Lance Stephenson Is My New Hero

I’ve never really specifically watched Lance play, outside the context of watching a game he happened to be involved with. I know enough about him to know he’s pretty good, can score, has some holes in his game, may not be a standalone star, and has done mighty well for himself as a second-round pick. 

But I love him. 

It has nothing to do with his basketball skills, although he’s a good player. It has nothing to do with any community work he might have done (I’m sure he has, I’m just too lazy to Google it right now, mostly I’m really hungry and want to head to Mickey D’s for some breakfast). It has nothing to do with clothes, music, shoes, etc.

I love him because he beat the shit out of Evan Turner.

I have wanted to beat the shit out of Evan Turner for years (except for I’ve never actually been face-to-face with ol’ Ev, and I assume that, as a professional athlete who is 6 inches taller than I and 25 years younger and in galactically better physical condition, he could pretty much kick my ass blindfolded). He is possibly the most frustrating basketball player of this generation, a sublime blend of limited athleticism, unlimited ego, inconsistent ability, and not-too-bright-ness that invites that sort of reaction. *Every* Sixers fan wants to beat the shit out of Evan. It’s just how he is.

Yeah, you didn’t think I was going to write a whole piece on Lance Stephenson, did you? :D

I remember that fateful day in 2010 when Ev was drafted #2 overall, and we pinned a hell of a lot of hopes and dreams on those narrow shoulders. He was our reward for surviving the Eddie Jordan Era, and he was going to be the Alpha Scorer we so badly needed for Andre Iguodala to compliment. He was the reigning College Player of the Year. He was the obvious pick at #2. 

Yeah, I wanted him. I’m not going to be That Guy who says I always wanted them to pick Boogie Cousins. I stand by my mistakes (also, everyone wanted Derrick Favors, who seems, after all these years of ‘development,’ to be a decent, solid big who is really nothing special. Boogie was, and is, every bit the headcase he was advertised to be). He was supposed to be Ready to Play in the NBA, the most polished prospect in the draft, and after a year of EddieBall, we were ready for some win.

He then proceeded to suck big red ass in Summer League.

In the regular season, Doughy Collins planted him on the bench, pretty much, in favor of more minutes for Tha BOSS!!, Lou Williams, another super-frustrating player with a penchant for dribbling the air out of the ball on ISOs. But I get ahead of myself here. Where I was going with this was, we wanted him to play, to start, to take over, to be, well, to be the #2 overall pick. Collins thought differently, because he hates rookies. So, when Turner did play, and didn’t play great, we defended him. Collins refused to develop him at all (which was true). He had always needed time to excel at each level (which was true). Being stuck on the bench was stunting his growth (which, who the hell knows?). 

Collins never really liked Turner much. It turns out that a lot of what he did well was replicated by more experienced players, the aforementioned Iguodala and Williams. He was just this really good rebounding third guard/forward who couldn’t really crack the starting lineup.

I bow to no one in my hatred of Doug Collins as a coach or as a de-facto GM. And it’s very possible, even likely, that he did, to a certain extent, screw up Evan Turner’s development. But there’s a point where a player has to break past his coaching and improve. Turner never did that. And when he finally took over Iguodala’s starting spot after the ill-fated Bynum fiasco, despite the hopes and dreams of all of us Turner apologists, he still kinda sucked, although he did flash a certain level of ability just frequently enough to keep sucking us back in, like a 6’7 Cosa Nostra to our collective Michael Corleone. And he had picked up some bad habits along the way. Instead of emulating Iguodala’s intense conditioning, work ethic, top-line defense, unselfishness, and generally super-cool ‘Dre-ness, he instead decided to take as his role model Lou Williams, the uber-selfish Hero Baller with a License to ISO. Endlessly. And that’s what he became. A guy who wanted to play hero ball and bounce the life out of the basketball as the shot clock wound down, except without Tha BOSS!!!’s quickness or athleticism, or his penchant for actually sometimes hitting those ill-conceived hero shots.

This year was definitely his Last Chance Saloon. The difference was, we had seen a whole year of Evan Unleashed, and it wasn’t pretty. There was, I think, a vague hope among the ex-Evan apologists that a new coach and a new system might make a difference. And we weren’t expecting a superstar, we were just expecting a good, solid player who could do something besides miss long twos.

Yeah, no. We didn’t get that, either. Although, he did give us a bit of a tease in the first couple of weeks of the season, when he was averaging over 20 ppg and we all worried that the Sixers were 2 Good 2 Tank. The wheels fell off that bus pretty quickly, though, and the clock struck midnight pretty early in this particular ball, and Evan turned back into Shitty Evan, the NuBOSS!!! without the ability to get it done, except at the worst possible times (like that ridiculous buzzer-beater against the Celtics, when we really needed a loss to keep the tank train rolling). 

He didn’t even get us any real return. Two not-particularly-good second-round picks for a former #2 overall, well, that’s pretty embarrassing. He couldn’t save us, even in the end.

I’m ever so slightly ashamed of how much I’m enjoying him almost single-handedly kill the Pacers in the playoffs (who am I kidding, no I’m not, I love it and you can bite me. Now you know!). If the Pacers win anything, it will be despite him, not because of him. And it does feel good to mock all the commentators (especially you, Bill Simmons, ya jack-hole!) that thought that he would be the Missing Piece to an inevitable Pacers championship when we in Philly all knew that was a load of crap.

I’m sure someone will give him some sort of offer next year. I mean, as #2 picks go, he’s probably slightly less unsuccessful than Hasheem Thabeet or Darko Milicic. But it won’t be the Sixers, and it almost certainly won’t be the Pacers. And it definitely won’t be for the kind of years or money he was probably expecting. Someone will take a one-year flyer on him, and he’ll suck there too, and he won’t be re-signed there either, and probably someone else will pick up on him, and he’ll fail, and his NBA career will be over.

Unless he wises up and realizes that he isn’t a star, but could, with work, be a serviceable all-around-game kind of 6th man, and really embraces that role and puts in that work, especially on the defensive end. But right now, he’s such a chucklehead that I don’t see that happening. As long as he’d rather bitch to the ref about the foul that didn’t get called than get back on defense while his man blows by and scores an uncontested layup, he’ll be out of the league in 3-4 more years. If he grows up and focuses, he could have a decent, if unspectacular, rest of his career.

Nah. Not likely.

Anyway. I love Lance Stephenson for publicly expressing the immense frustration felt by everyone who has ever watched Evan Turner play basketball and hoped for his success. Thanks, Lance. You kicked his ass for me, too.

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