By: Jonah Sprinkel
Per Shams Charania, the Wolves have signed 7th-year guard Lance Stephenson to a 10-day contract.
Stephenson, 26, was last seen in a Pelicans jersey for six games earlier this season, averaging 9.7 points, 4.8 assists and 3.0 rebounds in 27 minutes per game. The University of Cincinnati product is best known for his days as a Pacer where he was an integral part of a Pacers team that nearly took down LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the playoffs. How could you forget the iconic scene of Stephenson blowing into LeBron's ear?
That was four years ago. Since then Stephenson's career has taken a pretty sharp downward spiral. After the 2014 season Stephenson declined a four year, 44 million dollar contract with Indiana before signing a three year, 27 million dollar deal with the Charlotte Hornets. Don't ask me why this man passed on a contract that was worth an extra 17 million dollars and included an extra year of job security.
He spent a down year in Charlotte before he was traded to the LA Clippers for the beginning of the 2015-16 season. Stephenson was used sparingly, though showed signs of promise by shooting 40.7 percent from beyond the arc, before he was once again traded to the Memphis Grizzlies where he would finish out the 2015-16 season.
Lance is a conundrum. If you were to plot out his three point shooting percentage for each season and each team the graph would look more like a roller coaster than peaceful rolling hills. The same can be said about his assists per game. His best basketball seems to be played when he is surrounded by top tier talent; the Pacers and Clippers.
So how does that help the Wolves? Let's take a look.
With Zach LaVine out for the year with a torn ACL it's easy to think that Stephenson is being brought in to play shooting guard. That may not be the case. Stephenson has not been seen consistently playing the two since his Indiana days. In Charlotte he spent 61 percent of his time at the three and 37 percent at the two. With the Clippers Stephenson spent 78 percent of his time at the three with 8 percent spent at the two. The percentages are even more drastic during his short stint in New Orleans, 89 percent was spent at the three, 10 percent at the two.
It seems to me that if, BIG IF, Stephenson receives consistent minutes in Tom Thibodeau's rotation during this 10 game contract he will compete with shooting guard Brandon Rush for minutes. Rush has played 82 percent of his minutes at the two, with the remaining time spent at the three.
Now, obviously Brandon Rush is the better shooter of the two, however let's remember that at this point Thibs is not worried about shooting, defense is and will always be his biggest concern. The Wolves are giving up an average of 105.6 points per game which is 19th in the league. That number has been helped by the stretch of poor teams that the team has played recently. A more accurate number would be the Timberwolves 24th ranked defensive rating, 111.0.
As mentioned above, Stephenson has proved more effective at the two simply because of his size, 6'5, 230 pounds. Once upon a time Stephenson was a lock down defender who could hang with anyone, including LeBron. It's been a fall from grace since that point.
If Stephenson is able to come in and prove that he still has that competitive fire and aggressiveness that made him so successful and entertaining to watch in Indiana you can be sure that Thibodeau will keep this guy around. In a vacuum Stephenson is the perfect player. He's hard nosed, emotional, energetic, easily agitated, determined and best of all completely believes that he can play with the best. This statement may seem rash and uninformed, but once again, in a vacuum, the Timberwolves have not had a player like this since Kevin Garnett left the team.
Please, don't think in anyway that I believe Lance Stephenson has the leadership qualities that the great Kevin Garnett had. He never has and never will have those type of qualities. If I believed that Lance Stephenson and Kevin Garnett were similar leaders I definitely would not be writing in this space. I simply drew a comparison to their fiery demeanor. Though it should be noted, no one will ever match the intensity of KG's competitiveness.
Now, this is the first real in season move that Thibodeau has made as the Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations. He won't be heavily judged on this move simply because it is a 10-day contract to fill a roster spot that was left empty due to injury. Though if this move proves to be successful and Stephenson sticks with the team, Thibodeau will be heralded as a genius for taking a player who has nearly washed out of the league and transforming him into a capable rotation player.
All of this is speculation of a best case scenario. The odds of Stephenson regaining his Indiana form are small. But keep in mind that Stephenson is only 26 years of age. The best days of basketball should be right in front of him. Let's hope that those days are in a Timberwolves jersey.