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Minnesota Timberwolves: Can Lance Stephenson Replace Zach LaVine

Lance Stephenson is reportedly signing a 10-day contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The news was first reported by The Vertical’s Shams Carania, and quickly answers the question- how the Wolves plan to proceed without Zach LaVine.

LaVine, the third year guard and dunker extraordinaire, suffered a torn ACL during a recent loss to Detroit. The injury sidelines him for the rest of the season, leaving a gaping SG hole in Tom Thibodeau’s roster. 26-year old Lance Stephenson was quickly brought up in talks to plug in that gap.

How Does Lance Stephenson Help The Minnesota Timberwolves

As far as replacements for an athletic guard like Zach LaVine go, you can’t do much worse than Stephenson. Here’s a look at LaVine’s stats from this season (47 games), against Stephenson’s brief stint with the Grizzlies last year (26 games):

LaVine: 18.9 points on 45.9% shooting, 3.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists

Stephenson: 14.2 points on 47.4% shooting, 4.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists

If we just take the numbers alone, LaVine looks like the stronger scorer. Stephenson has a slight edge in terms of efficiency and rebounding. Stephenson, however, is the bigger body (Basketball Reference lists him as about 40 lbs. heavier, despite both standing at 6’5). You won’t see him flying high like LaVine, but he will be willing to bump a few bodies and make shots difficult on defense.

After all, in his first four seasons with Indiana, Stephenson built a reputation as a tough, defensive-minded guard. As a sidekick wing to Paul George, and under coach Frank Vogel, the Pacers made the Eastern Conference Finals twice (2012-2013). Both times, they fell to the eventual champion, LeBron James’s Miami Heat.

“He’s shown that he’s a very good player in this league,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said about the guard. However, since that time with the Pacers, Stephenson has become quite the journeyman, unable to find a niche on another team. He played briefly for the Charlotte Hornets, Los Angeles Clippers, and Memphis Grizzlies between 2014 and 2016. His last gig was a 6-game stint with the New Orleans Pelicans to start the 2016-17 season. He was waived shortly afterward.

A Time For Wolves

Playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves could represent a career revival for Lance Stephenson. The Wolves currently hold a 19-33 record. That’s good for 13th in the West, and unlikely to fight for a playoff spot now. So, bringing in someone like Stephenson – still young enough to grow into his own prime – represents a risk-free move.

If he plays great with them, perhaps manages to teach Andrew Wiggins a new trick or two, then it’s a win. If not, they can simply move on and hope for Karl-Anthony Towns and company to reach that much-anticipated breakthrough next year.

The Wolves have been on the rebuilding track for quite some time, and their core – Towns, Wiggins, and LaVine – have shown excellent potential. But the immaturity shows itself in the losses column – many of which were last-second losses in games where they’d blown huge leads.

We’ll see if Stephenson will be part of this future time of Wolves. Thoughts? Drop them in the comments below!

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