IRVINE, Calif – If Lance Stephenson is what Josh Smith describes him as, the Clippers will be just fine with that.
Smith said Stephenson’s unselfish with the basketball, and sometimes it’s always about finding the right fit for a player. He compared Stephenson’s situation last year in Charlotte to his own situation while playing for Detroit, and he believes Stephenson’s looking at this new fit as “a breath of fresh air.”
“He’s a walking triple-double,” Smith said after Day 3 of training camp. “What people don’t understand is when a guy plays so much in the Eastern Conference, you really don’t know how special that player is. He’s a definitely a special player on both ends of the court.”
Head coach Doc Rivers has primarily used Stephenson on the second unit along with Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford at the start of camp, giving the Clippers a bevy of options to handle the ball.
Stephenson said he already feels comfortable in his current situation, and he believes Doc Rivers and the Clippers are putting him in the right places to succeed.
“The talent on this team, even when we play in scrimmages, it feels like an All-Star Game to me,” Stephenson said. “I feel like this squad has so many weapons. We’ve just got to put it together.”
Two seasons ago, Stephenson averaged 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game for a Pacers team that reached the Eastern Conference Finals. Last year, those numbers dipped to 8.2, 4.5 and 3.9, respectively.
Rather than worry about what could’ve caused his struggles last year, Doc Rivers’ only focus is on figuring out what Stephenson can do for him now. So far, he’s been impressed.
“He’s great,” Doc Rivers said. “He’s very competitive. You can see that can get in his way at times, it does in practice every once in a while, but he’s a hell of a defender on the ball.”
Doc Rivers said Stephenson’s still learning how to be a better defender off the ball, but people forget Stephenson’s only 25 years old, just like people forget Austin Rivers is only 23.
“No matter how much we get on them, they’re still really young,” Rivers said. “We can’t forget that at times.”
Stephenson has taken part in most of the scrimmage work and defensive drills, but Rivers is being careful with Stephenson’s minutes.
Rivers said Stephenson tweaked his groin or his hamstring about a month ago, and Stephenson shed light on his status.
“I feel it a little bit, my groin I mean, but once I get going I feel good,” Stephenson said. “Right now, just taking it slow. I’m limited, but I’m playing in all the scrimmages and all the defensive stuff.”
Rivers said many times they’ll hold Stephenson out from finishing a drill, but the Clippers want him in on the scrimmages, and Rivers wants Stephenson in tomorrow to work on defensive drills.
Doc Rivers has plenty of new pieces to catch his eye this training camp.
But some of his returning players are surprising him as well, adding new parts to their game or building on what he saw last year.
“I think Austin is playing more like the playoffs all the time,” Doc Rivers said. “I think his confidence, probably, he’s been very good, hard to stop. His defense has been great. That’s something we saw at the end of the year anyways, so I guess we expected that.
“Other than that, everybody’s just better. DJ’s better, DJ’s in great shape, he’s playing terrific. I guess DJ’s passing has surprised me this year. He’s really making great passes from the post, and we haven’t seen that.”
- Doc Rivers said not to expect much half-court offense the first exhibition game. With so many new additions, he wants them to play freely and with pace.
- Rivers noted that the competitiveness of Monday’s practice was “off the charts,” with more scrimmaging being done. Once again, he said the backups gave the starters all they could handle.