Pacers: Price & Stephenson Get More Playing Time

DALLAS — A.J. Price ended the past two seasons as the Indiana Pacers backup point guard but has spent the majority of this season watching from the bench.

Lance Stephenson is a talented second-year player and a favorite of team president Larry Bird. The 21-year-old is still considered raw, however, when it comes to learning the NBA game.

Now both players are seeing their roles increased because of the injury to teammate George Hill.

Price and Stephenson are viewed as keys to helping sustain bench production until Hill returns from the chip fracture in his left ankle.

Hill hopes to miss no more than three weeks. The Pacers will have a better idea of a timetable after they return to Indianapolis following tonight’s game against the Dallas Mavericks.

Price will be Darren Collison’s backup at point guard and Stephenson will back up Paul George at shooting guard. Hill backed up both positions. Pacers coach Frank Vogel wants to play Price about 12-16 minutes a game.

“It’s unfortunate that George got hurt, but that’s what being a team is about, having somebody step up and be ready to play, and that’s how I’ll be,” Price said.

Price has had to make the toughest transition of any player on the roster. The third-year guard ended the past two seasons as the backup to Earl Watson and Collison. But the addition of Hill and the playing time given to Stephenson made Price the odd man out.

“Of course it’s been hard not to play him,” Vogel said about Price. “The plan has worked in terms of developing Lance. If we had played A.J. those minutes all along for the last 20 games, we get into the situation of where A.J. is ready and Lance is not ready. Then we’re at a disadvantage.

“(Stephenson has) been brought along and has been given minutes consistently to develop and learn and make mistakes and get over them.”

Price said talking to and being around former teammates Watson and T.J. Ford has helped him understand the business side of the NBA.

“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult, but I’ve been blessed my three years here to be around some veterans,” Price said. “They always said I have to stay ready because you never know when your number is going to be called. I appreciate those guys schooling me.”

Price had two points on 1-of-7 shooting in 15 minutes off the bench in Wednesday’s victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Stephenson continues to grow on a day-to-day basis. He’s still feeling his way offensively — three turnovers in a 41-second span against Minnesota — but he has started to make strides on the defensive end the past two games.

“I’m definitely impressed with what he’s doing on the ball defensively,” Vogel said. “He’s got to improve off the ball defensively.”

Offensively, Vogel wants Stephenson to accumulate assists with simple passes rather than emphasizing dazzling no-look plays.

“It’s always a work in progress,” Vogel said. “I don’t want him to lose all his flash. There are a lot of old-school coaches who wouldn’t want any of that. I think he’s got a gift with the way he passes and I want him to expose that as safely as possible and stay as solid as much as possible.”

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