That’s the word that has been most commonly used when talking about Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson.
Stephenson’s talent has never been questioned. He easily would have been a first-round pick in the 2010 NBA draft if that was all that mattered. The question surrounding Stephenson has been about his maturity.
But after a rookie season he spent primarily planted on the bench, the Pacers have seen a significant growth in his play and maturity.
“He’s definitely grown from last year on and off the court,” veteran Jeff Foster said. “The thing that will make me the most impressed is if he can continue to grow from where he is now, on and off the court. We’ll see. Hopefully, this is a big year for him.”
Pacers President Larry Bird likes Stephenson’s talent so much that he called the New York City product the team’s “best player” at the end of last season.
Better than Danny Granger, Paul George or Darren Collison.
Stephenson’s standoffish attitude last season often overshadowed what he could do on the court. He had a run-in with some teammates in a game in Houston in March, then was demoted to the fourth point guard after he violated team rules in April.
Stephenson, who averaged 3.1 points and 1.8 assists in 12 games, started taking the necessary steps toward improving in the needed areas when he spent the majority of the NBA lockout in Indianapolis instead of New York, where trouble could easily pop up. There haven’t been signs of a relapse from Stephenson, who admitted his shortcomings in an interview over the summer.
“He’s clowning around a lot less, which is helpful in practice,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “His interaction with his teammates is solid. He’s not pointing fingers and making faces like he did last year. We’ve seen a lot of maturation from him this year.”
Stephenson averaged almost 11 minutes in the two preseason games, totaling three assists, three rebounds and six points.
“I thought he played within himself on most possessions, which is probably the biggest area he has to improve in,” Vogel said. “And then growing on the defensive end, being in the right spots all the time.”
Stephenson has tried to tone down his game on the court, trading in flashy, street ball-type passes for the simple, safe pass.
“Last year I used to force stuff,” Stephenson said. “I see now if you make the simple pass, it matters more.”
The Pacers would like to get Stephenson on the court this season, but playing time could be hard to come by since the guard spots are the deepest positions on the roster. Stephenson is behind Darren Collison and George Hill at point guard and Paul George, Hill and Dahntay Jones at shooting guard.
“I’m trying to get on the floor, so I’m going to stay as focused as possible,” Stephenson said. “I feel much smarter. I’m just trying to get better every day. It’s easier this year because I know what to expect out there.”