Lance Stephenson, Three-Point Marksman
Lance Stephenson has hit at least two three-pointers in each of Indiana’s five games this season. Overall, he has made 14-of-26 (53.8%) long-range attempts, and only once — with a 2-for-6 outing against Detroit on November 7 — has he failed to hit at least 50% of his shots from behind the arc.
Now, we’re only talking about five games.
Lots of mediocre (and even poor) shooters have gotten the a hot hand for a week or two, and Stephenson was merely a 33% three-point shooter last season, his first as an NBA rotation player. In the playoffs, that rate fell further to 28.1% (18-for-64) during 673 minutes in 19 games.
Based on this history, and considering that Kyle Korver is the only qualified leader to hit more than 50% of his triples in a season over the past five years, it’s safe to say that Stephenson will cool off. I’ve taken to calling him Lance Person or Chuck Stephenson or Born Rifle* since he’s shooting like Pacers’ great Chuck Person, aka, The Rifleman, but don’t expect it to last.
Still, this likely isn’t a total fluke.
His shot looks better, he is setting himself to catch and shoot, and his overall motion looks more fluid and repeatable than it has in past years. Last season, he often seemed surprised when he caught a pass behind the arc and was more like “Ah, guess I should shoot this” as opposed to planning for that very event. He’s gone a step further early in 2013-14, not just preparing for the possibility that he will get a look, but actively seeking to put himself into position to spot up and become a weapon when the defender sags off.
Paul George expressed as much after Indiana’s win over Chicago last night, as reported by Steve Aschburner of NBA.com.
“He should be in the conversations of Most Improved this year,” said Paul George, the Pacers’ All-Star wing who won that honor last season. “He’s really stepped up. He had the reputation of being an ‘and-1′ type of player. Crowd-pleaser, putting-on-a-show type of guy. But now he’s really being a professional. He’s ready when the ball is swung to him to shoot. He’s coming off pin-downs ready to shoot, ready to make plays.
“It’s a credit to him how much he’s worked…I stayed in his head and really told him, ‘You’ve got to move on to the next play. You can’t let one play drag you down. This is too special of a team.’ And we need him.”
Don’t expect 50% to continue.
Lance Stephenson is not, and never will be, Kyle Korver.
But he has already shown three vast improvements in his long-range proficiency: an ability to ready himself to shoot, his knowledge of the offense as to how to use screens to get open on the perimeter, and an offseason commitment to improving his stroke.
Even in five games, it’s obvious that those factors are all real. So expect Lance to force teams to check him all the way out to 24 feet — something that should, by itself, lead to a tangible improvement in the overall Pacers’ offense.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Lance started off last season shooting very well before tailing off, so there is a precedent for him hitting triples in this league. Stephenson shot 37.1% and 39.1% from behind the arc in November and December, respectively, before falling off hard down to the lower 30% range for the rest of the regular season.
* Born Rifleman was originated by @Bubstermania. We’ll be using it all season. Well. As long as he hits threes.