Note: I wrote this Thursday night through Friday morning before Glenn Robinson got hurt. Clearly, that will affect how things play out. Right now it looks like he’ll only miss two months which is better than expected. I still think my points are valid.
Lance Stephenson has staked his claim as the sixth man of the Indiana Pacers, but he doesn’t deserve it. Kevin Pritchard praised him as stepping into a “Manu Ginobili” role. Pritchard is trying to motive Stephenson to accept his role coming off the bench. But he’s playing a dangerous game with Glenn Robinson and Cory Joseph’s pending free agencies. Pritchard should be encouraging competition for the sixth man and not be handing it out before the first practice.
The sixth man “position” is an arbitrary title and an even dumber award. It’s given to the best player to come off a team’s bench, but starting shouldn’t matter. In the end, it's all about minutes and finishing games. Andre Iguodala is a great example. He doesn’t start, but he plays 27 minutes a game and finishes every game as a critical piece of the Warriors “lineup of death.”
If Stephenson is declared the sixth man Glenn Robinson or Cory Joseph could feel slighted. If you exclude the unknown rookies, Robinson has the highest ceiling of any player on the Pacers bench.
When he replaced an injured Paul George for five games as the starting small forward he averaged 15 points per game. That’s a small sample size, but he showed flashes of being a NBA-caliber starting forward.
Robinson could be the Pacers future starting small forward after the Bojan Bogdanovic experiment. He’s in line for a nice extension next offseason if he’s given a chance to succeed. Robinson should get the most minutes of any bench player, should play a mix of backup small forward and shooting the guard and should end games on the floor for Indiana.
Nate McMillan has also discussed playing Stephenson at point guard which would prevent him from interfering with Robinson. However, I imagine now that Robinson is hurt Stephenson will start as the backup shooting guard and small forward.
But if Stephenson plays point guard he’ll be interfering with Cory Joseph’s minutes. The Pacers got Joseph for free thanks to the C.J. Miles deal. It was a low-risk, high-reward deal. Indiana has low expectations for Joseph but he has never been given the chance to be a starting point guard. If he’s not blocked by Stephenson, Joseph should at least be given a shot to prove his long-term value.
Joseph has had the most recent success of any player on Indiana’s bench. He’s been a serviceable backup to two All-Star point guards: Tony Parker and Kyle Lowry. Over the past two seasons, he’s averaged more points (nine) and played in the most games (190, including playoffs) than any other Indiana bench player.
I don’t want to discount Stephenson. But after seven years in the league, his room for growth and improvement is limited. At one point in time it looked like Roy Hibbert, Paul George and Stephenson were on pace to become the next big three in the NBA. But he’s the one who left and ruined those chances. He’s the one who went to Charlotte and shot 17 percent from three.
Stephenson has gotten a lot of love from Pacer fans. All I’m saying is Indiana should wait to crown him their sixth man. Indiana owes him nothing and he hasn’t proven anything, at least recently, yet.