At 23 years old and just missing the All Star team this season, Lance Stephenson figures to be one of the top free agents to hit the market this season. Grantland's Zach Lowe took an in-depth look at his candidacy and what to expect, and pointed the Pistons out as one of the top three contenders to land Stephenson.
In regards to Detroit, Lowe says:
Welcome to the job, Stan Van Gundy! The Pistons need anyone with some offensive skill on the wing, and they'll have about $12 million in cap room even accounting for Greg Monroe's cap hold. Stephenson's off-the-bounce skills would ease Brandon Jennings into more of a hybrid role after a miserable season, and Van Gundy likes fighters.
But you can bet that Detroit is weighing the risk of adding a thorny personality into what was a sour locker room last season. Still: Don't be shocked if they make a play.
In a lot of ways, Stephenson makes sense. With Rodney Stuckey presumably on his way out of town and with Smith regulated to the frontcourt, even more minutes open up on the wing. Stephenson could also contribute as a backup point guard, an area of the roster that also currently lacks talent.
He'd offer another excellent perimeter defender and another ball-handling option on the wing, particularly one skilled in the pick and roll game. He's a capable shooter, knocking down 35 percent from three last year.
And Lowe's analysis suggests that Stephenson could have the potential to even eclipse his current 4.7 assists, as many of his assists are mid-range jumpers thanks to the struggles of the Pacers big men scoring near the basket - even though Stephenson is excellent at feeding them within five feet. The Pistons big men, you might have noticed that they don't have that problem. Not to mention, Van Gundy has gained plenty of attention for his ability to get the most out of switchblade players like Stephenson.
But still. Is he really the right fit?
From the start, Stan Van Gundy has talked about surrounding the core of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond with shooters. While Stephenson can shoot, he's certainly not a shooter as 54 percent of his shots came in the paint and he only connected on 34 percent from mid-range. He was also miserable on the catch-and-shoot, connecting on only 33.6 percent last season. While he can punish defenders when they drift, he's by no means a floor-spacer.
Stephenson was one of the better wings at the league at getting shots at the rim and dominant when it comes to converting them, shooting 65.5 percent from within five feet. But with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond in the top three in the league at shot attempts within five feet, how would that work? And if the number of shots from Stephenson's most efficient area of the court drops, it's logical that it'd significantly impact his scoring efficiency.
That's not to say it couldn't work. Just that it could be a challenge. And Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith also on the roster doesn't made tackling a challenge easier.
There's also the mental aspect to consider. Stephenson gained plenty of attention for his attempts at gaining attention in the Eastern Conference Finals. But his troubles go back quite a bit further. He was arrested as a rookie after a case of domestic violence, shoving his girlfriend down a flight of stairs. As a high schooler, he was also charged with sexual assault. His immaturity actually almost ended his career with the Pacers once already, as he irritated veterans with selfish play and was eventually demoted in the depth chart to the fourth point guard as a disciplinary move by Frank Vogel for violating team rules.
It's a bit concerning that a guy with such a long history of this behavior is about to get handed an incredible amount of money.
Which once again brings us back to Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith also being on the roster. Even in their short time with the Pistons, they each had several cases of knuckleheadism, whether it was getting benched, suspended, punched, or lost in space. Adding another difficult personality to the mix seems like a recipe for disaster.
But if there's a plan for removing Jennings and Smith from the team, Stephenson's volatility might not be such a negative. The rest of the roster is about as edgy as an episode of iCarly (in case if you were missing that old storyline). Whether it was Ben Wallace, Jason Maxiell, Bill Laimbeer, or any number of players in Pistons' history, a known tough guy can certainly be beneficial for a team - just so long as the guy is actually tough.
Now, Lowe says that Indiana is hoping the bidding starts for Stephenson at the $6 to $8 million range. If that's the case, despite any red flags, Detroit should absolutely be in the conversation and figure out the Jennings and Smith situation later. But if it gets much higher? There may be better options elsewhere.
For instance, Gordon Hayward is also a restricted free agent for a small market team. He'll also be 24 on opening day, is much less reliant on getting to the rim, has exceeded 40 percent from three twice in his career, and showed perhaps even a greater playmaking ability than Stephenson. He'd fit in nicely alongside either Caldwell-Pope or Singler, and would be a nice long-term fit with Drummond and Monroe. If the going price is the same, wouldn't he make more sense?
So, back to that original question though, is Stephenson really the right fit for the Pistons? Heck, I don't know. Let us know your thoughts.