Lance Stephenson came into the league with all kinds of game and confidence with the ball in his hands. But what happened when he didn't have the ball and the other team did was a rude awakening for the young guard.
Until he figured out how to defend at the NBA level, it didn't matter how much flare he showed at the offensive end, he simply wouldn't play.
"I was all offense when I came into the league but defense wasn't really my thing," Stephenson admitted. "So I started watching film and when I see how bad I look on defense I had to change it in order to stay on the floor."
All of that film work with coaches pointing out his deficiencies is starting to pay off big for both Stephenson and the Pacers. His three steals and nine rebound quietly played a big role in the Pacers win over the Suns. As a fourth or fifth scoring option on most trips down the floor, Stephenson continues to develop into a Swish army knife role that does the little things and finds ways to impact the game in a variety of different ways.
"I just try to do the little things and try to get involved just playing defense," Stephenson said. "You start with defense, you get a steal and you just feel comfortable on defense and offense, so I just try to focus on the little things. I watch film and look at the little things to get me active and be a factor on the court."
That work has earned the trust of coach Frank Vogel and his teammates. While he still finds himself in the wrong spot on both ends of the floor, those technical errors are beginning to fade as his all-around game grows.
"He's a big part of what we're doing with his toughness," Vogel said. "I trust him with the ball in his hands for the most part at the end of games to make the right plays. We had a few plays set up with him having the ball and he's making good decisions with the ball."
But defense is what is keeps Stephenson on the floor and he came up big in the fourth quarter against Phoenix. Leaving his man to create a steal and an easy bucket for George Hill at the other end helped the Pacers grab back some momentum to finish off the win.
"Defensively he continues to grow," Vogel said of his young guard. "His mistakes are being limited, he's becoming more solid. He actually made the play of the game defensively on a weak side sink. We've been on him for three years on his weak side and it was probably the best weak side play he's made all year, stopped a run, led to a transition bucket for George Hill. Just a big sign of growth."
Paul George likes what he sees from his running mate on the floor.
"His offense is off the charts," George said. "In the open court he's one of the toughest guys to contain and he's been playing well offensively. But now his defensive game, he's locking in he knows where to be and he was huge for us tonight. If we had a game ball it would go to him."
A game ball for Lance Stephenson...for defense?
Yeah, that's not something anyone expected at the start of the season, but Stephenson has put in the work to develop his NBA game and now the Pacers are just starting to reap the rewards.
Now the Pacers have to find a way to play better as a team as they head to Atlanta to take on the Hawks on Saturday night.
Check out the links:
- Suns at Pacers - Box score and highlights
- Game Rewind: Pacers 97, Suns 91 | THE OFFICIAL SITE OF THE INDIANA PACERS
- Lance Stephenson Looking As If He's Finally Ready | THE OFFICIAL SITE OF THE INDIANA PACERS
- Pacers give up lead in 2nd half before beating Suns 97-91 | Indianapolis Star | indystar.com
- Pacers: Doing it the George way | Pacers Insider | The Indianapolis Star | IndyStar.com
- Hill, West spark Pacers past Suns for 4th straight win | 1070 The Fan – Opinion & Analysis
- Phoenix Suns rally falls short against Indiana Pacers - AZCentral.com
- Hill scores 22, lifts Pacers over Suns 97-91 - AP
- Suns Final Score: Pacers beat Phoenix 97-91 - Bright Side Of The Sun
- Pacers notebook: Jermaine O’Neal is a Pacer at heart | Indianapolis Star | indystar.com
- Friday's NBA scores: Exciting finishes in Utah, Sacramento - SBNation.com
- Big and small in the NBA - TrueHoop Blog - ESPN
- Kelvin Sampson 'significant' candidate for Nets' coaching job - Yahoo! Sports