Born Ready will be reborn on a three-year, $12 million deal with the injury-riddled Indiana Pacers, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical. Stephenson, who has played for five separate teams in the three seasons since he opted to take a chance on himself with the Charlotte Hornets in free agency, will ironically fill the roster spot vacated by the same player the Pacers signed to replace him with back in the summer of 2014.
Nostalgia aside, Rodney Stuckey and Lance Stephenson’s interchangeability should be interpreted as a missed opportunity for a roster already bogged down with ball-dominant combo guards and non-shooters.
It’s easy to anticipate the same spacing issues arising if the prodigal point wing is used as the team’s primary ball handler off the bench, where various combinations of double-plodder lineups run amok. Putting Stephenson, who needs the lane to be unclogged to be most effective, on the floor with multiple bulky bodies, who derive the majority of their offense within 10 feet of the basket, already proved to be a problematic combination in the absence of George Hill’s malleability.
In fact, during the 2014-15 season, Stephenson and Al Jefferson posted the worst net rating (-7.9) of any two-man lineup that played at least 900 minutes for the Charlotte Hornets, scoring a woeful 94.3 points per 100 possessions.
Making matters worse, having Lavoy Allen take up space on the opposing low block and pushing Ellis off-ball, where the aging speedster is shooting below 35 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, will continue to act as an incentive for opponents to pack the paint.
With seams in the defense hard to come by, Stuckey (albeit hampered by injury) attempted a career-low 21.5 percent of his field goals within three feet of the rim.
All of which brings to question why the Pacers would bring Lance back on a multi-year contract when the team's brass could have instead opted to mine the D-League for short-term help.
Assuming that C.J. Miles returns to the starting lineup when Glenn Robinson III bounces back from his calf injury, Indiana’s bench, whose aggregate net rating ranks 27th in the league, would have been better served by the addition of an interchangeable forward capable of checking opposing stretch-shooters and opening driving lanes for Aaron Brooks and Monta Ellis.
Ben Bentil, who the Pacers signed with the intention of making him an affiliate player after they acquired his D-League rights, is currently ranked No. 11 on the NBA D-League’s Top 25 Prospect Watch. However, the former Providence star is not shooting the three (31.4%) as well as he did in China (23-of-48), and he’s only recorded 11 total assists in 19 games.
Jarrod Uthoff might have been worth a closer look before the Dallas Mavericks signed him for the remainder of the season. He knocked down 50 percent of his threes (1.8 attempts) while grabbing 9.1 rebounds per game with the Mad Ants.
Then, of course, they could’ve given Georges Niang a try. Indiana’s lone rookie probably lacks the explosiveness to beat NBA-caliber wings off the dribble as well as the lateral quickness to stay in front of them on defense, but he’s mobile enough to contest spot-up attempts and hedge against the pick and roll as a power fauxward.
Admittedly, the C.J. Miles-Al Jefferson tandem isn’t a net positive (minus-1.6), but it’s closer to breaking even than any of the other bench frontcourt combinations. Niang’s ability to spread the floor would’ve made him the likeliest option to facilitate the bench going small.
Instead, the Pacers opted to replicate what they should already know isn’t working. Per NBA Wowy, opponents have outscored Indiana by 4.8 points per 100 possessions in the 121 minutes that Rodney Stuckey, Monta Ellis, and Lavoy Allen have been on the floor together.
Stephenson is younger and cheaper than Monta Ellis and might be more durable than Stuckey in the long-run, but it’s difficult to see his fit with the current roster producing anything other than the same.