Indiana Pacers shooting guard Lance Stephenson had the stage all to himself on Thursday night.
But Stephenson is gaining momentum in his own personal quest to make his first All-Star team, and this week has been a step in the right direction. First, he caught the Internet's attention by producing his own "Stephenson for the All-Star Game" video featuring "Sir Lancealot."
On Thursday, however, Stephenson let his play on the court talking. The New York prep legend—and pride of Brooklyn's Lincoln High—loves nothing more than playing the New York Knicks, the hometown team that passed over Stephenson with two straight second-round selections (choosing Andy Rautins and Landry Fields instead).
Stephenson once again showed the Knicks what they missed out on in the Pacers' 117-89 rout on Thursday, leading the Pacers with a career-high 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting. He carved up New York time and time again, making circus layups and snarling at the hapless Knicks defenders.
Even his opponent on the night, Knicks point guard Raymond Felton, was impressed. Per the Indianapolis Star's Candace Buckner:
Raymond Felton on Lance Stephenson: "He's been playing that well all year. He's been doing that to everybody...— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) January 17, 2014
Of course, the Knicks make a lot of opposing guards look good. Another New York product, Kemba Walker of the Charlotte Bobcats is averaging 25.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists in three games against the pathetic Knicks perimeter D.
But Stephenson used a national spotlight—a game broadcast on TNT—to make his case for the All-Star team, and that case is a compelling one. In a season where few (if any) Eastern Conference guards have stood out, Stephenson's line of 13.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game might just help him punch his ticket to New Orleans as an All-Star starter.
Stephenson vs. His Teammates
Stephenson's Pacers have the best record of any team in the NBA. Three of his four fellow-starters—Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West—have played in at least one All-Star Game. That is some serious firepower.
When it comes to making an All-Star Game, there are certain perks to playing with such elite teammates...but there are also a few drawbacks.
Naturally, playing with the likes of George, Hibbert and West help boost Stephenson's shooting and assist percentages—he gets more open shots and his teammates are more likely to hit shots off of his passes. But Stephenson is often overlooked, even at his own arena, where a restaurant in Bankers Life Fieldhouse announced him as "Lance Armstrong" on Thursday night.
Interesting starting lineup for the Pacers... pic.twitter.com/1ZY2RrYENn— BK (@brianking118) January 16, 2014
As if playing with the likes of George and Hibbert wasn't bad enough, Stephenson also bears the burden of sharing a first name with the most famous (or infamous) cyclist in American history. Type the name "Lance" into any major search engine, and "Lance Stephenson" isn't likely to come up first.
So how has Stephenson measured up against his teammates? Here are George, Stephenson, Hibbert, West and point guard George Hill, ranked by Player Efficiency Rating and Basketball Reference win shares.
One thing is certain: George and Hibbert are clearly ranked one-two in the Pacers' hierarchy. A very convincing case could be made that West and not Stephenson is the third-best player in the Pacers' starting lineup. If West is better, then it is only by a hair's breadth. And there is certainly no shame in coming in behind a two-time All-Star like West.
The real question becomes: Why don't people pay more attention to George Hill? He isn't as flashy as Stephenson and he doesn't pile up the triple-doubles like Stephenson (who has three already this season), but he plays a good game, and he rates out well in the advanced numbers.
Stephenson vs. Other Eastern Conference Guards
David West may be better than Stephenson, but he has no chance of making the All-Star team in a loaded Eastern Conference frontcourt (which will likely include his teammates, George and Hibbert).
But the backcourt is a different story. Most of the elite guards are out West, and the complete lack of Eastern Conference guard depth could open the door for someone like Stephenson to not only make the team, but to deserve a starting spot.
Of course, the fans vote on All-Star starters, but let us for a moment rate the Eastern Conference guard pool on its merits. Remember, there are no set positions in the backcourt anymore, so we could start two points guards or two shooting guards.
Who are the best guards in the Eastern Conference?
|Stephenson||1260||15.1 (15)||4.2 (2)||.159 (3)|
|Kyle Lowry||1344||19.8 (3)||5.9 (1)||.212 (1)|
|John Wall||1374||20.0 (2)||3.7 (3)||.131 (6)|
|Kyrie Irving||1263||19.7 (4)||2.9 (10)||.112 (11)|
|Dwyane Wade||975||22.1 (1)||3.0 (7)||.150 (5)|
|Arron Afflalo||1314||18.5 (6)||3.5 (6)||.129 (8)|
|George Hill||1067||13.3 (25)||3.6 (4)||.164 (2)|
|DeMar DeRozan||1402||17.5 (7)||3.6 (4)||.125 (9)|
It's a fascinating list, and a lot of it depends on your view of John Hollinger's PER system vs. Basketball Reference's Win Shares system.
Whatever the case may be, one thing seems certain: Toronto's Kyle Lowry should be starting the All-Star Game. He has been the best guard in the conference by the numbers, and he has keyed the revival of a Raptors squad that just might win the Atlantic Division for the first time since 2006-07.
Beyond Lowry, the choice gets a little murkier. John Wall, DeMar DeRozan, Arron Afflalo and Stephenson could all make a case to start. Personally, I would give the second starting spot to Wall, the electrifying point guard who is averaging 19.7 points and 8.6 assists while leading a mediocre Wizards squad.
As for Stephenson, he deserves a spot with the reserves, alongside Afflalo, who is averaging 20.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists for the Magic. His situation is pretty much the opposite of Stephenson's—he's the best offensive option on a horrible team—but both players have been good enough to merit a spot.
Whether or not Stephenson starts, he deserves to make this team. He should be joining George and Hibbert in New Orleans in February.
(All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.)