“Born Ready” has decided he’s not quite ready for the NBA, as the NYC prep legend-cum-Cincy guard told Bill Koch at the Cincinnati Enquirer today that he’s strongly leaning toward staying in college another year after (so far) a relatively up and down season. The UC freshman is averaging 11/4/2 assts in just over 27 minutes of action per game, but he’s only scored six points on 2-9 shooting in his last two games and has struggled with turnovers (2.6 per game) and his outside jumper all season long (20%). Here’s Lance Stephenson’s quote on the matter:
“I think I’m going to stay and keep working. I don’t think I’ve had an NBA season this year so the best choice for me is to stay.”
Well, at least he’s being honest. According to the article, NBA scouts have stated privately that he would be a low second-rounder at this point, and two draft tracking sites currently have him at #39 at #41, respectively. There’s no shortage of New York City schoolboy legends who failed to live up to their hype, but Felipe Lopez, Sebastian Telfair and Omar Cook immediately come to mind in varying degrees. But perhaps the best decision Stephenson ever made was to get away from the hustle and flow culture of the NYC basketball circuit by moving to the calmer and more reasonable environs of the Queen City. By avoiding the endless crush of wannabe agents and hangers-on endemic to New York telling him how great he is at every turn, he might have just saved his career from an early flameout.
As Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin alluded to in the article, Stephenson’s biggest difficulty as a freshman in the Big East has been learning when to play within the offense rather than taking it upon himself to score every time downcourt. Even the more-ballyhooed John Wall has started to face the reality that playing 1-on-3 or even 1-on-4 isn’t always the best option in a team’s offense, no matter how many ridiculous skills at putting the ball in the basket you possess. When you’ve been The Man for your entire life, this is a subtlety often lost on young players transitioning to both the college and NBA game, but the ones who become great eventually learn it. The first step toward that end is simple recognition of physical limitations, and the above quote from Stephenson signifies to us that he might be getting it.
The “Born Ready” moniker is a humorous one because it portends an arrogance that young players often carry, but maybe in this case, the nickname actually refers to the wisdom to know when you’re ready rather than the actual readiness itself. If so, we’d expect to see Stephenson playing for pay for a very long time. Just not next year.