After scoring 20 points in a row against the Brooklyn Nets and recording 14 assists in the team’s season-series sweep over the Utah Jazz, Lance Stephenson has extended his stay in Indiana by at least another 10 days, as the Pacers announced today that the 31-year-old wing has been signed to a second hardship deal, with the first having expired on Monday.
Tasked with manipulating the pick-and-roll off the bench and acting as primary ball-handler for various closing lineups in each of the last two games, Stephenson has averaged 23 points and nine assists on 65 percent shooting in two homes game while injecting energy into Gainbridge Fieldhouse, compared to 8.3 points and two assists on 45 percent shooting on the road. That said, while those splits are certainly worth monitoring over the next 10 days, his ability to be unpredictable while still making simple reads and locating the roll-man has been a breath of fresh air. Plus, although he misfired from deep during overtime in Boston, he provided a sparse source of off-the-dribble creation when the Celtics were neutralizing ball-screens with switches and swarming the post.
As of this afternoon, Caris LeVert and Goga Bitadze cleared protocols, which leaves only T.J. Warren (already out with foot injury) and Justin Anderson (also signed to a 10-day hardship exception) as players still on the outs as a result of COVID, with at least two being required to buy more time for roster flexibility before committing to Stephenson for the rest of the season. According to Marc Stein, the Pacers are expected to keep Lance 3.0 beyond his hardship deals, regardless of when the second is terminated.
Of course, playing time should still be in ample supply, as Malcolm Brogdon remains sidelined with Achilles soreness as does Chris Duarte due to personal reasons, with Caris LeVert also reconditioning.