The 22-year old guard’s per game statistics – 8.5 ppg., 2.8 apg., 3.9 rpg – aren’t exactly numbers that jump out of the box score, but look a little closer and you’ll see his solid play.
After spending his first two seasons with the Pacers as a reserve, and at times the backup point guard, Stephenson has started 52 games this year for Indiana. While he’s not a lead guard, Stephenson’s combination of stellar strength and excellent handle give the Pacers another ball-handler in the back court.
That’s essentially a must for NBA teams nowadays. More and more defenses are over-loading the strong side of the floor and keeping teams from getting into the paint, while forcing teams to swing the ball around the perimeter being the ultimate goal. Stephenson serving as the secondary dribbler is one of the reasons Indiana’s starting unit has been so effective this season.
Stephenson’s offensive game has started to refine itself this season as well. He’s posting a career-high 54.0 True Shooting percentage and in fact, he’s never topped 41 percent before this season.
Part of that spike in shooting has come from his ability to be a threat from the outside for Indiana. Stephenson connected on just four of his 35 attempts from three in his first two seasons, but he’s hitting on 36 percent of them in 2012-2013. His new found shooting stroke is another reason he’s been able to keep that starting job in Indiana.
Stephenson is also a terror in the open floor. His strength, athleticism and vision allow for quick baskets on the break for a Pacers’ offense that has struggled most of the season, despite the recent uptick in productivity.
Moving forward, Stephenson should keep his starting role with the Pacers even if Danny Granger returns to pre-injury form. His game has been a seamless fit for one of the deadliest five-man units in the league.
Stephenson won’t turn 23 until after the season and the Pacers have a team option on his deal for next year at just under $1 million. His value shouldn’t go overlooked and if he keeps progressing, Indiana might’ve found a second-round steal.
Brandon Curry is an NBA writer for Rant Sports. Follow Brandon on Twitter @ByBrandonCurry