Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports
Lance Stephenson continues to grow as a player and he has the support of the strongest voices in the organization as he does so.
Is there anything more energizing to Bankers Life Fieldhouse than when Lance Stephenson grabs a defensive rebound and just goes?
The whole place perks up because the range of outcomes includes a potential top ten play of the night. The 22-year old guard is figuring out the NBA game and the results are starting to become, well...exciting.
Stephenson earned the nickname "Born Ready" as a young player for his innate ability to play the game and see the game. He still has those instincts to see the game a play or two ahead of reality but now he's starting to apply a pro's view to know when and when not to attack and look for a big play.
How well he can manage his game to avoid the senseless shot at a top ten play and keep the time and score in the game in mind will go a long way toward how well the Pacers finish the season. There is no doubt, when Stephenson has it going the Pacers improve greatly.
Don't believe me, just ask David West.
"He's so talented, man," West said, slowly shaking his head while talking about Stephenson."When he plays well, we play well and that's the bottom line."
Even as a fourth, maybe fifth option on the offensive end, Stephenson can draw attention when he has it going. He drew everyone's attention on Monday in the Pacers win versus the Bulls, including Chicago forward Taj Gibson who couldn't seem to shake Stephenson's presence under his skin. Meanwhile, West was logging 29 points and two other starters added 20-point nights to the mix.
"Just his presence and energy and his ability when he attacks and is aggressive and is making positive plays for us that's a positive for our team," West said. "He definitely makes us a better group."
Stephenson seems to feed off of his positive plays and when he starts the game well, a solid game seems to snowball as he builds confidence for the night, something the Pacers keep pushing him to do.
"He knows the game, he knows how to play the game, has a natural feel for it," West added. "We're on him all the time about him being aggressive and making plays, making positive plays."
Again, West emphasized the phrase "positive plays" indicating that the young fella can still misuse his talents at times. But with the way he's been playing lately, West would much rather have to reign in Stephenson then push him to make an impact.
"He's tough and he's aggressive and that's what we need from a group stand point," West said. "That's just what he is and what he brings to the table and we ask him to do that every single night he's out there."
Donnie Walsh added to the praise for Stephenson last week in his interview with Sheridanhoops.com, comparing him a "min-LeBron" and reiterating a fact that often overlooked about Stephenson and Paul George. They are 22!
Donnie Walsh on Lance Stephenson:
Didn't play a whole lot in his first two years but then this year, in part because of Danny, but he was going to play anyway because we just needed to commit to that. He's gotten time and basically, fit his talent into an NBA game. He's been playing at the two guard position so he's been learning how to come off of screens and he's learning how to play without the ball which will help him for the day when he gets back to playing with the ball.
He's done very well and actually in the last couple of games (DEN DET) he's done extremely well. In transition, he's like a mini-LeBron in a sense that he really gets the ball down the court quickly and comes at you with a big body, so we get a lot of good out of that. He sees the floor and he's a willing passer so I think he'll continue to get better at that. His shooting has been good as far as, he'll hit the three he can take it to the goal. There are games he goes in and helps us on the boards and defensively he's learning every day but he has a defensive mindset and I think also has the skill set to be an awfully good defender some day. But he's only 22 years old.
Interesting how Walsh mentions "the day when he gets back to playing with the ball" while talking about Stephenson. Could that day be coming soon as he comes off the bench when Danny Granger returns? Or do they have bigger plans for Stephenson? Maybe two-guard-at-heart George Hill will swap spots in a couple of years?
What do you think about Stephenson and his future with the Pacers?