The Los Angeles Clippers made a slew of roster moves over the summer, though none came with as many question marks as the decision to bring in Lance Stephenson. Stephenson, of course, spent last season with the Charlotte Hornets, where he was (statistically) one of the very worst regular rotation players in the NBA. However, Doc Rivers pulled the trigger on the deal with the hopes that Lance would regain the tremendous form he showed back in 2013-14 with the Indiana Pacers.
Through his first three regular season games with the Clips, we've seen flashes of what Stephenson can bring. His shooting remains a major red flag (though his 28% three-point percentage is actually up 11 percentage points from last season), but his insertion into the starting lineup has given Los Angeles a playmaking aspect it lacked in the past. While Matt Barnes performed decently in his tiny offensive role as a spot-up shooter with the Clippers, he posed zero threat off-the-dribble, either. Despite spending most of his time in the backcourt throughout his career to this point, Lance seems right at home with the Clippers at small forward.
He can be comically maddening to watch at times, but Lance is at his unquestioned best offensively when he's attacking the rim and whipping quick passes to open teammates. This was fully on display in Saturday's win over the Sacramento Kings, when he finished with seven points, four assists and two rebounds in 24 minutes of action. He was a +20, as well, which was the third-best mark of any Clipper. All four of his dimes were absolutely brilliant, and each of them led to an easy basket for L.A. (three DeAndre Jordan dunks and a J.J. Redick fastbreak layup). Let's take a look.
His first assist came after the Kings stopped a Clipper fastbreak. Lance takes the pass from Redick on the baseline, fakes like he's going to shoot and finds Jordan for the easy slam. Two different Kings bite horribly on Lance's pump fake, which left D.J. free for the dunk. There are many things you can do wrong when defending the Clippers, but the most egregious might be leaving Jordan open anywhere near the bucket. Sacramento paid dearly for it here. Stephenson showed excellent patience and unselfishness in not forcing the shot.
The second dish comes right out of the Kevin Love playbook. Stephenson grabs a Sacramento miss and immediately identifies Redick sprinting free the other way. Lance unleashes a beautiful pass over the heads of the slow-to-get back Kings and into the waiting arms of J.J. in-stride, who takes it from there.
Lance's third assist is perhaps the best example of the playmaking skills he brings to the table. After receiving the ball from Chris Paul at the top of the arc, Lance wastes no time and busts it straight for the hoop. He blows right by a slow-footed Rajon Rondo, which forces Willie Cauley-Stein to help. In another pick-your-poison moment, the Kings' rookie chose the wrong option, leaving D.J. open under the bucket for the easy deuce. Leave it to Lance to add a little razzle-dazzle to the play, too.
The last play comes in a half-court set. Both Griffin and Jordan come out to set a screen for Lance on the left wing. Stephenson chooses Jordan's screen, and D.J.'s defender, Kosta Koufos, apparently has way too much respect for Lance's shooting ability. Koufos's overpursuit effectively gives Jordan a free run to the basket, and Lance is happy to oblige the big man with a perfect lob.
Stephenson can get himself into trouble when he over-dribbles and holds on to the ball for too long. On each of these plays he was decisive and his passes were right on the money. Much like with Griffin, he tends to struggle when he hesitates with the ball in his hands. When he's engaged, aggressive and attacking, like he was against the Kings, he can be a handful for any defense.
As explained more extensively by Justin Russo here, the Clips' starting five continues to hum along at a high level. It's a minuscule sample size, yes, but the fact that they've been able to incorporate a player like Lance and not miss a beat is still fairly surprising. We'll see if his shooting ever truly comes around, but having another smart passer that can create with the ball in his hands and defend at a solid level is a nice luxury for the Clippers.