Lance Stephenson: Nature and nurture combine to give Pacers a positive impact

Andy Lyons

Larry Bird and the Pacers organization took a chance on the talent of Lance Stephenson and then committed to making the most of that chance by giving the guard the support he needed.

Lance Stephenson scored 16 of his career-high 25 points in the first half of Game 6 and late in the second quarter, Tyson Chandler had already seen enough. When the opportunity presented itself with Stephenson roaming into the lane, Chandler body slammed the Pacers guard.

Surprisingly, Stephenson quickly bounced back up on his feet with no reaction other than a little "that's all you got" bounce in place.

This from the same guy who leads the league in a lack of pain threshold, appearing to suffer a career-threatening injury whenever he hits the floor. In fact, Stephenson's failure to get back on defense after laboring to get off the floor in Game 5 drew a sharp rebuke from the Pacers radio crew of Mark Boyle and Austin Croshere. Cro's essential message was, this is the playoffs, if you can't play get off the court, if you can then get back on defense.

The change in Stephenson's reaction in Game 6 is yet another indication of the young talent learning from those around him and continuing to add more and more professionalism to his game which is loaded for pro-level talent. Monday on the Grady and Big Joe Show, Slick Leonard shared the rest of the story, relaying what he saw at a practice between Games 5 and 6 which offered a simple example of the way the Pacers organization has taken Stephenson's raw and incredible NBA talent and continue developing his value as a professional basketball player.

Towards the end of the off-day practice with Stephenson watching courtside, Brian Shaw and a few other players engaged in a heated half-court game. Shaw started hitting the floor on bumps and exaggerating his pain level on the floor. The Shaw act became high comedy for everyone watching, but the message was sent and apparently digested by Stephenson.

Such messages, big and small from players, coaches and even Larry Bird, have been a constant companion during Stephenson's NBA career in Indiana. The first signs of hope came during the lockout when Stephenson couldn't go inside the Fieldhouse or work with the coaches during the offseason but still remained in Indy and took care of business on his own. This article from Adrian Wojnarowski breaks down the chance the Pacers took on Stephenson and how they have made it work so far.

This is a great story of the Pacers skipping the nature vs. nurture psychology debate and instead combining the two to create a budding, big time player to make a positive impact for the Pacers at age 22. The coaches and front office have been working on the Lance's rough edges since he was drafted. The players have been on him, as well which Stephenson didn't always appreciate. Now the players continue to stay on Stephenson but they also believe in what he can bring to the team while he also understands the veteran advice is intended to help him help the team.

Stephenson is far from being a consistent beast on the floor but he can be a beast. Just ask any opponent who has seen Lance coming at him with the ball at full speed. When Stephenson gets it going and enjoys the moment, the entertainment value is off the charts.

But even then, the kid still needs a reminder to keep the big picture in view. After getting to the rim to score his final bucket in Game 6, answering a score by Carmelo Anthony to put the Pacers up seven with under two minutes to play, the Knicks called a timeout and Stephenson stopped at midcourt to share his excitement with the Fieldhouse faithful who were lapping it up.

That's when Brian Shaw casually got to Stephenson to slow down the premature celebration and get him to the team huddle. Just another effort to nurture that talent which was exploding all over the Fieldhouse to make sure Stephenson was ready to finish off a big team win over the Knicks.

Now as the stage grows for the Eastern Conference Finals, against a Heat team that is ready and willing to keep tabs on Stephenson, the young fella will gather some high-level experience to continue his growth as an NBA player.

And everyone at the Fieldhouse will be standing right behind him, ready and willing to give him a hand when needed. Oh, and as this tweet from Stephenson shows, he appreciates how things have worked out for him in Indiana.

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