The NBDL is getting a lot of burn this year; fourteen NBA players have been sent on assignment and I think it's great to see. I really think this is a trumpet to the rise in talent across the league, where guys who would be talented enough to make a rotation spot even five or six years ago are seeing temporary stints in Springfield or Portland (ME) as per the alternative of them being inactive. But yet, despite a rise of talk about Lance Stephenson, maybe, kinda, possibly(?) spending time in the D-League, the Pacers remain fairly stalwart against the idea.
Stephenson has been inactive for all of Indiana's games, and will continue that stretch in tonight's as well. Upon him being drafted, I thought he might see action in about 15-20 games this season; a number that seemed absurdly low compared to the roughly 40 minutes a night he was entitled to with his summer league showing, but as the season progresses, even 15-20 seems like a really high number now since injuries are the only thing that could bring him to even suit up, much less see the floor.
The idea at hand is that for Born Ready, does the practice time put him in a position to be ready when he's called upon? T.J. Ford had his best stretch in his return after a lengthy layoff last season, but for a 20-year-old rookie like Stephenson, how does he look when he takes the floor for the first time? Well, it's not like his contributions will be considered valuable at any stretch this season.
Add into that the fact the Pacers are certainly no strangers to grooming players on the bench. Austin Croshere didn't see meaningful minutes until his third year, Al Harrington played in only 21 games his rookie season, and Jeff Foster didn't even see 100 minutes of action in 99-00. Jonathan Bender also saw very limited time as a rookie, sans the broken wrist to ominously begin his shortened career. If there's a parallel then and now, it's that the Pacers were winning games without these players. The same can mostly be said of this year's team, though obviously not at the same level and at least in the sense of "is Lance Stephenson going to help us win games?"
The answer seems to be no, this despite the fact Stephenson is still being treated as a PG (we're still on this?). Indiana seems well enough to let Stephenson be groomed from the bench, like a rookie quarterback in the NFL. But is this practice still viable when there's a growing minor league that's directly pipelined to NBA teams? It's a little different from the what the CBA and ABA can offer. However in the aforementioned players' cases, sans Bender, and in addition to more recent cases of Primoz Brezec, Fred Jones, and James Jones, these players found rotation spots within the NBA, even if none of the three would've done so with the Pacers organization and without the brawl.
But times have changed. The team's unwillingness to use the D-League almost seems stubborn. But there still could be a psyche advantage to not sending an entitled, self proclaimed "best ever" to a minor league. While an assignment to the D-League is in no way a demotion, even Josh McRoberts admitted that it seemed like it when he made his trip. I can't imagine the same couldn't be said of Stephenson. The advantage is that he gets the floor time, but an equal disadvantage could be in his ability to grow. In the D-League, there's no one like Dahntay Jones (I'm aware the irony, just give me a second) to correct the rook when he says something foolish. And if there is a vet like Dahntay Jones (A-ha! Made it work!), is Stephenson going to listen as intently? Assuming of course, he listened to Dahntay at all.
While there are advantages to sending Stephenson to the D-League; local interest in the Mad Ants, floor time, trip dub after trip dub, I fear the team still has to deal with the rookie's maturity, so when Larry Bird says Lance needs to be a part of the Pacers, I can understand. Even though Ft. Wayne is just around the corner from Indianapolis, I don't blame the Pacers for wanting to make sure he doesn't go past the neighbor's house. And it's really not fair to us. It'd be an exciting dynamic for Pacers fans to see the team to make use of the NBDL, but at this point, I can understand why there's slight hesitation on Stephenson..
However, if he shows progress on the legal front and still hasn't shown any progress on the floor, then this should be revised to take an opposite stance. I wouldn't mind Lance playing at some point, but I am on board with him not seeing D-League assignment right now.