Why the Hornets Want to Trade Lance Stephenson

Stephenson has struggled in his transition to Charlotte. Will they pull off a trade?

Lance Stephenson was quite a major signing for the Charlotte Hornets during in the offseason.

However, it hasn’t been the fit that either predicted when Stephenson signed with the team for three years, $27 million. Two months into the season, trade rumors had already started swirling.

Last Saturday, Stephenson was determined to play well as the Hornets were facing off against his former team, the Pacers. In a low-scoring game that went to overtime, the Hornets prevailed 80-71. However, when the game was close in the last minutes of the fourth quarter, Stephenson wasn’t on the floor. Instead, he was cheering on his team from the bench. During overtime, Stephenson didn’t see a second of action. Surely, that is not what the Hornets had in mind when they made him the marquee signing.

The Hornets seem to have given up on Stephenson, a key player for a team vying for an NBA Finals appearance last year. So why are they trying to trade him? Has he really been that bad?

The Numbers

Stephenson was never going to be a major point scorer, and the Hornets knew that, so his 10.1 points per game on the offensive side are not the reason he is in trade rumors. They were more attracted by his defensive skills that he showed while with Indiana. These defensive skills have not fully translated to Charlotte. Our metrics show a sub-par defensive player in Stephenson.

In terms of nERD (our metric for player efficiency) Stephenson’s score of -6.9 is way below the average of 0. This score shows that a team with a starting line-up of Stephenson and four league-average players would be 6.9 games under .500 on average. Not surprisingly, the Hornets are 17-25. When we dig in further, we see that his nF Efficiency , which measures a team’s efficiency in regards to point differential, is also below average.

His score of -3.3 means that a team with four league-average players along with Stephenson would be outscored by 3.3 points per game. For the season, as a team, the Hornets score 95.8 points per game and allow 97.8, an average of -2.0.

Although Stephenson's numbers are below average, the Hornets would not trade him if they didn't have other viable options.

Earlier this month, they got a good look at those options when Stephenson was out with injury. Gerald Henderson was set to feature more prominently in Stephenson's absence which lasted 14 games. During that time, the Hornets went 9-5 during that span and beat the Raptors, one of the best teams in the East, on the road in a game where Henderson scored 31 points. When we compare Stephenson and Henderson’s nERD and nF Efficiency scores, Henderson, although not perfect, is better. His nERD score of -1.6 and nF Efficiency score of -0.6 suggest that the Hornets have a viable replacement for Stephenson with whom they have a significantly better chance of being close and winning games.

That is one reason why the Hornets are open to trading Stephenson, but who’s interested?

The Most Recent Rumor

Ever since rumblings of a possible trade started in early December, many teams, including the Knicks, Lakers, and even Pacers were rumored to be interested. However, the latest proposed deal seems to be a three-team trade between the Hornets, Nets, and Thunder. As ESPN’s Chris Broussard reported, the Thunder and Hornets have agreed to the trade while the Nets are still undecided.

The proposal would send Stephenson to his hometown team, the Nets, while Brook Lopez would go to the Thunder. Charlotte would get three players: Jarrett Jack, Jeremy Lamb, and Grant Jerrett.

What Would Charlotte Gain?

According to our metrics, Lamb would be the most valuable player to move to Charlotte. His nERD of 2.1 would rank third on the team (behind Kemba Walker’s 3.8 and Bismack Biyombo’s 2.8). His nF Efficiency of 1.6 would rank second behind Biyombo’s 1.9. Further, in Jack, the Hornets would get a veteran guard who can provide for the team in a role during Walker’s injury and a 21 year-old power forward in Jerrett who has played in only four games this season.

In the end, this deal would give Charlotte three players who play different positions and can fulfill different roles, and Lamb has been far more beneficial to the Thunder than Stephenson has been to the Hornets. Two of the three teams have agreed.

It is now just up to the Nets to see if they want to make the move to acquire Stephenson.