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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.