Strengths and Weaknesses
If you want the short version of Lance Stephenson's strengths, Kirk said it best:
Unicorn = Under-25 year old, super talented, unrestricted free agent in a position (SG) that is so so so so shallow in the NBA
— Kirk Henderson (@KirkSeriousFace) May 21, 2014
Last year, Lance averaged 13.8 points, 4.6 assists, and 7.2 rebounds. Yes, seven rebounds a game as a shooting guard. At 6-foot-5, Stephenson outrebounded every single Dallas Maverick last year. He is a solid defender who has spent his first four years learning technique and fundamentals on one of the NBA's best defensive teams. His size is a huge advantage on defense as well, having a 6-10 wingspan and weighing about 225. He isn't afraid of anyone. While he can lose focus at times, he regularly brings energy and grit at both ends of the floor. The guy led the league with five triple doubles.
And he's a 23-year-old unrestricted free agent.
Even with all these positives, he has so much room to grow. On the right team, he is only going to get better.
To quote Kirk once more, Lance Stephenson is a unicorn. Yet all anyone seems to want to talk about this offseason are his antics. Yes, he blew in LeBron's ear that one time. Yes, he did this thing:
I get that a lot of people see these things as negatives. I respectfully disagree. If you want to talk about behavioral red flags, I am much more concerned with his history of abusing women. If we're sticking to basketball concerns, I subscribe to the Rick Carlisle theory that they can't all be milk drinkers. To me, Lance is a bigger Delonte West or a more talented DeShawn Stevenson, and every team needs one of those guys.
If I have a basketball concern with Stephenson, it isn't his antics -- it's the uncertainty. The flip side of his youth is that he's really only had one good year. Some people might think that year was a fluke or that there's no guarantee he continues to improve. To some extent, we don't know exactly how good (or not) he is going to be. But if you've watched Lance play, you know the talent is there. In my opinion, Lance is a risk that you absolutely have to take. There's just too much upside.
Fit with the Mavericks
Unfortunately, the Mavercks' front office apparently disagrees with me. Most media sources emphasize that the Mavs have no interest in Lance. Honestly, I don't get it. Maybe Cuban and Donnie are more skittish about players with "character concerns" after issues with Delonte West and Lamar Odom, maybe they don't want to invest big money in another guard after signing Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis to long-term deals last offseason. Or maybe they just don't like talented young players. (Probably not, but it kind of feels that way sometimes, right?)
Put Lance in Dallas and he is arguably already the Mavs' best defender and rebounder, which are traits the Mavs sorely need. Furthermore, he is a talented young two-way guard, something the Mavs haven't had since probably Devin Harris's first stint in Dallas. Lance put up 13.8 points per game on a team with a pretty terrible offense, while serving as the second, third or sometimes fourth scoring option. Imagine what he could do alongside Dirk and either Jose or Monta in Rick Carlisle's flow offense.
Personally, I think that the Mavs need to alter the starting back court from last year. Jose and Monta together is a defensive nightmare. Adding Stephenson is the perfect solution. He stabilizes the perimeter defense while having the potential to be just as potent on offense, and he pushes either Jose or Monta into a sixth man role, which will be great for the bench. Personally, I think Monta is perfect as the sixth man. Monta coming off the bench allows for a Jose-Lance back court that could operate like an improved Kidd-Stevenson back court from 2011, since Lance shares many of DeShawn's traits while also having the ability to operate as a primary ball handler. Also, Lance can guard most small forwards in the league, so he's perfect for the three guard lineup Carlisle has used on and off in his tenure as the Mavs' head coach.
That said, who knows if Lance and Monta can coexist. Monta is probably extremely averse to coming off the bench, and Lance has a history of scuffling with teammates (to be fair, though, it sounds like no one really likes Evan Turner). Personally, I believe Carlisle, Dirk and others in Dallas could really help rein Lance in, but I get the fears that Lance could hurt what was a really good locker room atmosphere this season.
I get that there are a lot of question marks, but the rewards outweigh the risks. If anyone sees Cuban around town, tell him to give Lance another look.
Hal Brown took a more statistical view of the Lance question last week.
If you're curious about why more teams aren't all in on Lance, this Zach Lowe story is for you.