Serving in a team's starting five is typically seen as a sign of respect and value. That makes sense — starters get a team off to the best start possible and usually end up playing the most minutes. But several teams have proven that such designations don't have to mean a whole lot. The San Antonio Spurs have been bringing future Hall of Famer Manu Ginobili off the bench for years, and major players like Jason Terry have put up massive stats while starting the game on the sidelines.
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It is possible that Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson has used those players as inspiration in his return to the team following 14 games out with a pelvic sprain. However, the Hornets have gone 9-5 during that time and are riding a five-game winning streak, though. Stephenson understands that it wouldn't make sense to get too much in the way of that success when he returns Wednesday night to face the San Antonio Spurs. From Rick Bonnell for the Charlotte Observer:
"I’ll probably come off the bench and I won’t be mad over that. I’ll just try to feel everybody out," Stephenson said. "Right now we’re on a five-game winning streak and I don’t want to do anything to break that... I don’t expect to just come back and do everything."
In Stephenson’s absence, the Hornets started Gerald Henderson and he’s played well, including a 31-point game in a road victory over the Toronto Raptors. [...]
"I feel like at the beginning of the season I didn’t really get a chance to get a feel for everybody. (Through the injury) I got a chance to watch and see what they can do and how I can help them," Stephenson said.
"I just have to get used to the system more. It’s hard to take what you learned for four years straight (as a Pacer) and just switch all that over." [...]
"I can rebound, I can pass. I don’t really have to score right now with everyone on such a roll," Stephenson said. "I feel like I can come in and facilitate.”
It is important to note that Stephenson might not be coming off the bench just because of the team's success or the state of his pelvis. Stephenson did not help the team much to start this season, shooting just 38.6 percent from the field with an average of 11.1 attempts per game. He has been the subject of trade rumors, as well, which probably isn't the best sign just a few months into a lucrative three-year deal.
Given the circumstances, a stint (or long-term role) off the bench could be what's best for Stephenson. As he notes, Charlotte is doing well enough of late as to not rely on his scoring. Stephenson was at his best with the Indiana Pacers when he did a little bit of everything, and it's possible to see him coming back into the lineup as a primary facilitator next to score-first point guard Kemba Walker (who has been on a tear). That's the role Stephenson figured to play when he was signed this summer, so the team's improvement could take some pressure off the high-profile signing and allow him to occupy the position he was actually meant to fill.
Nevertheless, it's a bit curious that the Hornets have been at their best without Stephenson and big man Al Jefferson (who's missed the past six games with a groin strain), the two players who were supposed to lead the team to a second-consecutive playoff berth this season. If they struggle after Stephenson's return, expect the controversial guard to receive plenty of criticism.
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