With the injury of Zach LaVine, and the earlier waiving of John Lucas III, the Minnesota Timberwolves had an open roster spot and a need for someone to fill those minutes. Most of the Lance Stephenson buzz had been centered around the Cleveland Cavaliers, but according to Shams Charania of The Vertical, he is signing a 10-day contract with the Wolves.
Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau’s frustrations with the defense, or lack thereof, seemed to boil over for the first time after last night’s loss to the Miami Heat. The Wolves defense was particularly spongey in the first half, allowing 71 points (40 in the first quarter alone).Though most of his time on the sidelines leaves him shouting some mixture of “ICE!”, “SQUARE!”, “THREE!”, or leading a profanity-laced tirade against the referees or his players’ effort, Thibs’ demeanor in the post-game press conferences has always been very calm and measured, rarely betraying the frustrations of a disappointing first season in Minneapolis.
That changed for the first time Monday night when he called on his best players to play both sides of the ball, saying “This isn’t football where you have an offense and a defense. You have to play both sides of the ball and you have to play it well and you have to play it unselfishly and you have to play it together. And you have to have the discipline to do it over and over and over again. Until we figure that out, it’s going to be hard to move forward.”
It’s hard to imagine a way forward with Lance Stephenson, but at the very least he should be able to provide great energy off the bench as he fights for his NBA life and could potentially channel the ball-hounding mentality that made him a big part of those Pacer teams.
His lack of scoring shouldn’t be a problem for the Wolves if he gets a chance to play. LaVine was scoring 18.9 points per game, but the combination of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns will be happy to make up for the shots that normally would have went to LaVine. The duo combined for 62 points last night and led the Wolves to 113 points overall, but weren’t able to come up with stops as Goran Dragic added 33 himself on 13 of 17 shooting (7 for 9 from 3).
Stephenson’s career defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) is a very solid 103 and he’s long enough to guard small forwards, which would give Thibodeau the option of playing Wiggins more at the shooting guard spot in LaVine’s absence, a spot he has felt more natural occupying in his career thus far, given his slight frame. His height allows him to dominate smaller guards offensively and he’s quick enough to stay with them on defense. Ideally, Wiggins will get stronger and grow into the small forward position, but it’s worth Thibodeau using the rest of the season to see exactly what he has going forward, and what pieces need to be added to fulfill the potential the team has.
This Stephenson deal is low risk with a decent reward if he returns to #LeBronStopper levels of play. If not, he should make the next week and a half at least a little more interesting.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference