The Charlotte Hornets signed former Indiana Pacer Lance Stephenson yesterday morning. It’s a move that has the potential to shift the Eastern Conference. The Hornets proved for the second straight off-season that they are done with tanking for a high draft pick. They want to build a strong roster, and aren’t afraid to use their cap space. Last year it was slightly overpaying Al Jefferson. This year it’s signing a borderline All-Star at a very good price (3 yrs – $27 million).
Three players last season averaged at least seven rebounds, four assists while having a usage percentage under 20: Nicolas Batum, Joakim Noah and Lance Stephenson, (or as Mike Arena would put: the Joe Phelan All-Stars). Stephenson’s 23, so this three-year deal expires while he’ll be in his prime, meaning an even bigger pay day. Shooting guards are scarce in the NBA. It’s a reason why Golden State is so reluctant to get rid of Klay Thompson. Stephenson finished with the most triple-doubles last season. He enjoys filling the stat sheet. He’ll actually try and grab a rebound over his teammates at times. No guard averaged more rebounds a game than Stephenson, and Charlotte will more than welcome his aggression on the boards. The Hornets look to build off a 7th-place finish in the lackluster Eastern Conference. They addressed shooting when they picked PJ Hairston in the draft, and after signing Stephenson and Brian Roberts, Charlotte has plenty of guard options with Kemba Walker, Hairston and Gary Neal. Charlotte’s first round, lottery pick should have went to Detroit, but since Cleveland leapfrogged eight teams on it’s way to another first overall pick, the Hornets lucked out with the No. 9 pick. Many, many experts expected the Hornets to nab Doug McDermott or Nik Stauskas to add desperately needed shooting. The Kings took Stauskas the pick before Charlotte, and since Stauskas went earlier than anticipated, Noah Vonleh dropped into the Hornets’ lap. It didn’t matter that Charlotte already had a young Indiana big (Cody Zeller). Charlotte took the guy with arguably the best potential in Vonleh. Now, the Hornets are in excellent position to make even greater strides in the East. This is a deep roster with a potential to advance into the East’s second round, and maybe beyond.
The Hornets lost Josh McRoberts, Luke Ridnour and Anthony Tolliver from last year’s team. McRoberts hurts the most because of his versatility, while Tolliver and Ridnour were strictly backups. The Hornets added Marvin Williams to help their front court. Although they drafted Vonleh, he’s 18, so Williams makes sense to give Charlotte depth at power forward. Vonleh’s an intriguing player for Charlotte this season since he can shoot from the outside, which Charlotte needs from at least one big guy. Jefferson demands double-teams, which should free up shooters like Vonleh, Hairston and now Stephenson. Stephenson is a very capable 3-point shooter, but he prefers the right corner. Out of every guard who made at least 20 right-corner threes, Stephenson shot the highest percentage at 56.8, which should excite Hornets’ fans. Stephenson played in an unappetizing offense last season. So much standing around with little ball movement. Stephenson has great vision, and should get Jefferson easy looks inside. Jefferson is one of the best post scorers in the game, which bodes well for Stephenson who had to deal with Roy Hibbert a year ago. A third of Stephenson’s assists came from the right wing, according to Grantland. Stephenson’s a tough player. He might not attack the basket, but that’ll come with a higher anticipated usage rate in Charlotte. Stephenson will improve Charlotte’s already solid defense. Only 10 players last season had a defensive rating under 100 and five or more win shares. Three of them played on Indiana’s front line (Roy Hibbert, David West and Paul George). That’s absurd how phenomenal Indiana’s defense was last season. Stephenson learned nice defensive tactics in his time with Indiana, which should translate to Charlotte. The Hornets have a strong wing defender in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, so Stephenson and MKG could form a tough duo on the wings. He has the necessary dedication to defense, which would benefit any team, and especially a defense that finished sixth in defensive efficiency last season. Stephenson will help them get even better on defense.
Charlotte was the perfect landing spot for Stephenson. Charlotte’s best player is in the midst of his prime, and now with Stephenson in the fold Charlotte has a fighter’s chance to win the East. It’s an exciting time in Charlotte. Dig through your closet for that 1997 Charlotte Hornet Starter jacket. The Hornets are back, and better than ever.