When it comes to high-flying, show-stopping dunks, DJ Stephens has been the benchmark in professional basketball. The 6’5” wing that went undrafted out of Memphis has spent time both overseas and in the D-League, most recently with the Iowa Energy, and has radically improved his game in that time.
After signing with the Memphis Grizzlies in July, Stephens is ready to show the world he is more than just a dunker, but a legitimate player that can contribute on a winning team. His play in both Summer League and preseason has been impressive to say the least thanks to his newfound shooting stroke, versatility, and incredible athleticism.
The most impressive addition to Stephens’ game is how good he has been as a perimeter shooter. While in college Stephens rarely shot the ball from deep, averaging 0.4 shots per game. He did shoot a decent 37 percent, but it was clear he wasn't comfortable incorporating that into his game. His shot from deep started to click while with the Energy, he attempted almost three shots per game and hit on about 33 percent of them.
His shooting averages, both from deep and overall, have been very impressive in Summer League and preseason games. In three games played during Las Vegas Summer League, Stephens averaged 10.3 points while shooting 36.4 percent from deep and 59.1 percent overall in 21 minutes of action. So far this preseason Stephens is averaging similar numbers, 10.5 points on 40 percent from deep and 50 percent from the field in 19.6 minutes.
While it is only Summer League and the preseason, showing that kind of consistency is always a good thing to see and something coaches look for. In both cases, Stephens averaged just around three attempts from deep which shows he knows when he should pull the trigger from deep. So while he is expanding his range and changing his game, you won't have to worry about him attempting wild or crazy shots on offense, he knows his role and how to play it.
With this newfound shot, Stephens’ game opens up in an entirely new way. He has always been a good defender, he was named C-USA Defensive Player of the Year and All-Conference USA Defensive third-team as a senior, but now that he is a viable option on offense and more than just a dunker, he can become a legitimate 3-and-D wing.
Standing at 6’5” with a 7” wingspan, Stephens is versatile enough to guard three positions with ease. His long arms are great for keeping players in front of him and disrupting passing lanes. Stephens’ supreme athleticism and high motor make him a formidable defender. With coaching and possible mentorship from one of the best wing defenders in the league, Tony Allen, Stephens could become an even more ferocious defender.
As of right now, only Allen and Jordan Adams are ahead of him on the depth chart at shooting guard. While both of them are good players and will take more minutes than Stephens, he can still carve out a role with this team. He has always risen to the occasion when given the opportunity. Tony Allen is in his 12th year and Jordan Adams is still unproven; don't be shocked if Stephens plays himself into a larger role on this team.
Stephens should make this roster and should be in the NBA from here on out. Few players are more electric than he is, and more importantly he has worked hard to get to where he is today. He didn't let going undrafted get him down, he didn't let getting cut stop him. Instead, he persevered and developed into a more well rounded, complete player. This could be the beginning of something special for Stephens, you should tune in to find out.