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Even Stephenson: Lance's Balanced Attack Keys Win
With Rajon Rondo suspended until Saturday and Lonzo Ball replacing him among the starters, there was an opening to run point for the Lakers’ second unit.
Though he’s far from a traditional playmaker, Lance Stephenson stepped into that role and seized it as his own in Wednesday’s 131-113 win at Phoenix, packing 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting, eight rebounds and eight assists into only 25 minutes of work.
Stephenson was the Lakers’ first man off the bench, and immediately went into distributor mode.
As part of a four-minute stretch that saw him hand out four assists, he made two reads that led to a couple open 3-point attempts — something many wings are incapable of executing — and even got himself a put-back as one bounced off the rim.
Ball handling and slashing are Stephenson’s greatest skills, and he used both to the benefit of his teammates by finding them looks off drive-and-kicks (while showing trust in center JaVale McGee who hit from mid- and 3-point range off passes from Lance).
“With [Rondo] being out, he’s our backup point guard pretty much right now, and he controlled the game,” LeBron James said. “He had great pace and found guys.”
Lance Stephenson (23 pts, 8 reb, 8 ast) with an impressive night running point for the second unit.— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) October 25, 2018
Finding these corner shooters was particularly promising (plus the put-back). pic.twitter.com/pFQYaG98EW
While the first quarter featured Lance the passer, the second starred Lance the scorer.
On a night when he hit all six of his layup attempts, Stephenson opened the second frame with three in a row.
He began his attack by selling his defender on a pick-and-roll before crossing back over and getting downhill. Met in the paint by former Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, Stephenson leapt with the ball above his head before reaching out with his 6’10” wingspan to finish at the cup.
Stephenson has been hyper-efficient in the key this season, shooting a scintillating 13-of-15 in the restricted area through four games.
He scored a team-high 14 points in the paint against the Suns, displaying much of the craft that makes his game one-of-a-kind.
Stephenson played only three minutes in the second quarter, but left his mark by scoring eight points and hitting all four of his shots. On one, he went right at his defender’s body before putting a thesaurus’ worth of English on a finger roll.
Of course, those familiar with Stephenson’s reputation know about his spells of dominating the ball too much, absorbing possessions by getting into dribbling exhibitions while looking for his own shot.
Though the Brooklyn native will always have some of that New York streetball style in him, coach Luke Walton likes how he has responded to being asked to reel that back some.
“He still goes one-on-one, and he’s really good at it [so] we’re not gonna take that away from him,” Walton said. “But he’s doing more of how we want him to do it. He’s sharing the ball.
“He danced a bit late in the game, but for the most part he’s playing within the style we want to play. And he’s competing on defense, and that’s why he’s winning so much favor with the [coaching] staff right now.”
There are, obviously, times when the Lakers could use Stephenson’s ability to create looks off the dribble, such as at the end of the shot clock when there isn’t much time to set something else up.
Stephenson played the entire fourth quarter in Phoenix, helping maintain the lead to the point where LeBron did not have to return to the game.
With the game almost certainly sealed, he had some more opportunities to reach into his bag of iso tricks, but also used them to set up his teammates.
After a hang-dribble/crossover/spin combination attracted the defense’s attention, he flipped the ball to an open Johnathan Williams III (and wisely landed in front of Williams’ defender for an improvised screen).
Performances like this weren’t exactly expected of Stephenson when he signed with the Lakers, but he will become an invaluable piece if he can continue this balance of scoring and playmaking.
Stephenson played all 82 games last season, but only reached 23 points once and eight assists twice.
He did both in a game that saw him conclude with the most Lance-style play of the night: an off-the-backboard assist on Lonzo Ball’s one-handed slam.
“He always brings energy and loves to play the game of basketball,” Ball said. “You can see it on the court. No matter when he gets in, he’s gonna bring it.”