By now everyone knows that the 2014 NBA Free Agency Class will be one of the best we ever seen in the NBA. While many fans and media are already speculating over where LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, etc will end up. However, many have forgotten about a very underrated free agent that will also be available this off-season. That free agent being Lance Stephenson of the Indiana Pacers.
Now, I know what your thinking, how in the world is he an underrated free agent for the 2014 Free Agency Class? Honestly, because he is one of the rising stars of the NBA right now, who could prove to be a key piece to a championship caliber team or the possible star of a re-building team.
I’m sure most of you remember Stephenson’s impressive playoff performance last season. So far this season Stephenson has come into his own. He is currently averaging 12 points, six rebounds and five assists a game while shooting a career-high 35 percent from three so far this season. If you look beyond the stats, you see that Stephenson is becoming more mature, showing more patience offensively. In the past, he would fire off a lot of shots, now he makes a point to take efficient high percentage shots which is why he is shooting 48% from the field right now. Then when it comes to rebounding this season he has been force. He isn’t afraid to go into the post and be physical. He is very competitive and loves to rebound the ball on both sides of the ball which is why he averages nearly eight rebounds a game.
Another underrated aspect of Stephenson’s game, is his ability to play both the point guard and shooting guard position and be a creator for his teammates. If you watched the Pacers at all this season, you may have noticed that Stephenson does a good job of setting up his teammates whether it be in the post or the three-point line. At 6-foot-5 and 230-pounds, he has shown the ability to handle ball consistently and break down defenses in a half-court or fast break setting. So while I wouldn’t say he is the next the big point guard to watch, I would say that he could be a potential threat at point guard with his size and skill set. However, if you didn’t want to play him at point, you could always keep him at the shooting guard positions, regardless he will still be threat and he will still make a point to get his teammates involved.
All this is to say that Stephenson could be commodity for any team. Think about it, he will be unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. He will make just over $1 million this season and if he continues his impressive play for the remainder of the season, he will be looking for pay raise and he will have earned one.
Now, I know the Pacers would love to keep him regardless of winning NBA Title this season or not. However, that may not be the easiest thing to do since Indiana won’t have much money to offer him going into the off-season.
Since Stephenson will be a free agent, it will really be based on what he wants to do with the next step of his career. Basically meaning that Stephenson controls what he wants to do. Let’s say the Pacers win an NBA Championship this season, Stephenson would have a championship ring under his belt which would leave him with a decision to make. He would have the opportunity to take less money and remain with the Pacers or he could leave the Pacers and go to another contender for a little more money or he could join a re-building team, receive big money and have a chance to be a star player for a team. Now if for whatever reason the Pacers didn’t win an NBA Championship this season, Stephenson would have those same options. It would ultimately come down to what he wants to do.
A perfect example of his options are the Chicago Bulls, I have said for the last three years now, that the Bulls need to acquire a shooting guard. The shooting guard they acquire doesn’t need to be elite but the shooting guard should be able to score in a variety of ways and help to take the pressure off of Derrick Rose. Stephenson would fit that criteria perfectly for the Bulls. Think about it, Stephenson has the ability to create his own shot off the dribble and/or pull up from three. He is physical and athletic on both sides of the ball, so he would fit Tom Thibodeau’s system. He could even play back-up point guard if needed when Rose is sitting on the bench.
Which is why I once again must say that he is an underrated free agent that plenty of teams would like to have. Just think about the various team(s) who lack at the shooting guard position like the Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, and the list goes on. Like I said before, Stephenson could easily stay with the Pacers for less money and be on a championship caliber team or he could easily join another championship caliber team who could offer him more money than the Pacers or he could surprise many and decide to join a re-building team, earn big money and have the opportunity to be a possible star player for a team.
Again I must say that the decision will come down to what Stephenson’s wants to do with the next stage of his career but there is no doubt that if he continues to play at a solid level this season, his stock will continue to rise and he will have his pick of teams. Don’t forget that he is only 23 years old.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com