Lance Stephenson: NBA Star or Scrub?
What constitutes a star in today's NBA? When I was a kid, it seemed so much simpler. If the Monstars didn't want your talents for their squad, there's a good chance you weren't a star in my book (though he wasn't good enough for the Monstars, I likely would have conceded that Michael Jordan was a star. He did beat them after all).
While "star" is obviously a subjective term, one of the newest members of the Los Angeles Clippers appears to have a far looser definition of the term than many.
A player likely more popular for blowing into LeBron James' ear than his on-court performance, does Stephenson have a legitimate case for why he should have a place among the ranks of the stars in this league?
Who Are the Stars?
Before we can determine if Stephenson is a star, we first need to figure out who the other stars are. First, we have the group of stars surviving on their past performance and popularity -- think Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. Even Stephenson would agree he does not belong in this group.
Next, we have the players who are playing at an elite level deserving of star status; this is the area Stephenson's comments imply he belongs to.
To begin, let's start with the top six finishers in last year's MVP voting -- Stephen Curry, James Harden, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis and Chris Paul -- and find areas of correlation between the six.
Because points, rebounds and assists can be misleading and difficult to quantify among different position groups, the following advanced metrics from last season will be used: Player Efficiency Rating (PER), Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (WS/48), Box Plus Minus (BPM) and Value Over Replacement Player (VORP).
Those above are the only players to have posted such numbers across all four categories. While others may have performed similarly in one category or another, none were able to match them in all four areas, justifying their place among the elite.
As we've discussed, star is a subjective term, thus it's impossible for us to say a player must meet the baseline metrics from the table above to be considered a star -- Blake Griffin doesn't, but few would argue his standing as a star in the league.
Despite this, it is reasonable to expect a player to post numbers within the vicinity of our six players above to be considered a star.
Is Stephenson a Star?
With our baseline metrics established, how does Stephenson stack up?
Because he has argued that he was misused last season, we'll use his final season with the Indiana Pacers and compare it to the minimum value for each statistical category posted from the group of MVP candidates above.
|Minimum Baseline Totals||25.9||.20||7.1||5.7|
It's obvious Stephenson's numbers -- even during his peak with Indiana -- pale in comparison to our group of star MVP candidates.
To put Stephenson's season -- considered his best as a pro -- into context, his PER of 14.7 would have tied him with Joel Anthony for 173rd last year (among players who appeared in at least 20 games).
In terms of the advanced metrics used above, Stephenson's season actually compares closest to that of the 2014-2015 season posted by Patrick Patterson.
Patterson is a fine player, finishing last season 59th in our player power rankings. However, he is not a player that anyone in the league would confuse with a star.
Stephenson's placement alongside a player such as Patterson is fitting, as that is likely the ceiling on what the Clippers believe they will get out of him based upon what they gave up in the trade.
New coach Doc Rivers stated in June that he envisions Stephenson in more of a utility role this season, helping to anchor the second unit. As Stephenson has dealt with injuries this offseason, it doesn't appear there has been any change in this status.
Gone are the illusions that Stephenson may be a true star in this league or even a primary scorer on his own team. He does possess talent though, and it's possible that a coach such as Rivers can help get his career back on track.
Despite this, it would be surprising to even see him crack the Clippers starting lineup this season.