Lance Stephenson is not just playing for the Indiana Pacers, he's making an impact.
Through the early season tumult, opportunity knocked for Stephenson and he has taken full advantage. The 22-year old guard has been up and down at times and still makes mistakes at both end of the floor, but more times than not, those mistakes are errors of aggression.
There are two angles to the Stephenson story so far as he becomes more comfortable with his expanded role in the playing rotation. For one, the energy and entertainment had adds to the Pacers lineup is sorely needed. In addition to the aggressive play, Stephenson's game has really improved which justifies the minutes he's been given with Danny Granger sidelined.
The young fella adds energy to the floor that can't be quantified but can be contagious. Not taking the fight to an opponent has been one thing plaguing the Pacers when they have struggled this season. That's not a problem for Stephenson since he is always in attack mode. Aggressive to a fault which is a welcomed problem to deal with.
But when Lance has it going, like he did in the third quarter against Dallas, that aggressive style of play is flat out entertaining. He may not have been born ready for the NBA but he was born with copious amounts of confidence and thoroughly enjoys the moment when he makes a nice play.
Sure it's going to drive you nuts at times, but that's the tax you have to pay to enjoy the moments when Stephenson converts a play and essentially takes a bow before the roaring crowd. On Friday, Stephenson had a few of those moments when I realized, you know, this Pacers team can be pretty boring. Why not relax and enjoy the show when Stephenson does his thing?
After pushing the ball up the floor in transition, then hesitating before finishing a layup in traffic, Stephenson landed as if dismounting from the high bar and then found the baseline TV camera to give a little tongue wag.
Later, after making a three-pointer and raising his right hand in an okay sign flashing three fingers, Stephenson then stopped and blew out the three fingers like a smoking gun. Granted, the three-shooter looked more like birthday candles or Zamfir's pan flute, but the move kept the fans roaring while driving the Mavs nuts.
The extra flavor seasoning Stephenson's play may not be for everyone, but you have to admit it is entertaining. The response from the Fieldhouse crowd shows that they can get used to Stephenson's theatrics when things are rolling.
The key now is learning when to rein in that emotion and when to let it loose. It also adds more pressure as opponents will take pleasure in shutting up Lance and those types of actions simply ring hollow if the team isn't winning.
More importantly though, Stephenson's improved play really sticks out on the court which is reflected in his perimeter shot that is moving toward reliable.
Old habits die hard, so when the Pacers were getting things rolling in the third quarter against Dallas and an excellent offensive possession that included the ball swinging from the left wing through the baseline to David West on the right side who then kicked the ball out to a wide open Stephenson for a 3-point attempt, I winced.
Then he drained it.
My mind remains programmed to expect a front-iron clank when seeing Stephenson dial up a shot from distance. That's not fair and may soon change considering Stephenson leads the Pacers in field goal percentage at 49% and three-point shooting a 46%. Heck, he currently ranks 20th in the league in three-point percentage.
We're ten games in, so the sample size isn't huge but those numbers have remained steady. It isn't necessarily a good thing for the Pacers that Stephenson leads the team in shooting. They'd be far better off with Roy Hibbert and David West shooting around 50%. But the improvement from Stephenson is impressive and certainly something I'm willing to get used to.
Stephenson's NBA game continues to mature even if his youthful energy elicits some immature moments between plays. But as the rest of the league begins to take notice and take their shots at trying to goad Stephenson out of his game and test that maturity level, Stephenson can really prove he's ready to take his NBA game to another level.
On Sunday afternoon, all of the progress Stephenson has shown will be put to the test as he starts his first NBA game in his hometown at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks. The Knicks have plenty of vets and players willing to mix it up if things get chippy. It might be exhilarating or it might be a train wreck but with Lance involved you'll want to be watching because you never know what might happen.