The Case for Lance Stephenson – All Star
In an idealistic and intelligent world (let’s just call this world Donahueland), All Star rosters would be decided by a select few NBA minds who properly valued offense, defense, intelligence, and chemistry. In Donahueland, Roy Hibbert has been an All-Star for the past two seasons while Vince Carter hasn’t made one in ten years.
However, we don’t live in Donahueland. In the world we live in, Yao Ming and Vince Carter are eight-time All Stars with more appearances in the game than Walt Frazier and Scottie Pippen.
Exciting players like Vince and players from big markets (China) like Yao Ming often have a built in advantage over other, more deserving candidates. Each year, players get snubbed for one reason or another – just ask Stephen Curry about 2013′s squad.
There are probably six locks for the Eastern Conference squad this year – the five leading vote getters and Roy Hibbert. At this point, Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving have a substantial lead over all other Eastern Conference guards and barring injury, will start in the backcourt for the East in February. LeBron James, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony lead the front court voting, leaving the East without a starting Center in the lineup. Roy Hibbert currently sits fourth in the front court voting, but the chances of him missing the All Star team this year are less than slim-to-none.
(Seriously, the blogosphere lead by basketball analytics people would cause a riot were Roy to miss the squad – he’s a safe bet to make it.)
The Pacers haven’t sent two people to the All Star game since 2004 when Jermaine O’Neal and the artist formerly known as Ron Artest made the squad. In all, they’ve only had multiple All Stars four times since they joined the NBA and they’ve never had three. But should they this season? In an Eastern conference that is weaker than a 67-year-old Sylvester Stallone in a boxing movie, both Lance Stephenson and David West should receive serious consideration for the squad. Today, we’ll look at Born Ready’s case to make the 2014 All Star squad, both from legitimate and less rational standpoints.
Lance’s Case – The Rational Arguments:
Assuming the Eastern Conference decides to fill out its squad with one or two other bigs and one point guard, there could be three to four wing spots available. The pool of Eastern Conference shooting guards is other-worldly awful.
Lance currently ranks ninth in scoring among qualified Eastern Conference shooting guards, but takes less shots and shoots a higher percentage than everyone in the top ten. Further, Jeff Green, Tony Wroten, and Jordan Crawford only play sparingly at the two, so Lance, for all practical purposes, sits sixth among true shooting guards behind Arron Afflalo, DeMar DeRozan, Joe Johnson, Gerald Henderson, and O.J. Mayo.
But Lance isn’t a one-dimensional player. He leads all qualified shooting guards in assists at 5.1 per game and flat out destroys the rest of the field in rebounding, averaging 6.7 boards a game – two more than his closest competitor. Stephenson is also a plus-defender, both individually and as part of a team’s overall scheme. He is the Pacers’ best answer to Dwyane Wade and often guards the other team’s best player when Paul George is taking his breaks on the bench.
Right now, Lance is either the second or third best shooting guard in the East behind Dwyane Wade (who is already on the team) and maybe Arron Afflalo. The Orlando guard averages 22 points per game and shoots 43% from three while also providing great defense for the Magic, but he’s not the playmaker or rebounder that Lance is. Fair or not, Afflalo also plays for the atrocious Orlando Magic and some of his numbers are most likely inflated due to his poor teammates. If team-performance is factored into the equation (I’m not here to argue yay or nay on that…it’s another issue entirely) Stephenson should be the first reserve shooting guard chosen in the Eastern conference, ahead of the higher scoring but inefficient gunners DeMar Derozan, Joe Johnson, and Gerald Henderson.
Bradley Beal, who has been hurt much of the season, may end up “qualifying” in a few more weeks and he would certainly make an interesting case for himself with his smooth outside shooting and sneaky athleticism. Still, 40% shooters that are scoring only 19 points on 18 shots a game should only receive real consideration if they are dunking over Frederick Weiss on a daily basis.
But wings in today’s NBA are oftentimes interchangeable. How does Lance stack up when the Eastern Conference small forwards are thrown into the mix? Here, Lance’s argument gets a little murkier as three guys – Luol Deng, Josh Smith, and Evan Turner can submit solid, All-Star worthy resumes.
All three are plus-defenders that match Stephenson in rebounding. Lance averages more assists per game than all of them, but in turn, they all out-score him by a considerable margin. Fortunately, Lance may have one wild card in his favor – the fact that there are already three Eastern Conference small forwards on squad that were voted in by the fans. Would the East really take more than one of the above three players on a team with Carmelo, LeBron, AND Paul George? It’s possible that they could decide to make Josh Smith “a big” and take him and either Deng or Turner, but in that case, they would be choosing two players from below.500 teams ahead of the third best player on the team with the League’s best record. It wouldn’t be unprecedented – but it would be unusual.
Also of note, Lance leads the NBA in triple-doubles this year with three. That may not mean anything, but it’s yet another feather in his cap for his All Star Argument.
Lance’s Case – The 14-year-old me, but still kind of sort of legitimate arguments:
Remember, at the end of the day, All Star games are supposed to be fun. While Vince Carter and Allen Iverson may not have deserved to make 19 All Star rosters between the two of them, one can’t deny that the game was far more entertaining when they were involved. I’m just as excited to see Uncle Drew make some pocket passes this February as I am to see LeBron, Paul George, and Dwyane Wade simultaneously cover ground defensively.
Compared to the rest of the above group, Lance should be a slam dunk. Nobody is more exciting/wreckless/entertaining/frightening in the open court as The Eighth Grader, and he might be the most all of those things since a young Charles Barkley was wrecking fools in the mid-eighties.
Also, if Lance does this in the middle of regular games, can you imagine what kind of T-Mac off the backboard nonsense he may attempt in an exhibition game? 14-year-old me just started hyperventilating.
In all seriousness though, appearances by Bad Lance have been few and far between this year. The Eighth Grader has truly blossomed, not just into a solid role player on a championship contender, but into one of the most complete and best young guards in the game.
If Stephenson keeps playing at his current level for the next 45 days, his omission from this year’s All-Star squad would truly be a snub.
And voters – remember what Lance will do if you leave him off.
Consider yourself warned.
And Merry Christmas, Pacers fans!