Charlotte Hornets

Hornets’ Lance Stephenson stumbles on expectations

Lance Stephenson has been less than a roaring success with Charlotte, in part, because of high expectations assigned to him.
Lance Stephenson has been less than a roaring success with Charlotte, in part, because of high expectations assigned to him. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Expectations are tricky things.

No matter how hard you might try to manage them, expectations can be like kudzu, growing out of control until you have to chop it down.

Friday in Boston, Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford said the problem isn’t so much Lance Stephenson’s performance as the outsized expectations that arrived with his signing in July.

“A lot of this is totally off base among basketball people,” Clifford said of the hype that Stephenson was on the verge of stardom. “He’s 23 years old. He’d played for one coach in one offense.”

As Clifford noted, Stephenson averaged 8.8 points per game two seasons ago for the Indiana Pacers and 13.8 points last season. So it was a more realistic to project he would play in the vicinity of this season’s numbers (8.8 per game) than that he would suddenly emerge as a guy averaging 20 points with a new team.

It’s true that Stephenson’s production this season has been a disappointment by any measure. You don’t pay someone $9 million a season to be a reserve and arguably not even the best player off your bench.

But it’s also true that the hype surrounding his arrival had unintended consequences. Stephenson constantly looks like a guy feeling pressure. Sometimes he shoots too much, other times too little. Sometimes he makes the right pass; too often he throws the ball away. Sometimes he guards well, often he fouls needlessly.

The term I use so often watching him is “self-conscious.” As Clifford noted Friday, this change took him out of the only comfort zone he has known in the NBA.

Stephenson was the third or fourth option for the Pacers and it was much easier for him to get high-quality shots playing off the likes of Paul George and David West than it has been with the offensively-challenged Hornets.

“The biggest problem for him is having to make more pull-ups this year than layups last year,” Clifford said, describing how Stephenson could get the ball to West, cut to the rim and score two or three cheap baskets a game.

Instead, Stephenson is shooting 36.6 percent from the field this season and 15.1 percent from 3-point range.

Clifford contrasted point guard Mo Williams’ quick transition to the Hornets with Stephenson’s rockier experience. He said that’s not Stephenson’s fault; rather it illustrates the difference in their experiences.

Williams has played for seven other NBA franchises. He has seen everything the league can throw at him.

“Mo Williams in two days knew everything,” Clifford said.

Stephenson had no similar experiences on which he could rely when he signed.

“This is Lance’s first time playing with new guys,” Clifford said, adding it’s a fallacy Stephenson isn’t doing his part to make this work,

“His attitude has been fine,” Clifford said. “He hasn’t been kicked out of practice or any of that.”

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell

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