Earlier in the week after a practice, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton praised Lance Stephenson for his defense, calling him the team’s “best individual defender” in their loss to the Houston Rockets.
“Lance is always great. With (Rajon Rondo) being out, he’s our backup point guard pretty much right now, and he controlled the game. He had great pace and found guys. He came in with a defensive mindset in that second quarter and gave us a boost off the bench,” LeBron James told reporters on Spectrum Sportsnet after the game.
JaVale McGee echoed those sentiments, saying on Spectrum Sportsnet that Stephenson “very impactful” and an “extremely aggressive player, especially on defense.”
Also supporting James’ assertion that Stephenson changed the game in the second quarter were the statistics from the game. Stephenson posted a net rating of 8.9 on Wednesday, meaning that the Lakers outscored the Suns at a rate that would equal 8.9 points per 100 possessions while he was on the floor. That was the best mark of any bench player on the evening.
Stephenson finished with a season-high of 23 points on 71.4 percent shooting (also a season-high), while also chipping in 8 rebounds and assists, which were both — you guessed it — season-highs. Those totals make this statistically Stephenson’s best game of the season, although his younger teammates raved more about the intangibles he brought to the Lakers.
“Lance is great for us. Always brings energy. He loves to play the game of basketball and you can see it on the court. Whenever he gets in he’s going to bring it,” said Lakers starting point guard Lonzo Ball.
“A lot of energy,” said Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma of what Stephenson provides the Lakers. “He brings it every single night. It’s very fun and contagious when he’s out there.”
Over four games, the Lakers have still been outscored by 2.4 points per 100 possessions with Stephenson on the court, but that’s a small sample size and he’s been a positive in both of their last two games. Walton has mentioned on multiple occasions that he’s pleased with Stephenson mostly staying away from the one-on-one, dribbling the ball into the ground tendencies the coaching staff have asked him to avoid, and if Stephenson continues to stay in his lane and play a role, he just may be able to keep bringing his “contagious” intangibles to the team.