Fact: Lance Stephenson is an All-Star
On Christmas Day, I greeted Pacer fans with the idea that Lance Stephenson was playing basketball this season at an All-Star level.
At the time, I listed several rational (his scoring and all-around game) and irrational (he makes exciting plays that greatly appeal to 14-year-old Twitch on a nightly basis) arguments for why he should be included on this year’s Eastern Conference All Star roster.
At present, there should be no argument. In a perfectly fair world, Lance Stephenson would be a lock for the All Star game this year.
Now of course we don’t live in a perfectly fair world. Every season, some incredibly deserving player is shafted from the squad. Usually, these wrongs are righted the next year (see Curry, Stephen out west). Still, it’s a shame when a player doesn’t get rewarded for something he rightly deserves. Therefore, I take it as my civic duty as both a Pacers fan and also a fan of basketball in general to recap the reasons (not arguments) why Lance Stephenson is an All Star this year.
Some quick intro:
- Currently, there are seven “locks” for the Eastern Conference Squad: the five leading vote getters (LeBron James, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Kyrie Irving), and Chris Bosh and Roy Hibbert — by far the best center in a conference severely lacking on that front, especially with an injured Brook Lopez.
- After the starters, there are seven slots remaining. This will likely be three guards and four front-court players (two of which will be Hibbert and Bosh).
- Once you get past Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving (who are both already deservedly on the team) and John Wall, the pool of Eastern Conference guards that Lance has to compete with doesn’t include any can’t-miss candidates.
- 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.
Category One: The Statistical Reasons
(Please note, we are excluding Dwyane Wade from all of the below statistics because he is already in — and should be. Jordan Crawford is also excluded because he is no longer in the Eastern Conference.)
Statistically, Lance is the best remaining shooting guard in the Eastern conference and it’s really not close. He’s sixth in scoring at 13.7 PPG, but has the highest shooting percentage of all qualified 2-guards. Every shooting guard ahead of him in scoring takes a minimum of two additional field-goal attempts per game. DeMar DeRozan, the Eastern Conference leader takes a staggering 17.8 shots per night. Simple math tells us that if Lance were to up his attempts from 11 to 17.8 like DeRozan, he would be averaging more than 22 ppg — good for the conference lead.
The one guard who clearly has him bested is John Wall, who is averaging 19.7 ppg and is himself close to a lock to make the squad. The Wizards haven’t been great in a bad Eastern Conference, but 19.7 ppg, 8.6 apg and 4.2 rpg line cannot be ignored.
But scoring doesn’t even begin to describe half of Stephenson’s game, because he’s easily the most well-rounded two guard in the East. He currently leads the league in triple-doubles — not just more than every other guard, but more than every other player, period.
With 6.6 rebounds per game, he has one and a half more rebounds than the next closed shooting guard. What’s really telling is that even if you were to include small forwards in the equation and just measure which wings are the best rebounders in the East, Lance would finish fourth behind Carmelo Anthony, Josh Smith, and LeBron James — three guys that spend a lot of time playing power forward. The fact is that Lance Stephenson, by any metric, is the best rebounder in the NBA that’s smaller than 6’6″ — and it’s not all that close.
Born Ready has also grown as a playmaker. He currently leads all Eastern Conference shooting guards with 5.1 assists per game. His turnover rate is not significantly (if at all) higher than most of his competition at the spot, and his overall assist to turnover ratio is good for fifth in the East (behind guys like Kirk Hinrich who is really a natural point guard and Kyle Korver who almost never handles the ball).
Defensively, Lance is a vital part of the league’s best defense — a defense which falls considerably in several categories every time he exits the game. He often takes turns with Paul George (a DPOY candidate in his own right) defending the other team’s best offensive wing and is versatile enough to defend point guards, shooting guards, and small forwards. In fairness, Arron Afflalo is probably a slightly better defensive player overall, but Lance is near the top of the list when it comes to defensive shooting guards.
In summation, Lance is the best passing, best rebounding, most efficient scoring shooting guard in the East. I don’t know what else you would ask for from an All-Star.
Category Two: The Stylistic Reasons
Remember, at the end of the day, the All-Star Game is supposed to be fun. It is an exhibition.
T-Mac used to throw the ball off the glass to himself on fast breaks. Shaq would often “run the point” for a possession or two and show off his ball-handling skills. I remember one year when the Western coach considered playing a lineup of Yao Ming, Shaquille O’Neal, Dim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kevin Garnett at the same time.
Vince Carter and Allen Iverson may not have deserved to make 19 All-Star rosters between the two of them, but 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. As Jared noted yesterday, Lance pulls this type of stuff in games that matter.
Can you imagine the level of swag he might play with in an All-Star Game? Would he throw himself an alley-oop off the shot clock just to see if the refs would call it? Would he attempt to go “off the heezy” on his defender? Certainly, we could expect some crazy palming action and a minimum of three ridiculous isolation-type plays that would have everyone either in awe, roaring in laughter, or just downright cringing. As I said in Decemember, 14-year-old me just started hyperventilating.
Category Three: The Success Reasons
In a year where most of the Eastern Conference is a downright disgrace, it would be a travesty if the best team in basketball only slotted two All-Stars into the the game.
Lance is one of the most important players on the team with the league’s best record. He leads the team in assists, runs the show with the second unit in second quarters, and along with Roy Hibbert is the team’s emotional leader. Often, Lance is the guy that makes the play to spark the team into a run. He routinely gets the crowd fired up and is never afraid to dive on the ground for a loose ball.
The argument reoccurs every year, and it has some merit on both sides. Should good players on great teams be rewarded over great players on bad teams? To me, I think that good players on great teams should only be rewarded when the argument is close. If Lance were scoring, rebounding, and assisting a little less, he could still make an OK case for his addition to the game.
But the fact is when you take an objective look at the stats and combine it with the intangible value he brings to the best team in the league, the argument is no longer a close one. Lance shouldn’t have an All-Star Game argument, he should be a lock.
In reality, we should be arguing over whether guards like Joe Johnson, DeMar DeRozan, Derron Williams, Arron Afflalo and Michael-Carter Williams makes the team. These are the guys on the bubble. Not Lance, not John Wall.
But Sir Lancelot is more than a deserving All-Star at this point. He’s the second-best shooting guard in his own conference. There are no better alternatives.
The defense rests.