El Segundo — With Brandon Ingram and Rajon Rondo both suspended for the next few games, the Los Angeles Lakers are going to need other players to step up. With that in mind, the praise head coach Luke Walton gave Lance Stephenson while deflecting a question about Stephenson’s role as peacemaker in the altercation with Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets was potentially worth noting.
“What I loved about Lance last night was his competitive spirit while we were playing the game. It was getting chippy, it was back and forth, and Lance was locked in on defense. He was doing everything we were asking of him as far as cutting without the ball,” Walton said.
Walton said the coaching staff has asked Stephenson to “limit” his “dribbling stuff” (i.e. isolations where Stephenson derails the offense and jacks up a shot), and he liked that Stephenson “didn’t have a lot of those possessions” against Houston.
Walton also said that he liked “just the overall way Lance was playing, and then the way that he was competing on the defensive end” in Saturday’s game.
“In watching film, he was probably our best individual defender when he was switched on to Harden and Paul and those guys,” Walton said.
The numbers support Walton’s conclusion, at least against Houston. While no one on the Lakers posted a defensive rating — the amount of points the team would’ve allowed per 100 possessions while they were on the court — under 100 other than JaVale McGee (88.5), Stephenson did post the third-best defensive rating on the team that night (105.7), and the Lakers allowed a lower defensive rating with him on the court than they did overall (112.7).
That’s legitimately good, and Stephenson did have some success against Harden and Paul, a good sign for the Lakers given that he’ll probably have to play more while Ingram and Rondo are out.
A less good sign? Over two games, the Lakers are still getting outscored at a rate that would equal 29.3 points per 100 possessions with Stephenson on the floor, the second-worst mark on the team. That is owed to the Lakers getting blown up in Stephenson’s minutes against Portland, a game in which he posted a defensive rating of 136.8. That is ... not good.
Extrapolating conclusions from a two-game sample size is dangerous, however, but the main reason it’s worth noting how terrible the Portland numbers are is to make clear how much they skew Stephenson’s two-game metrics. However, it is worth noting that according to Basketball-Reference, Stephenson’s teams have been outscored with him on the floor in 11 of his 13 seasons prior to this (every season but his final two during his first stint with the Indiana Pacers).
Maybe Stephenson will be good for the Lakers moving forward, but if the team has to use him in the backup point guard role they used him in during the preseason while Lonzo is out during the stretch Rondo is suspended, the “Lance dance” possessions in which Stephenson isolates against defenders one-on-one could come back, and things could get ugly fast for the Lakers on offense.
We’ll see if Stephenson continues to be the effective role player who stayed in their lane against the Rockets, or reverts to career norms moving forward.