Lance Stephenson has now played a total of 9 games with the Charlotte Hornets and he’s having a tough time adjusting to a new city, environment and team. He’s currently averaging 9.2 PPG, 10.6 REBS and 5.2 AST and shooting a dismal 33% from the field. The way Lance Stephenson has been rebounding the ball this early NBA season, you’d think he’s trying to make up for something.
Oh, wait. He is.
“I’m just trying to get boards,” Stephenson said at morning shootaround in Portland, Ore., Tuesday. “My offensive game is not coming. I’m working on that, learning how to score in this offensive system.”
The Hornets’ are off to a 4-5 start, but you can’t argue with his contribution on the boards. He’s averaging 10.2 rebounds, 10th-best in the NBA.
His 14 rebounds against the Trail Blazers tied a career high. At 6-foot-5 he is the only guard among the top 19 rebounders in the league – all the others are either centers or power forwards.
To place these numbers in perspective, Stephenson is outrebounding All-Star quality big men Zach Randolph, Joakim Noah, Chris Bosh and Kevin Love.
Can he keep it up?
“To have a guard average that many rebounds? It would be very unusual to sustain,” said Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts. “But him doing that for seven or eight games is pretty remarkable.”
Stephenson has always had rebounding ability; he led the NBA in triple-doubles last season as an Indiana Pacer with five. But he’s never rebounded with this much urgency before. Two seasons ago he averaged 3.9 boards; last season 7.2.
He says he’s always had this in him, back to his days as a power forward at Lincoln High in New York City. Stephenson had a 20-rebound game back then.
“I was playing a big-man position then, power forward. I always knew how to rebound in the NBA game. It’s easy because I read where the ball is going,” Stephenson said.
“I always see where the shot is coming from, so I can tell where it’s going when it hits the rim.”
It’s not unprecedented for guards to be strong rebounders – Oscar Robertson averaged 7.5 rebounds for his career and Magic Johnson was at 7.2 – but it takes a special type of body type and intensity.
Stephenson has a 6-foot-11 wingspan which, combined with great strength for his height, is a big advantage.
“For a wing player of his size he gets traffic rebounds, which not a lot of guys do,” said Hornets coach Steve Clifford.
“He can go get the ones where there are three or four guys there. He’s so physical and strong that when there is contact a lot of times he can go straight up. Most guys at his position would get knocked back. But he’s that powerful.”
Persistent, too. Clifford said rebounding habits tend to be established early and measurables aren’t always the best indicators. He mentioned Paul Millsap and Chuck Hayes as productive NBA rebounders who were undervalued entering the NBA due to their size.
“I don’t think a lot of guys who didn’t really rebound in college rebound in the NBA really well,” Clifford said. “This is about habits – the way you think, the way you play.”
Since Stephenson is also a ballhandler, grabbing rebounds has the side effect of starting the fast break. The rub in that is Stephenson leads the Hornets in turnovers at 3.5 per game.
When it comes to rebounding, the Hornets’ expert is associate head coach Patrick Ewing, who averaged 9.8 boards in a 17-season NBA career. Ewing doesn’t find it implausible Stephenson could keep this up.