One silver lining from George Hill's ankle injury is the way reserve guard Lance Stephenson has steadied his game with more minutes in the rotation. Don't get me wrong, he remains a work in progress, but in the past few games there have been far more positive signs emerging from Stephenson's game that he can actually help the Pacers this year.
Plus, there are flashes of absolute brilliance that forces the mind to wander to visions of Stephenson really helping the Pacers in future years. Last night, Stephenson swooped in to snare a rebound off the rim, immediately pushed the ball up the court (well under control, mind you), hesitated and then burst to the lane to finish with a little tear drop.
"My job is to come in, play hard on both ends of the court and try to make things happen," Stephenson said speaking about his role off the bench. But then he went on to talk about the team and winning, not about himself.
The main issue he has to overcome in the short-term is staring at the action off the ball on both defense and offense. He still tends to get caught peeking which can just take a split second to get beat in the NBA. As my friend, Tim Donahue of 8.9 mentioned, Lance could still use a jump shot or perimeter shot of any kind, which is a fair point. Although, I think he can help this year by improving that off-ball defense and then doing everything else he's doing. Now, add a perimeter shot to that game and we're talking Paul George-type burst on the scene impact.
Larry Bird remains patient with Stephenson and the difference pace in his development compared to PG. While speaking with Conrad Brunner and Joe Staysniak on the Grady and Big Joe Show, Bird mentioned the improvements Stephenson has made on and off the court..
"Lance is going through a maturity process and I couldn't more happier for any of my players than Lance," said Bird. "He's completely changed his attitude, the players absolutely adore him now and can't believe he's made the changes he's made and he's continued to get better."
While Bird is happy with Stephenson's development off the court, the Pacers prez remains impressed with Stephenson when he has the ball in his hands.
"On the court his talent is off the charts to me," Bird said. "He's our best passer, he sees the floor better than anybody, he wants to be great and it's just going to take a little bit more time than Paul (George). Paul is a little more athletically inclined to where he can do things and you just go, "Wow!" Lance is more of a, I'll just beat you up, I'll play physical with you. I'll get you down in the post or I'll get rebounds and I'll push the ball up the floor. It's just going to take him more time but I think he's going to be a good one."
Sounds good to me. There's no doubt he sees things on the court others don't which can be a problem when he zips a pass to a teammate that they don't think can made. Maybe his nickname should change from Born Ready to Sixth Sense. Except he sees dimes, not dead people. Like the pass to Lou Amundson at the 35 second mark of this video.