of the NBA under those parameters though so it's nothing to get excited about. For comparison, P.J. Tucker shot 39.5% in that situation, so it would definitely be a step down in three-point shooting if that was his "spot" in the lineup. His overall number for 3P% on the year was 35.2%, which is a little bit below league average. It's the weakness in his game but he's still got a lot of his career left to improve it.
Stephenson was always a crazy man on the court. He does things like this in a 1-on-4 fast break, did this to Tony Allen, has assists like this, and sometimes celebrates like this. It escalated though, as Stephenson's worldwide showcase of his antics this postseason had his profile and disapproval higher than ever.
Look, the fact is that you either love it or I hate it. I find it hilarious and entertaining for the most part (Norris Cole swipe was just moronic), and when he does these things it means he's playing at full confidence and that's when everyone is the most effective. He clearly made it his mission to get into LeBron's head during the ECF's, and even if you hated it you can't deny that it got to LeBron in some ways. Whether it was shoving Lance off of him continuously, getting question after question about it in the media, or feeling a breeze come through his left ear, LeBron knew he was there and was at the very least extremely annoyed by it. That's the way Lance operates.
As far as the effect it has on a basketball team, that's highly debatable. He was doing this while working for Larry Bird for goodness sake, so you can argue about the extent it goes to. The team that winds up signing Stephenson is going to have to know that these little tidbits are always going to be around, and while it's highly wise to knock down on the more serious ones, sometimes you just have to let Lance be Lance.
Fit in Phoenix
This is where it gets interesting. Both P.J. Tucker and Eric Bledsoe are restricted free agents. If one of them gets overpaid drastically, Stephenson could fit into either position. It's much more of a question mark with Bledsoe returning over Tucker, because that would have three starters who need the ball in their hands consistently to be the most effective. The biggest appeal for me outside of Stephenson's balance is that he is only 23 years old. He's already one of the most unique players in the NBA and could still grow in so many ways.
There's no doubt that Stephenson is a mega-risk because nobody knows how he would act outside of the Larry Bird cushion and nobody knows if he could still play this well outside of Frank Vogels' cushion. In my opinion, if you are ready to take that risk, he is easily a good enough basketball player to take that risk and has a lot of potential still given his age.
Now the question becomes are the Suns that team? Even being a Lance fanatic, I don't think so. That answer is under the assumption that the Suns bring back both Tucker and Bledsoe. If Bledsoe leaves, that is a big hole both at shooting guard and in overall talent on the roster. Lance would be the best replacement available in my opinion. If Tucker leaves, it's not a good fit with how much Bledsoe and Dragic already need the ball. Adding in the risk factor makes it seem pretty incomprehensible. Once again though, he's a pretty good basketball player right now and that potential sure is enticing. I just don't think it's enticing enough for a 48 win team on the rise.