In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will profiled in this space and, this time around, we break down Penn State forward Lamar Stevens.
Penn State isn’t exactly a basketball factory. In fact, the Nittany Lions haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2011, and Penn State has only two appearances in the Big Dance during the 21st century. In 2019-20, however, Pat Chambers’ team was legitimately strong and, if not for the pandemic-related cancellation of the 2020 tournament, Penn State would have been participating. Though the Nittany Lions weren’t led by a sure-fire first round pick, senior forward Lamar Stevens can claim to be a key cog on Penn State’s two best teams of the last decade.
Stevens, who stands at 6’8 and 230 pounds, actually declared for the 2019 NBA Draft before electing to return to school and, if anything, he seemingly helped his draft stock. Though Stevens will be 23 years old in July (a datapoint that probably isn’t great for him), there is a lot to like about his game, and second-round consideration should follow.
In four years at Penn State, Stevens was quite productive, averaging double-figures in each campaign. In his final two seasons, the powerful forward averaged a combined 18.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and, against Big 10 competition, one can’t simply stumble into that level of production. Finally, Stevens was named first team All-Big 10 this season, which is quite an honor in what was the nation’s best conference.
It should be noted, though, that an overarching weakness does follow Stevens as professional teams attempt to project him for the future.
Stevens converted only 86 of his 312 three-point attempts across four seasons, translating to a 27.6 percent clip from long distance. It wasn’t as if things improved during his collegiate tenure either, with Stevens actually sinking to an ugly 24.2 percent in his final two seasons. While there are a number of positives — and we’ll get to them shortly — every discussion of his draft stock has to include the questions about his jump shot.
Simply put, there isn’t a lot to hold onto when it comes to projecting a favorable outcome for Stevens as a floor-spacer, with the potential exception of a respectable 74 percent clip from the free throw line. It is at least possible that Stevens could find his footing in a small NBA role without the development of a semi-reliable jump shot but, at the same time, it might be hard for him to garner the opportunity to establish himself unless a team buys into potential improvement from the three-point line.
On the more positive side, Stevens is quite athletic and powerful, using his 230-pound frame effectively to blow past and through defenders offensively. He has good quickness for his size and, as you may expect given his physical frame, Stevens proves to be quite strong on the floor. He uses that strength and power to draw fouls effectively, attempting more than 11 free throws per 100 possessions as a senior, and that allows Stevens to maintain better efficiency than you may expect given his shaky shooting from the floor.
Stevens does need to improve as a passer to make further gains offensively, however, with the four-year player committing more turnovers in his college tenure than he generated assists. There is probably room for Stevens to be a solid ball-mover, though, and he generally displays a solid feel for the game on the offensive end.
Defensively, there is a lot to like, beginning with his frame and physicality. There is some disagreement on Stevens’ potential ability as a switch defender in space, but he certainly has the profile of a prospect that can hold up against forwards. Stevens also posted strong steal (2.0 percent) and block (3.8 percent) rates as a senior, with that kind of baseline being a positive overall indicator of defensive potential.
From there, Stevens has proven himself to be a very strong defensive rebounder and, while that can’t singlehandedly buoy his prospect pedigree, it will help as NBA teams attempt to assess his abilities as a power forward. Lastly, Stevens seems to be a willing defender, in a variety of matchups, and he has the reputation of someone with strong character makeup, which can pay dividends.
All told, Stevens has clear positives, ranging from his ability to attack the rim to his projectable 6’8 frame and defensive potential. That might be enough for the soon-to-be 23-year-old to garner a late second-round landing spot, though a Two-Way contract may be a more likely goal. Ultimately, though, it is at least somewhat difficult to see Stevens reaching his potential without tangible improvement in his long-distance shooting performance, and he wouldn’t be an ideal fit for the Atlanta Hawks as a result of that uncertainty.