Lance Stephenson: Is Born Ready born again in Memphis?

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Lance Stephenson is nothing if not unpredictable. Be it blowing in Lebron James' ear during an Eastern Conference Finals game, standing in opposition huddles during a timeout or throwing a pass-fake to wide open space.

But perhaps the last couple of seasons with the Charlotte Hornets and the Los Angeles Clippers were making Stephenson exactly the opposite of unpredictable. Worse than that: a complete non-factor. Predictably bad. Maybe even more trouble than he was worth.

The internet sure enjoyed it. Stephenson became a comedy meme, Vine or GIF on what seemed like a nightly basis. Even worse, whilst playing for the Hornets last season, Stephenson's three-point average was the worst on record for any player in NBA history (minimum 100 shot attempts) at a horrific 17.1 percent.

Outdoing the previous record-low of 18.8 percent recorded by Michael Ray Richardson in the 1981-82 season. Steph Curry shoots better than that from the tunnel pre-game.

A pit stop in LA brought little more. Well, more air balls, more missed passes, and more internet mocking - yes. But little more in terms of positive production for his new team. Finally, at this year's trade deadline, Stephenson landed with the Memphis Grizzlies in a trade that saw Jeff Green sent to the Clippers. 

As if the Grizzlies hadn't had enough problems to overcome this year, now they were seemingly trading to bring in another. Grizz head coach Dave Joerger must have been cursing his luck. Firstly, his team's best player, Marc Gasol, was ruled out with a season-ending foot injury, before Mario Chalmers then suffered the same fate and was then subsequently waived soon after. 

Zach Randolph and Tony Allen have also had time on the treatment table, as have Vince Carter, Chris Anderson, Brandan Wright, Jordan Adams and PJ Hairston. Whilst point guard Mike Conley continues to be sidelined with Achilles tendinitis. To say the Grizz have had injury problems would be an understatement. It's been a train wreck. 

The franchise had no choice but to sign players from the D-League just to bring in some fit and able bodies. One body who was healthy was Stephenson, after arriving from the Clippers along with his meagre 4.7 points, 1.4 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game. Fit? Check. Able? No, not usually.

However, 16 points in 22 minutes from 60 percent shooting from the field in his Grizzlies debut - a 98-85 road loss to the Toronto Raptors - set the scene for a strong run of form from Stephenson over the next six weeks or so.

The 25-year-old played five games and put up 12.8 points per outing as he rounded out February settling into his new surroundings. Then he upped his average once again to 15.3 points per game throughout March, with 5.1 rebounds and three assists thrown in for good measure. It was quite the turnaround from the Stephenson everybody had grown accustomed to in Charlotte and LA.

At a time when he was needed most, Stephenson had come up with the goods. Overall with the Grizzlies, Stephenson has averaged 14.2 points, 2.8 assists and 4.6 rebounds. The run of results haven't been up to par, but they have been good enough to maintain a playoff place in difficult circumstances, and Stephenson has played a crucial role in that.

Meanwhile in LA, Jeff Green has stuttered somewhat during his time with the Clips - now offering 10.6 points per game after finding some improved consistency over recent games.

The 6'9'' Green has been pulling down 3.9 rebounds per game. At the time when it took place, most observers thought it was the Clippers who were getting the better of the pair's trade, but Stephenson obviously had other ideas.

But why? Why now? Why did Stephenson not perform like this in Charlotte? Was it because he no longer had the supporting cast that he did back in Indiana? If so, then what explains his time in LA? Did Chris Paul dominate the ball too much for him to be effective? Who knows. It remains a mystery, much like the forward himself.

For as well as he has done with his new team, he is still prone to moments of erratic play and bewildering decision-making. The question of just how long this current form will continue must be considered, too. In particular, it's a question Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace will need to ask himself come the summer when a decision will need to be made on Stephenson's $9.4 million team option.

It was really only one true standout year in Indiana that brought Stephenson to the surface as a player who could potentially be an important piece for an ambitious playoff team. That year, Stephenson led the NBA in triple-doubles and shined on a good Pacers team that made it to the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals, ultimately losing out to Lebron James' Miami Heat in six.

That Lance Stephenson would be worth keeping for the Grizz. The same can be said for this current version, too. But the risk of this Stephenson disappearing in time for the next campaign, however, may not be worth it.  

It's a tricky judgement call, but the question alone that the unpredictability is back now. But is Stephenson? Only time will really tell.

Marc Gasol
Memphis Grizzlies
Southwest Division
Western Conference

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