Stephenson still searching for identity in Hornets’ system
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte has just finished another game, this time a loss to Oklahoma City, and the throng of local media converged into the Hornets locker room to talk to the players.
Sitting in a chair in the right-front corner of the locker room at his locker stall, Lance Stephenson quietly dressed. Not a single member of the media was interested in talking to him. They hadn’t been for quite a while.
The season that promised to be so good for Charlotte and Stephenson hasn’t lived up to expectations when he signed as a prominent free agent last summer. It was believed by those in the basketball world and by fans that Stephenson, a shooting guard who starred as a member of the Indiana Pacers, was the missing piece that would propel the Hornets deep into the playoffs.
Instead, Stephenson has struggled to mesh on the court with his new teammates and has seen his shooting numbers reach career lows. As a result, he’s gone from being a starter to coming off the bench and averaging less than 30 minutes a game.
So, the questions now are what happened that took Stephenson, who’s in his fifth season in the league, from leading the NBA in triple-doubles last year to shooting just 15 percent from 3-point range, and can he regain his old form?
Even Stephenson, 24, is perplexed.
"I don’t know what it is," he told FoxSportsCarolinas.com. "But, I’m going to get with it. It’s going to get going."
His struggles aren’t due to a lack of effort. He’s constantly full of energy whenever he’s on the court. The issues revolve more around his uncertainty about what exactly his role is with Charlotte, which was vastly different than what he did with the Pacers.
The answer to why Stephenson is averaging just 8.9 points per game and shooting just 36.6 percent from the field may have come in the form of a small joke he made back in November, when his struggles started.
After a game in which Stephenson hit the game-winner against Atlanta in double-overtime, reporters asked him if that was the type of shot that could get his game headed in the right direction. He said he hoped so.
Then, just as the media was walking away to talk to the next player, Stephenson made the remark that now seems prophetic. He said that he didn’t have to do much on offense in Indiana other than "just stand in the corner and wait for the ball and shoot 3s."
Last season with the Pacers, Stephenson shot a solid 35.2 percent from long range and a robust 49.1 percent from the field.
That seems to be the issue.
In Indiana, Stephenson wasn’t asked to be the star, or even the No. 2 guy on offense. Thus, he was the beneficiary of defenses paying extra attention to the likes of Paul George.
With the Hornets, his role changed and he doesn’t seem comfortable with it.
From game to game, Stephenson looks confused and lost to varying degrees. Some games he shoots a lot and is aggressive, while at other times he looks to pass first and be more of a facilitator. He’s averaging a career-high 4.9 assists per game.
That was never more showcased than on Feb. 10, when Stephenson took only a single shot against Detroit in 20 minutes, but took 15 shots against Dallas two games later.
It really is a different Stephenson every game as he tries to figure out what’s best for him and the team.
Not helping matters with him was the fact that Charlotte tried for several months to trade him to Brooklyn, but the Nets wouldn’t bite. The Hornets apparently were so desperate to rid themselves of Stephenson that they reportedly offered to give up second-year forward Cody Zeller to sweeten the deal for the Nets’ Brook Lopez.
Stephenson, a Brooklyn native, told the New York Daily News during the All-Star break that he would welcome a trade to his hometown.
"It would be a blessing," he said.
It didn’t happen and now that the trade deadline has passed, Stephenson is guaranteed to be a Hornet the remainder of the season as they strive to make the playoffs for the second straight year.
Maybe with the possibility of a trade off the table Stephenson can relax and concentrate on his game.
"I never was thinking about (the trade rumors)," Stephenson said. "I’m just trying to get adjusted to the team.
"I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win. That’s my biggest concern."