The reality of the new NBA is change. Players come and go as teams reevaluate their priorities or as other teams offer more money or better opportunities. And so it goes for the Indiana Pacers, who bid Lance Stephenson adieu yesterday.
Stephenson eschewed the long-term security the Pacers’ five-year, $44 million offer would have provided in favor of a more immediate payoff — and the chance to hit the free agent market again soon — in the form of the Charlotte Hornets’ three-year, $27 million offer. If you want to know why he might have done that, you can go read Yahoo!’s Dan Devine’s explanation, but we’re going to move on.
Stephenson’s departure leaves a fairly gaping hole in the Pacers’ vaunted starting lineup. George Hill, Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert played 1468 minutes together last year, per NBA.com, and posted a net rating of +9.6, which is, according to league sources, very good. No other Pacers lineup even cracked 200 minutes together and only two cracked the century mark. All of which is to say that the Pacers were a team that relied incredibly heavily on their starters and enjoyed quite a bit of success in doing so.
Now, all is not entirely lost. The Pacers signed CJ Miles two weeks ago and added Rodney Stuckey on a minimum deal yesterday after Lance signed in Charlotte. Presumably, one of them will start in Stephenson’s place. Both of them are reasonably capable NBA players, so it’s not like Indiana has to play a homeless guy they pulled off the street.
There are two problems. Lance provided at least average shooting and solidly above-average playmaking for a team in desperate need of both, as well as guarding both wing spots and occasionally point guards capably. Miles is a very good shooter and a decent defender, and should be able to defend both wing spots, but he is not a playmaker by any definition of the word. Stuckey, on the other hand, is a decent playmaker but cannot shoot and is somewhat undersized as a two. Also, his assist numbers fell off a cliff this past year, but I’m going to chalk that up to the general dysfunction that was the 2013-14 Pistons and move on.
So, rather than Stephenson’s all-around skillset, the Pacers will have to choose between Stuckey’s playmaking and utter lack of shooting — he’s cracked 32 percent from deep exactly zero times in his career — and Miles’ shooting and utter lack of playmaking ability. And for an Indiana offense that didn’t exactly light the world on fire to begin with, either choice may be fatal.
George Hill is solid, but he isn’t the type to break his man down off the dribble and get into the lane. David West is still very good, but he’s getting older and probably can’t shoulder the offensive load on a consistent basis. Roy Hibbert is … Roy Hibbert. That leaves Paul George to either do all the playmaking himself with Miles providing space, or split it with Stuckey while facing a defense that will happily ignore his teammates once they get outside 20 feet.
One alternative would be playing CJ Watson and Hill together, since Hill should be able to guard twos and Watson can shoot and make plays when he needs to. But that still leaves Paul George with quite a heavy load to carry.
Maybe it will all work out. But my guess is that Indiana will find itself missing Lance Stephenson on a regular basis this year.