Lance Stephenson is coming off what many would refer to as a career year with the Indiana Pacers. Sadly, that isn’t saying much as it was the first time in three seasons that Stephenson received legitimate playing time. He had a great season, but 2013-14 is going to be even better.
Stephenson averaged 8.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 29.2 minutes per game last year. Measly numbers when you really think about it, however, it’s feasible to think he could surpass those numbers, minus the minutes played, this season even while coming off the bench.
He earned a spot in the starting rotation last season when Danny Granger went down with a knee injury during the preseason. He went on to accumulate 2,278 minutes on the court, nearly five times the amount of minutes he played his first two seasons in the league. That number will dwindle a tad, but he will still close in on 2,000 minutes. Every minute will be beneficial to Stephenson as he will need to continue to grow more comfortable on the court.
But Stephenson isn’t without his flaws. One area he really needs to work on is his shooting. He shot 46 percent last season, which isn’t terrible, but only 33 percent from three-point range, a shot he chose more often than not. An asset Stephenson failed to take advantage of last season was his speed. While he would use his speed during a fast break, once it broke down he would more often than not settle for a three-pointer instead of trying to take his man one-on-one. He will need to work on this if he expects to become a starter again in the NBA.
It was easy to give him a pass last season when he jacked up unnecessary shots or made boneheaded plays, but that all changes this year. A lot more will be expected from Stephenson, especially if he is the leader of the second unit. He can’t play haphazardly anymore. While he ranked only fifth on the Pacers in turnovers per game with 1.4, he also had just 10 more assists than David West. Don’t get me wrong, West is an amazing passer for a power forward, but Stephenson’s style of play leaves him open to throwing too many erratic passes.
For the Pacers to continue to succeed, Stephenson will need to play like a starter, not a bench player. The worst case scenario would be Stephenson coming down with “Hansbrough Syndrome” and not being able to handle playing off the bench after getting a significant amount of starts. From all accounts it doesn’t appear Stephenson will mind coming off the bench, but that’s easier said than done.
Stephenson is also in a contract year, which means he is playing for not only his next contract, but possibly a new suitor. Teams will be gunning to break up the Pacers if they continue to excel, and an easy target will be Stephenson. This is also a good thing for the Pacers because Lance knows he will have to perform better than last year if he wants a big payday, which means they will benefit this year from his improvements.
Lance Stephenson brings a different style of play to this Pacers team, one that is fun and exciting to watch, but he can also scare you at times. He will be able to work on reigning in his game this season, all while trying to win a championship and proving he belongs in any team’s starting lineup.