"We want Lance!" "We want Lance!" "We want Lance!"
This is the chant Lance Stephenson was serenaded with when he exited the game against the Washington Wizards only three points shy of his third triple double of the year. Just two seasons ago; those three words would have been absolutely unheard of in Bankers Life Fieldhouse when the mercurial guard's main contribution to the team in the playoffs consisted merely of taunting LeBron James from the end of the bench.
Now, the Pacers' second round draft pick is leaving the fans of Indianapolis wanting more. Sure, Stephenson will still have some of his, as they are commonly referred to as, "Bad Lance" moments (or, as they should be called "Affordable Lance" moments). He might overpass. At times, he will likely still force things on the break. It is possible, maybe even probable, that he will even pick up an ill-advised technical here and there, but he also has the ability to impact the game with his energy, passion, athleticism, and dazzling court vision in a way no other Pacer can.
Against Washington, he astounded when he found Paul George slashing through the lane with a behind-the-back pass. He left fans, and probably even some of the Wizards, dumbfounded when he was able to set-up C.J. Watson for a corner three with, yet another, behind-the-back pass (oh yeah, this time, he made the pass in mid-air). And things just went over the top when he hit Luis Scola with a no-look thread-the-needle pass on the break.
Jared Wade of 8points9seconds described some of Lance's passes as "downright outlandish." Zach Harper of CBSSports.com titled his article, "Lance Stephenson gets all kinds of fancy." Joe Flynn of Bleacher Report called one of the passes, "insane."
Outlandish. Fancy. Insane. Use any superlative you want. Bottom line - Lance Stephenson delivered some of those rare, "What just happened," kind of moments that are typically reserved only for elite playmakers like Manu Ginobili, Rajon Rondo, or Chris Paul.
Entertainment value aside, there is no doubt that Stephenson's improved playmaking has been a crucial part of the Pacers' early season success. Through utilization of the Player Tracking data available over at NBA.com/stats, it is possible to find that the Pacers' shooting guard creates 12.4 points from assists per game - the highest mark of anyone on Indiana's roster. When adding the points he creates per game (12.4ppg) to his existing scoring average for the season (12.1ppg), it can further be deduced that Born Ready is generating approximately 25% of the Pacers' offense (the Pacers average 97.1ppg) on a nightly basis. The only player responsible for a greater percentage of the team's scoring output is MVP candidate, Paul George (32%).
Overall, Stephenson ranks 26th in the NBA in points created from assists per game. When comparing those that play at Stephenson's position, only three rank higher (Monta Ellis 13.4ppg, James Harden 13.1ppg, and Dwyane Wade 12.9ppg).
Nevertheless, what is most remarkable about Stephenson's improved playmaking is that he is generating such a high level of assists in a very limited number of passes per game (37.9). In fact, when filtering the Player Tracking data to consider only those with 38 passes or fewer per game, Stephenson is second to none in points created from assists and assists per game.
For reference, Lance Stephenson averages 5.2 assists per game on 37.9 passes, thus meaning he averages .137 assists per pass. Compare that to some of the elite point guards the Pacers will meet up with on their upcoming road trip. Chris Paul averages .163 assists per pass (12.2 apg; 74.9 passes). Reigning ROY, Damian Lillard, posts a mark of .091 (5.8 apg; 63.6 passes). Former NBA Champion, Tony Parker, records .106 assists per pass (6.2 apg; 58.3 passes), and the Thunder's floor general, Russell Westbrook averages .108 assists per pass (5.5 apg; 50.9 passes).
All in all, not too shabby for Born Ready.
While all of these statistical marks are impressive, it would be remiss not to note that Lance's assist numbers are as much of a testament to his teammates as they are to him (seeing as how assists are dependent upon others on the court actually being able to knock down shots). Nevertheless, numbers never lie, and it is undeniable that Stephenson's court vision is just another facet of his game that has experienced marked improvement.
Whether he is grabbing the highest percentage of his rebounding opportunities or creating the most points off assists, it is no wonder Stephenson leaves the fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse wanting more. If Born Ready is able to continue to generate approximately one fourth of the Pacers' offense on a nightly basis, it will be no surprise to hear Pacers' fans uttering the same chant next summer in free agency that could be heard in Bankers Life Fieldhouse last Friday night:
"We want Lance!"