Cincinnati freshman Lance Stephenson is the most polarizing prospect in this year’s NBA Draft. The former New York City high school phenom is all over mock drafts boards, with some slotting him in the teens, some in the 20’s, others in the second round, and some even have Lance going undrafted. In our Dime #57 NBA Draft preview, Austin Burton and Aron Phillips debated whether or not “Born Ready” will live up to the hype:
LANCE STEPHENSON IS READY
You think we whiffed on this one, right? You think when we slapped a 17-year-old high school junior on the cover of Dime #42 and declared he would “be an NBA star right now,” it would go down as one of the biggest fumbles in basketball mag history, right?
Well, you’re right. In a way. We did call it too early. Lance Stephenson wouldn’t have been an NBA star at 17. But watch as he becomes one in his 20’s. Or at least climbs higher than being the bust so many are making him out to be.
“Born Ready” copped BIG EAST Rookie of the Year in his lone season at Cincinnati, but didn’t exactly set the conference on fire, averaging 12.3 points and 5.4 rebounds. And the fact that he even attended Cincy in the first place — when high school superstars of Lance’s caliber typically call UNC, Duke, UCLA or another powerhouse home — was admitted as more evidence that Stephenson must be just another product of the New York City hype machine.
But think about the elements we look for in a successful NBA player, and then you’ll realize he has almost every one. Size? Lance goes 6-5 and 210 at 19 years old, more than good enough for an NBA two-guard. Skills? He can handle the rock like a point guard, pass better than a lot of twos, and his strength is on par with many small forwards. Clutch? Against UConn on national TV, Lance hit game-winning free throws with 0.7 seconds left, then later downed Rutgers in the BIG EAST Tournament with two free throws as 1.8 showed on the clock. Work ethic? In high school, Lance woke up hours before school every morning in Coney Island to run stairs. Good teammate? While he was clearly the most talented player on the Bearcats this season, Lance routinely deferred to the upperclassmen, until he was called upon to be the primary scorer.
His jumper needs work, and he needs to play more under control, but plenty of teenagers have come into the NBA with the same issues. What’s important is that the basic foundation is set. Maybe he won’t be an All-Star or even a starter right away, but Lance Stephenson will be all right.
*** *** ***
LANCE STEPHENSON IS NOT
When you’re the No. 1 prospect coming out of New York City, you don’t go to Cincinnati. It’s that simple. Well, at least in the post-Bob Huggins era. So when Lance Stephenson — a guy who scored more points in his high school career than any other prep in New York state history, and led Lincoln High School to an unprecedented four straight city championships — suited up with the Bearcats this Fall, you knew something was up.
The funny thing is, before Stephenson declared for the Draft, most people projected him as a second-round pick. Next year. And rightly so. In his lone season at Cincinnati, Stephenson’s numbers wouldn’t blow you away. Sure 12.3 points is solid for a freshman, but his percentages were horrendous. Try 44 percent from the field, 22 percent beyond the arc, and 66 percent from the line. Does that scream NBA to you?
While one-and-done sounds nice, it’s not for everybody. And Stephenson’s lone year of college not only revealed to scouts that he wasn’t ready for the NBA, but also called his future potential (which is what he’s been living off of for years) into question. Will he grace the NBA hardwood one day? Most likely. But right now it’s evident that needs more time.