Lance Stephenson was a throw-in in the deal that sent Jeff Green to the Clippers for a (possible) future 1st Rounder. There was some mild speculation that he might be bought out after a mostly underwhelming first year and a half of a 3 year, $27 million contract. Lance played sparingly for the Clippers, averaging about 15 minutes per game and not making much of an impact.
That was not the case in Memphis. Most basketball fans know some of Born Ready - a frenetic, intermittently exciting and frustrating blend of skill, tenacity, and inconsistency. Grizz fans saw all of that, but Lance definitely impacted games and, more often than not, impacted them positively. Peter Fleischer of Fox13 had a great tweet about what we saw from Lance:
I know he’s a walking tornado but there’s a big part of me that thinks Lance would be awesome w/ any semblance of roster depth around him.— Peter Fleischer (@Peter_Fleischer) April 24, 2016
Among players who played at least 20 games with the Grizzlies, Lance ranked 5th in PER (Player Efficiency Rating), behind Conley, Randolph, Chalmers, and Gasol. While I'm loathe to take one single statistic as a measurement of a player's success, in this case I think it reflects both the eye test and more traditional stats: in 26.6 minutes per game, Stephenson averaged 14.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists. He shot 47% from the field, 36% from 3, and 82% at the free throw line. Those are solid swingman numbers in 30+ minutes per game, so to put those up in 26 minutes a night is very good.
To put that another way: if Lance were playing 36 minutes a night, he would have been the Grizzlies' leading per-game scorer this season. Per 36 minutes, he averaged 19.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists. He also did a pretty good job limiting turnovers, averaging 1.8 a game (or 2.4 per 36) which is solid for a wingman who handled the ball as much as he did. Lance played a few less minutes in the playoffs but was a very similar player when he was on the court.
I look at his impact and I have a hard time giving him anything less than an A. For a guy who was considered by some a salary throw-in at the time of the trade, Lance played very well. We saw glimpses of the out-of-control and unfocused Lance, but it really was pretty limited in comparison to the times he played hard and produced.
Grizzlies fans seem split on Lance. He has a reputation for some volatility, and he does cringe-worthy things at times. On the other hand, his productivity and effort were unquestionably good. With Lance's $9 million player option and potential free agency looming, the question at present is: What next?
We can look at those numbers and see that he was clearly statistically successful - in fact, his 30 games with the Grizzlies was the statistically the single best stretch of his career. On the other hand, the Grizzlies were 9-21 in those games as they slid to the end of an injury-marred season and postseason. Lance also spent a lot of his time on the court with D-League call-ups and 10-day contracts who didn't have much room to object when Lance dominated the ball, which he often did. Lance's usage rate was the highest on the Grizzlies - in the Bradley Beal/Gordon Hayward/Kawhi Leonard range - and also the highest of his career. It's also a small sample size from a player with incentive to show out, either to get his team to pick up his option or for free agency.
So there are caveats aplenty, but I say cautiously that Lance may have found his best role, coming off the bench as a 25 minute a night wing player who can be a primary ball handler and scorer. Despite being in the league for 6 years now, he's also just 25 and should have his best years ahead physically. I don't believe the Grizzlies will pick up Lance's option, but I think they should take a long look at bringing him back for a little less as the bench igniter he showed he could be last season.