Los Angeles — The Lakers were without Kyle Kuzma (back), LeBron James (groin) and Rajon Rondo in their 119-112 loss to the New York Knicks, leaving a void in production and leadership at the top of the team. Lance Stephenson says that moving forward, he’s ready to fill it.
“I got to pick it up. I’m gonna put it all on me. I’ve got to be that veteran, that leader and get my teammates going so we can win these games,” Stephenson said after the loss in response to a question about how the Lakers would win games without Rondo, James and (possibly) Kuzma, who has since been listed as questionable for the Lakers’ next game.
The reaction to Stephenson’s response was a sort of real-life version of the “sir, this is Wendy’s” meme. That wasn’t the answer anyone expected. The disbelieving-sounding follow-up question focused on checking who Stephenson felt has stepped up for the Lakers already with those key players out, and who is already speaking up.
Stephenson again put the onus back on himself.
“It’s gotta be me. I’ve got to pick it up. I’ve got to get my teammates involved. I’ve got to put pressure on myself to get my teammates to do a better job,” Stephenson said.
With all due respect to Stephenson, the fact that he might not be wrong about needing to step up is a doomsday scenario for the Lakers. It’s doubtful even Stephenson would dispute that the Lakers probably didn’t sign him with the intention to run large chunks of their offense through him at any point in the year.
Still, given the dearth of injuries the Lakers are dealing with, Stephenson isn’t wrong to feel like the Lakers need more from him. He’s actually scored a tick less (7.2 vs 7.4 points per game) in the five games since James went down, and his usage rate has also dropped. That can’t happen, because if there was ever a time the Lakers needed more Lance making them dance, this is it.
It would seem Stephenson realizes that, and it’s admirable that he’d be self-critical and focused on improving moving forward. It’s also a positive sign that the percentage of basket he’s assisted on while on the floor has risen nearly 3 percent despite his drop in usage, signaling a true mentality change to getting his teammates involved.
That’s the type of leadership a young Lakers team needs from its veterans now more than ever. While they may not have expected to need it from Stephenson, the Lakers’ 1-4 record since James and Rondo went down mean they have to take what they can get. Stephenson, living up to his nickname, sounds like he was born ready to give it to them.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.