Comparing Stepheson and Thompson

Should Alex Stepheson be playing more?

There is a growing sentiment that Alex Stepheson might be entitled more playing time ahead of Deon Thompson especially based on the perception that Stepheson might be a better defender than Thompson. If you recall Roy Williams said the decision to start one over the other was made very late in the preseason mainly because Thompson was the better offensive player and Stepheson was better on defense. As the season has progressed this assessment has largely held. Thompson’s appears to be a more polished offensive player but also tends to play soft on defense with the exception being his ability to block shots. Stepheson’s offensive game can be a tad more deliberate and he lacks quickness but on the defensive end he is willing to be physical to the point he tends to commit fouls rather quickly. He also is bound more to the interior than Thompson is who can move outside to guard players. Those are the perceptions. Here are the stats.

  Per Game Per 40 mins
  Thompson Stepheson Thompson Stepheson
Mins 22.9 14.4 N/A N/A
Points 8.8 3.9 15.3 10.8
Rebounds 5.5 4.7 9.6 13.0
TO 1.4 1.1 2.4 3.0
Blks 1.4 0.7 2.4 1.9
FG% 46% 50% N/A N/A
PPS 1.01 1.16 N/A N/A

A few points here.

  • The stats are really a wash. Stepheson is clearly a more efficient rebounder and shooter. Thompson has a slight edge with blocks and fewer turnovers committed. In terms of sheer points, Thompson is significantly better.
  • Several things dictate when and how long players are on the court. On one hand it simply a matter of positions. Given Stepheson’s lack of quickness he is probably only going to play center and stay in the paint. If he is on the floor at the same time as Tyler Hansbrough that puts Hansbrough at the power forward position which is probably fine except it could take him away from the basket in certain situations. Thompson is almost exclusively going to play the four which means when he is playing beside Hansbrough it keeps the potential POY closer to the hoop. The offensive nature of Thompson’s game is probably more beneficial alongside Hansbrough since it establishes another scoring threat down low which relieves some of the defensive pressure. Stepheson is not that kind of threat and teams are more than content to sag off him for a possible double team on Hansbrough.
  • On the defensive end, Stepheson tends to handle guarding other big man on the interior, especially those backing a defender down. Thompson does not and is a bit like a matador for the way he lets scorers work by him. That being said, Thompson is generally better shot blocker which is key if he can do more of that on help defense.
  • One unknown element is what happens in practice where guys have to earn their playing time.
  • Basically it boils down to these two players having distinct strengths which can help the team at given times. There is an obvious need for a better defensive effort and Stepheson, seen as a good defender is believe to be a part of the solution. Stepheson would also pull more rebounds but that might also be a product of proximity to the basket as dictated by the position on the floor. The tradeoff is UNC loses an offensive player in favor of a primary defensive player. In that respect not putting another interior scoring threat out there could negatively impact Hansbrough via increased pressure.
  • In the end I expect these two to play around the same number of minutes and inserted into the game based on their strengths. Any major changes is not going to yield anything earth shattering so I think Roy is right to interchange these two based on the game situation much as he has already. If one is playing great in a particular game then stick with him. As much as we would all like to see some shake-up leading to better game to game play, I am not seeing much evidence such a shake-up would yield the results to justify it.

17 Responses to Comparing Stepheson and Thompson

  1. chuckheel says:

    Have you noticed how both Thompson and Stepheson try to bank their shots and most times those shots are too high on the glass and are consequently missed? Also, what happened to the OLD CAROLINA TRADITION of big men being able to pass out of the post to the open shooters on the wing. None of Carolina’s big men (Hansbrough, Thompson or Stepheson) seem to be able to do this on a consistent basis. I think if Carolina did this, teams would double-team Tyler at their own peril. What do you think?

  2. 52BigGameJames says:

    only switch for motivation–I’m a firm believer that considerable bench-time gives a coach an accurate read on a players desire, and in this case, it appears that’s the problem.

  3. 52BigGameJames says:

    but as you stated, we don’t see what goes on in practice.

  4. MDtarheelfan says:

    I agree with James. Switch the starter to send a message to Thompson. Thompson reminds me of Brendan Heywood. They both seem to play soft. I would like to see Stephenson play more to see what he can do. He seems to take better shots than Thompson.

