Welcome to 2023 NBA free agency, where players are switching teams left and right and big contracts are being handed out like free samples at Costco. In the midst of the chaos, the San Antonio Spurs are sitting happily with what they have. They haven’t made any major moves yet, and likely won’t, but they did help the Cleveland Cavaliers acquire Max Strus through a three-team deal. In that trade, San Antonio received two Cavalier forwards, Cedi Osman and Lamar Stevens. Neither is likely to be part of this team long-term (and could be gone later in the offseason due to a current roster-spot overload), but the latter is a lowkey fun addition who Silver and Black fans could grow to love. Here’s why.
First off, who is Lamar Stevens? The 25-year-old, 6’6” 230lb forward played his college ball at Penn State, where he stayed for four years and graduated as their second all-time leading scorer. He went undrafted in 2020 and was picked up by the Cavaliers on a two-way contract. He earned his way into the rotation for a few months in his rookie year and inked a standard contract before the season was over. Over the next two seasons, Stevens became a familiar face in Cleveland’s lineup, even starting in 38 games.
How did Stevens find success as an undrafted player? He grinded to get where he is by leaving it all out on the court. He plays with relentless hustle and scrappiness that have become somewhat uncommon in today’s league. Simply put, he has that dawg in him. The film paints him as an intense and stout on-ball defender who uses his length and strength to bother guards, wings, and forwards. The numbers back the eyes, as he held opponents to 31.0% from the field in isolation this past season (via Synergy), grading out as a 97th percentile iso defender. His energy is present on the glass, too, as his offensive rebound percentage (an estimate of available offensive rebounds a player grabbed while they were on the floor, via Basketball Reference) ranked just outside the top 50 in the league in 2022-23.
Stevens is lacking as an offensive player. He doesn’t shoot the three well, and most of his baskets are assisted. However, he is a decent cutter and can occasionally rise up for a powerful slam. If he can become a league-average or better shooter from the corner, he could be a weapon off the ball on high-post actions directed by Victor Wembanyama or Zach Collins and find himself getting serious minutes.
The Spurs need defense and grit, and Stevens can provide that. And if his on-court energy isn’t enough to make you a fan, his off-court energy will. The Cavs built their identity as underdogs this past year, and Stevens was at the core of the culture’s development. He began barking during workouts and in the locker room, embracing the underdog mantle, and it caught on. He became Cleveland’s “Junkyard Dawg”, a nickname earned because of his love for doing the dirty work.
Hustle players like Lamar Stevens are easy to love, and regardless of how often he sees the court, it likely won’t be long before he earns a spot in the hearts of Spurs fans.