As the Charlotte Hornets' shiniest offseason acquisition, Lance Stephenson entered the 2014-15 campaign with high expectations—perhaps too lofty for his own good.
After several weeks of woefully inefficient shooting and underwhelming impact, it's clear the free-wheeling shooting guard has a long way to go before reaching his star potential. An 11-point, six-turnover outing during Charlotte's 106-101 loss to the Golden State Warriors is his latest uninspiring handiwork.
The Hornets, who are coming off a satisfying run to playoff status in 2013-14, are now 4-13 in 2014-15. Stephenson has done little to help them move in the right direction and has actually been counterproductive in many areas.
While the five-year pro is rebounding the heck out of the ball (7.9 boards per game) and dishing 5.6 dimes per contest, he hasn't found his rhythm yet from the field (37 percent) or three-point line (20 percent). He's struggling to consistently score the ball, and Hornets skipper Steve Clifford has benched him for two straight fourth quarters.
To be fair, one of the things that's made it more difficult for him is that he came here and people proclaimed him as the next superstar. He's not a star. He's a guy that has talent to become a star. To be a star in this league, you have to do it over years. ...
It's different. It's not easy. He started two years before he got here. He played on a really good team, so everybody saw him play when no one else was playing. When Al Jefferson came here, he'd [averaged] 19 [points] and eight [rebounds] for like 10 years. You knew what you were going to get. And that's what Lance needs to become.
Born Ready's start has been uglier than expected, and it looks like he might not be a great fit with this Charlotte squad. However, as Clifford suggests, he does possess the time and talent to become a standout player.
What exactly is stopping him from shining as a reliable featured scorer, and what can he do to develop into a bona fide star?
We could just say "he's shooting poorly" or "he takes bad shots," but that doesn't sufficiently illustrate his deficiencies vividly.
Stephenson can create his own offense off the bounce, but his tendency to over-dribble and try to make the tricky play often backfires. Only 33 percent of his 2014-15 points are assisted, per 82games.com, which means he works by himself for roughly two-thirds of his buckets.
The problem with him creating that many of his own shots is that he's not good enough to sustain it night in and night out. He's not on the same level as James Harden-types who can regularly find high-percentage chances on their own.
One thing that would make him more of an on-ball threat is upgrading his off-ball game. Stephenson was a good cutter with his Indiana Pacers comrades, but he needs to become a better catch-and-shoot weapon with the Hornets. According to NBA.com's SportVU player tracking, he's shooting just 17.9 percent from the floor on all catch-and-shoot jumpers this season.
Increased off-ball savvy and perimeter accuracy would keep defenses honest and open up his slashing and shot-creating avenues. He needs to use Kemba Walker more and connect with him as a receiver.
It's great that he's comfortable putting the ball on the deck, but he must learn possession-by-possession moderation and shot selection. This season, 38.8 percent of his shots come after three or more dribbles, and he's shooting just 39 percent on those attempts.
Stephenson's aggressive style of play can produce brilliant highlights, and it's also often his downfall. If there isn't an open teammate, he has no qualms about forcing up a shot in traffic or firing up a contested outside shot.
Count Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated as one of the prognosticators who didn't set the bar too high for the free agent entering 2014-15. He explained how Stephenson's brand of basketball isn't to be trusted yet:
Stephenson takes even the slightest opening in the defense as an invitation to drive headlong, often losing sight of the help defense and open teammates along the way. It’s no surprise, then, that Stephenson turned the ball over more often than all but four players at his usage level (in 2013-14). His wild play also led to a ridiculous turnover rate (22.8 percent) in transition, which is generally a reliable source of hyper-efficient offense.
In order to reach the top tier of shooting guards, he doesn't need to completely revamp his game and change who he is. However, he must operate with less wasted movement and take quality, balanced shots.
When you watch young, upper-echelon guards like James Harden, Klay Thompson and Bradley Beal (who are all stars or much closer to stardom than Stephenson), they take advantage of every stride. There's no squandered motion on drives, pull-up shots.
Stephenson must begin to adopt this more advanced approach to the game, one that involves smoother aggression and a more discerning shot selection.
The other facet of the game that stands in between Stephenson and stardom is consistent defensive intensity. He was a solid defender and a key component of Indiana's stellar unit, but it looks like he is too content this year and may be even regressing on that end.
One NBA scout explained the defensive woes to Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix. "He is passing and rebounding. But his defense is terrible because he is out of shape. He looks like all he did was hang out this summer. I’m not seeing the same intensity. [Hornets coach] Steve Clifford wants him to defend, and he isn’t doing it."
As Clifford mentioned, Stephenson isn't going to instantly turn into a star with one or two quick fixes. He must apply several key adjustments by creating better habits on both ends of the floor.
Offensively, he must learn to use his aggressiveness within a proper balance of off-ball shooting and efficient driving. On the other end, he can't rely solely on his talent and physical tools; he must be focused and intense every night.
It's not impossible for him to reach another level in his career. Take Monta Ellis, for example: He's a 2-guard who needed to sharpen rough edges in his game and learn how to fit in a team system, and he's successfully evolved into a much more efficient asset.
Being a star in the NBA is no cinch, and Stephenson and Hornets fans are learning the hard way. He has to earn that elevated place in the league's food chain.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA and NBA Draft for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR