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The mixed bag of Lance Stephenson

Indiana eighth-year hybrid guard-forward left only to realize Indianapolis was the place he belongs.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Boston Celtics
ndiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson (1) reacts after a foul during the first half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Credit: Bob DeChiara
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Lance Stephenson could be described a multitude of ways by anyone who has ever watched a Pacer game -- eccentric, disengaged and irrating are adjectives that come to mind. Part of watching Stephenson and the Pacers in general is accepting the fact that for every great play he makes it is almost always met with an equally bad one.

It’s almost like he lhas two different personas; the good Lance Stephenson and the bad Lance Stephenson.

Good Stephenson was on display Tuesday against the 76ers where he had 11 points, 4 rebounds and three assists and used his typical antics to get under Joel Embiid’s skin.

But Bad Stephenson was out as recently as two weeks ago against Dallas, where he was caught completely off guard by a J.J.Barea pass:

But Pacer fans have learned to love both sides of Stephenson. In a recent interview with NBA Gametime Stephenson explained that when he wears an Indiana Pacers jersey he thinks he has special powers.

He’s not wrong.

When Stephenson left the Pacers in 2014 to play for the Hornets his three-point percentage dropped. Throughout 2013-14 (his last season in Indianapolis) he averaged 35.1 percent shooting, while his first season in Charlotte averaged just 17.1. Since returning to the Pacers that three-point average is back up to 30.8 percent.

Those superpowers are even more prevalent when at Bankers Life Fieldhouse where Stephenson is averaging 10.7 points per game. He averages just seven when playing on the road.

It isn’t uncommon for role players to play better at home but what makes Stephenson different is he attempts 1.3 more shots per game when at Bankers Life. Typically that means more shots leads to worse shooting, but instead his three-point averages go up nine percent and his field-goal percentage goes up five.

Stephenson isn’t just better when he’s at home he’s better when his role is more defined. There have been two circumstances this season where his role has changed.

The first was due to Victor Oladipo’s knee injury, where Stephenson started in his place six different times. In all six starts he had a negative plus-minus (topping off at a -35 against Minnesota). The Pacers also lost all six games Stephenson started despite playing Dallas and Chicago -- two of the worst teams in the league during that stretch.

His last play against Dallas was especially atrocious.

The second change Stephenson had to make was when Darren Collison missed 11 games, forcing Cory Joseph to start and making Stephenson the primary scoring guard with the second unit.

This time Stephenson didn’t play as bad and Indiana managed to go 7-3 but at times it was painful to watch. His average plus-minus over the course of Collison’s injury was only -3.8, which isn’t that far off when compared to his season average of -1.9.

The issues this time had more to do with Stephenson’s inability to direct the second unit offense. He became a ball-stopper, shooting almost two more shots per game while averaging a slightly worse shooting percentage than his season average.

In the 54 games before Collison’s injury Indiana’s bench unit was a -1.8 net rating. During Collison’s absence the bench unit net rating fell to -8.8. A drop off was expected but this steep of a decline is not normal.

Stephenson should receive most of the blame, what with him being the most experienced player on the bench. The good news is that when his role is more defined he’s been good.

Indiana has positive net rating in six of the seven lineup combinations in which Stephenson is asked to play small forward. This includes a positive net rating of 28.8 in a limited sample (33 minutes) where he plays in Bojan Bogdanovic’s place with all the starters.

Even more encouraging is that Stephenson has played over 100 minutes (his most with a single lineup) with Joseph, Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Thaddeus Young, leading to a positive net rating of 8.5. When Stephenson isn’t asked to run the offense, but rather asked to play in the flow of the offense, he can be a positive player.