Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson has sat patiently and watched as fellow rookie Paul George and second-year forward Tyler Hansbrough moved into the rotation the past few weeks.
Stephenson, who was given the nickname “Born Ready” while playing on the blacktops of New York, is ready for his chance to join his two teammates on the court.
The Pacers’ second-round draft pick wants to show people he’s not the same player who struggled defensively during the preseason. He also wants to show that his offensive game is better suited for the NBA.
When that time will come is anybody’s guess.
Stephenson took a baby step recently when coach Jim O’Brien put him on the active roster.
The next step is for Stephenson to play in a game for the first time this season.
“I’m very anxious,” said Stephenson, a person of few words. “I’ve been anxious. I have to prove to everybody that I learned a lot.”
Friday’s 13-point loss to Chicago would have been a perfect opportunity for Stephenson to play because the Bulls never felt threatened in the fourth quarter.
Stephenson didn’t get off the bench.
“I would (feel comfortable playing Stephenson),” O’Brien said. “I think it would be a heck of a battle if Darren (Collison) or T.J. (Ford) went down for a period of time. I certainly hope they do not.”
On paper, Stephenson is the fourth point guard behind Collison, Ford and A.J. Price.
Talent-wise, however, Stephenson is right up there with the other three. It’s a matter of him maturing and getting a feel for the NBA game.
“I don’t think it’ll be a transition because my teammates have helped me throughout the season and I think when I get on the court, it’ll be easy,” Stephenson said. “I think I’m ready.”
The knock on Stephenson has been his defense. Team officials say he has improved in that area. Stephenson said he has learned how to do “tricks” to cover up his defensive deficiencies.
“I don’t think, in any stretch of the imagination, he would embarrass himself,” O’Brien said. “I think the more minutes he played, the more everybody would understand why we’re so high about his future.
“He would go out and make some mistakes, but at the same time, he would put a lot of pressure on the other team because he’s so good off pick-and-rolls. He’s so strong. I think he would do some good things.”
Stephenson, who signed a two-year guaranteed contract over the summer, could have already gotten plenty of playing time had the Pacers decided to send him to their D-League affiliate in Fort Wayne earlier this season.
They held off on making Stephenson the first player to be shipped up I-69 because they want the former New York high school star to play in their system.
“I would rather sit and wait my turn,” Stephenson said. “If I go to the D-League, I’m not learning any plays that the team runs. I want to stay with the team and get better at their system. My time will come at some point. And when it does, people will be surprised at how much I’ve learned from the preseason and how much better I’ve gotten.”