  5. feedmyego says:

    While the box score stats might be a wash, the +/- stats aren’t– the team plays significantly better (on the scoreboard) with Stepheson in the game. Hansbrough-Stepheson frontcourts are much better in terms of both offensive and defensive efficiency than Thompson-Hansbrough frontcourts.

    This doesn’t necessarily mean Stepheson should play more (there are, as always, variables that aren’t accounted for; e.g., Thompson generally plays more against starters (and fresh starters) than Stepheson does), but it is another data point to conisder– and a data point that is very convincingly in Alex’s favor.

    Personally, I’d like to see Thompson continue to start, but have Stepheson’s minutes ramped up to about 20-22 mpg.

  6. C. Michael says:

    FME, agreed. It would be ideal (IMO) for the 80 minutes at the 4/5 to generally be divided as such:

    Hansbrough: 30
    Thompson: 20-22
    Stepheson: 20-22
    Green(Copeland, on occasion): 6-10

    But, Roy has 500+ more wins than I do, so I guess I’ll just leave it to him for now! 😉

  7. Dan Schwind says:

    This situation reminds me entirely too much of 1998, when we had Brendan Haywood and Makthar Ndiaye with Thompson playing the role of Haywood and Stepheson playing the role of foul-happy Ndiaye. The difference is, in some ways, defense stems from attitude, and if you’re not thinking aggressive, you’re not going to play aggressive.

    I agree with MDTarHeel and BigGame… Roy needs to start Stepheson for at least the next two games. He can still give Deon most of the time, but it sends two messages: 1) We need to play stronger defense from the get-go and this is how we do it, 2) Deon, this is the fire I’m lighting under your @$$ to say that you need to start playing harder to get your spot back.

  8. Wadsworth says:

    I am not usre that the 1998 comparison is necessarily valid because I believe that is a team that only played 6 players regularly. There was just not the large number of combinations to achieve precisely the desired result.

    Also, I understand the Thompson is a better offensive player, but I just don’t buy the argument that this should give him the starting spot. In fact, I think just the opposite may be true. The starting five has Hansbrough, Lawson and Ellington. The one thing they do not need is more scoring (yet somehow Thomspon manages to take the first shot out of the first half-court set in virtually every game). The need for more offense comes when one or two of the starters sit.

    Finally, I just want to say how happy I am that we get to debate the point of who, between two very good players, should be starting. The alternative would be rooting for Virginia.

  9. Tar Heel Fan says:

    I think some motivational lineup changes might be good. I also think Roy is weighing out which player is best for certain situations. The best solution is for both players to show improvement on their perceived weaknesses to the point of them being interchangeable.

  10. william says:

    Stepheson cannot play in the last few minutes of close games because he is a huge liability at the free throw line.

  11. Tar Heel Fan says:

    Well, they both are. Stepheson is worse at 42% but Thompson only shoots 51% so both of them are going to be sitting if FTs are needed. In fact if Roy goes offense-defense then I imagine you would see both of them on the bench on offense and Stepheson out there for defense if the other team is fouling.

  12. william says:

    Well, I am basing the idea that there is a large difference between them upon last year and the fact that Thompson may have had an outlier game earlier this year where he went like 3-12 from the line or something. I believe he shot close to 65% last year but I guess I better go check. I seem to remember wishing last year that B. Wright could make free throws the way Deon could.

  13. 52BigGameJames says:

    Wadsworth–that’s the snake-in-the-grass with this team imo. It’s not about the tp’s but for this team to reach full potential, the scoring needs to become more balanced. What are the scoring averages for Green, Ginyard and Thompson? I am absolutely convinced each of these guys is capable of 10 to 14 ppg, and EACH is fully capable of the occasional 20 pt game performance. So far, this team reminds me of a high-powered V-8, running on 6 cylinders

  14. Josh Bowling says:

    Actually BigGame, it is a V8 with variable displacement. Up to 4 cylinders can shut off at any moment, leaving just 4 firing. I want to know where the supercharger or nitrous is going to come from.

  15. Josh Bowling says:

    Would anyone here trade Stepheson/Thompson for Shackleford/Washburn?

  16. 52BigGameJames says:

    Josh: BC will be a good test as they have a point and big who can (possibly) neutralize our two–so if Wayne is off, where will the offense come from? should be a good test.

  17. Josh Bowling says:

    I have my worries about this game as well.

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