New season, same questions surrounding Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson.
Can the New York City street ball star transform his blacktop game to the NBA?
Is Stephenson mature enough to handle being a rotation player?
Is he a point or shooting guard?
Stephenson has to answer to those questions quickly, not only to keep his current spot in the rotation, but to also remain part of the Pacers’ bright future. His contract is not guaranteed beyond this season.
“I know I have to prove myself,” Stephenson said. “I’m just trying to work hard, stay on the floor and produce. I want to show everybody that I improved in the summer.”
Stephenson’s biggest advocate — former president Larry Bird — was back at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Thursday. But Bird departed the building after practice, leaving Stephenson by himself to prove to the current front office and coaching staff that he’s ready for the increased role.
“I see an extraordinary talent,” coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s got a good feel for the game. Everybody talks about his physical attributes, but they don’t understand how good of a feel he has with the basketball and his vision.”
Stephenson, who has first-round talent but slid to the second round of the 2010 draft, has slowly matured on and off the court.
He’s gone from having a bad attitude with teammates and not wanting to work to wanting to watch video with the coaches.
He’s gone from always trying to make the flashy play off the dribble to wanting to make the simple pass.
That’s what the Pacers want from Stephenson.
“It was hard at first because early on all I tried to do was score and I played out of control,” Stephenson said. “I learned to be patient and let the game come to me. I had to transform my game.”
Stephenson is backing up Paul George at shooting guard, and teaming with Gerald Green to be the team’s primary scoring threats off the bench.
“We need him,” assistant coach Dan Burke said. “He’s been so eager to learn. He’s been a model citizen with everybody. He wants to watch tape. It’s just a matter being consistent in every area of the game”
Stephenson heads into Friday’s preseason game at Orlando averaging 3.7 points on 39 percent shooting and 2.7 rebounds in almost 21 minutes per game.
Stephenson acknowledged that he has a tendency to over-think when he’s in the game, because he wants to make sure he doesn’t make a mistake, instead of just playing the game.
“I have to continue to let the game come to me,” he said. “That means finding the open man first, trying to do anything that’s going to help the team. The coaches show me film and I see I just need to slow it down.”
If Stephenson puts it all together, he’ll have a chance to give the Pacers something they’ve been missing. He’s quick and strong enough to get to the basket. He can pass and he’s also improved his jump shot.
“Lance is a freight train,” Vogel said. “Combine that with his feel for the game and his growth in understanding the details and how to play winning basketball.
“I think he’s had a solid camp. He hasn’t been extraordinary, but he’s been really good.”
Stephenson may be the backup shooting guard, but it’s uncertain that he’ll keep the spot.
The Pacers won’t hesitate to move Green to the backup shooting guard and small forward spot if Stephenson struggles.
“It’s up to me to show I deserve to keep it,” Stephenson said.