The Chicago Bulls’ future as an NBA title contender depends on the health of star point guard Derrick Rose. With that said, Bulls general manager Gar Forman can still make a big splash in 2014 free agency by targeting Lance Stephenson of the Indiana Pacers.
While the biggest free-agent prizes of the summer will clearly be LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony—if either player decides to leave their current situation—Chicago needs a Plan B if targeting one of those superstars doesn’t work out.
Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times writes:
If they fail to land a star of the magnitude of Anthony or James, there is a consolation prize. The Bulls would love to nab Lance Stephenson from the Indiana Pacers, move Jimmy Butler to the three and add highly touted Nikola Mirotic after using the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer.
With a potential starting five of D-Rose, Stephenson, Butler, Mirotic/Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah, the Bulls would become a legitimate championship threat when healthy.
Stephenson doesn’t bring the scoring prowess of ‘Melo or the overall star power of King James, but he could ultimately be the perfect fit for Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls for a variety of reasons.
Bulls fans know all too well that to get consistent minutes in Thibs’ system, players have to be competent defenders.
Big man Carlos Boozer is learning that the hard way, as he has played sparingly in crunch time this season. He didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter of an 88-79 loss against the New Orleans Pelicans on Feb. 1, which prompted the 32-year-old to sound off about his lack of court time in the final 12 minutes of games, per ESPN’s Nick Friedell.
Thibodeau wouldn’t have that dilemma with Stephenson, because he’s been groomed in a defensive-minded system that features Paul George and Roy Hibbert—two of the best defensive players in the league.
His defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions with him on the floor) is 94.7, according to NBA.com/Stats.
In comparison, Butler—Chicago’s lockdown defender—sports a defensive rating of 98.
One could argue that Stephenson’s statistic is better because he plays with a superior supporting cast, but the Pacers and Bulls are one and two, respectively, in defensive efficiency. So both guys are contributing to a fabulous overall product.
It wouldn’t take long for Stephenson to adapt to Thibodeau’s defensive system because he’s already carved a niche on an NBA team predicated on defense.
Stephenson has come a long way on the offensive end of the court since his rookie and sophomore seasons in the NBA. He's upped his output across the board as he's earned more court time and more confidence.
|Lance Stephenson's Scoring Numbers By Year:|
|2010-11||33.3% FG||0% 3P||3.1 PPG|
|2011-12||37.6% FG||13.3% 3P||2.5 PPG|
|2012-13||46% Fg||33% 3P||8.8 PPG|
|2013-14||50.1% FG||34.4% 3P||14.2 PPG|
During his breakout campaign in 2013-14, the 22-year-old Brooklyn native is averaging 14.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.7 steals and shooting 50.1 percent from the floor.
Not only is he influencing the box score in a myriad of different ways, he’s also scoring with an impressive repertoire of offensive tricks.
According to NBA.com/Stats, the one they call “Born Ready” is shooting 58.6 percent on drives to the basket and has effective field-goal percentage (a stat adjusted to weight three-pointers differently because they’re worth more points) of 54.4 percent.
That effective field-goal percentage dwarfs Butler’s, which sits at 41.8 percent.
Stephenson has the confidence to let shots fly from just about anywhere on the court, and that exemplifies the type of offensive aggression the Bulls need beside guys like Butler, Gibson and Noah.
Confidence is everything in today’s NBA. If you don’t have it, not only is your individual game going to struggle, but it will bog down the team as a whole.
Needless to say, Stephenson doesn’t have a lack of conviction out on the court. He plays hard every night and wears his emotions on his sleeve.
That personality showed through after the Pacers’ shooting guard was snubbed from the 2014 NBA All-Star Game.
After hearing news that he wasn’t selected as an Eastern Conference reserve, Stephenson said, "I’m mad. I feel like I had my breakout year last year. I showed I can play with anyone on the floor and I felt like this year, I brought a little bit more to my game," according to the Indianapolis Star.
He added, "I’m just going to keep working hard and prove everyone wrong."
Stephenson certainly doesn’t have a shortage of swagger, and while that can sometimes rub people the wrong way, his intentions always seem to be put toward improving his game.
Can They Get Him?
While the Pacers do have Danny Granger’s contract of more than $14 million set to come off the books at season’s end, whether or not they’ll have the funds to retain Stephenson remains to be seen.
As a result, another team—like the Bulls—could swoop in with a lofty offer intended to acquire the young man’s services.
Stephenson may be intrigued with the prospect of becoming the second offensive option beside Rose in Chicago. With George and Hibbert receiving so much acclaim for their performances in Indy, their teammate may ultimately believe he needs to go somewhere else to receive the same recognition.
Of course, that’s only speculation, because Indiana gave Stephenson a shot in the pros by drafting in the second round (40th overall) in the 2010 draft. There’s sure to be some degree of loyalty there.
Also, Stephenson’s father said, “We’re optimistic that he will stay (in Indiana),” per Mark Montieth of Pacers.com.
If the Bulls come up empty when attempting to sign James or Anthony, Stephenson is a logical fit beside D-Rose and Co.
If the organization takes too long to target him, though, it might very well lose him as a possible option.