The Lance Stephenson Game

lance-stephenson

Game 6 was the best game of Lance Stephenson’s career. But it wasn’t “The Lance Stephenson Game” because he completely took over the game and/or single handily won it (though you can make the case that he was the biggest factor for the Pacers).

No, Game 6 was “The Lance Stephenson Game” for a much better reason. In a few years from now we’re gonna look back on Game 6 and say to ourselves “Damn, this is the game Lance Stephenson finally broke out, this was the game where Lance showed the world what he’s capable of.”

It’s funny. It’s hard to explain how high Lance’s ceiling is really, even to Pacers fans but specifically to non-Pacers fans. With everyone getting caught up in the way Paul George has played this season, a lot of people (myself included) had forgotten about Lance (who, to be honest, was in reality the Pacers’ most improved player this season). After Game 1, in which Lance quietly had a big game, he was back in my sight. I’ve had a few people who were getting to watch the Pacers for the first time say to me “Man, that Lance guy looks out of control,” etc…

But no, that’s the thing. He doesn’t look out of control to me, I’ve watched him this season. I can tell and appreciate the calmness he has attained while making aggressive moves to the basket. “He had a hell of game,” said Mike Woodson when asked about Lance after the game, “that somewhat came out of nowhere.”

I didn’t think it came out of nowhere. I don’t know if other Pacers fans can back me up on this, but somewhere in the back of my head I knew Lance could have a breakout game at any moment.

Did I think it would be this soon?

No. But it was.

Perhaps Frank Vogel explained it best when he was asked about how big Stephenson has been so far during the playoffs. “It’s unbelievable,” said Vogel. “It’s believable but unbelievable. He’s got no playoff experience whatsoever, but he’s got some of the best basketball instincts I’ve ever been around.”

That probably explains it best. To people who watch him for the first time, he might seem like an OK player but nothing magnificent  After watching him throughout the season, however, Vogel has gotten to know him better than anyone, and you can tell that he sees something truly special in him.

I’ll probably sound crazy saying this (in fact I myself will probably call myself crazy the next time I watch the Pacers), but at times I believe Lance Stephenson’s ceiling is higher than Paul George’s. Yes, higher. Not just as high or almost as high, higher. I can’t explain why I think so but you saw some of it for yourself last night. I mean he looked like a mini LeBron at times on the fast break. Now, add in the fact that he’s only played his first season and that he isn’t quite the shooter that he will be eventually.

You see where I’m coming from?

To think that he fell all the way to the Pacers at pick #40 in the 2010 draft …

His team knows how important he is to them. The stats show it. With Lance on the court during the playoffs the Pacers are +8.4 per 100 possessions; with him off the court the Pacers a -14.0 per 100. Rub your eyes. You might want to read that again. He’s done that practically as a rookie.

(In the interest of full disclosure, this stat is largely the product of the Pacers’ starting lineup being so good; George Hill has a team-high +9.5 on-court rating, and Roy Hibbert and David West’s numbers are nearly as high as Stephenson. Still, Stephenson’s number is second best on the team, a pretty impressive stat for a first-time starter.)

After the game,Vogel was asked if he talked to Lance  after his bad Game 5. “There have been times throughout this year when he hasn’t been assertive, and we’re not very good when he’s not. And when he’s in attack mode like he was tonight,” said Vogel, pausing before adding, “boy, we’re really good”.

The best part about Lance last night (other than that it followed his worst game of the playoffs) was how he handled the two things he’s struggled with the most this season: Free throws and turnovers. In the most important game of his career he shot 7-of-8 from the charity stripe and had no turnovers. And, oh yeah, he outplayed this guy named Melo, who plays for the Knicks, in the 4th quarter.

And it wasn’t even close.

Anthony scored 4 points on 2-for-7 shooting with 3 turnovers, 2 fouls and zero rebounds in the fourth. Stephenson put up 9 points on 3-for-5 with no turnovers, 2 boards and a steal.

Now that the Pacers are done with the Knicks, it’s clear that New York had the best player in Melo but after that the Pacers may have the next best five players. A lot of people doubt Lance (and George Hill) was better than (this hurt version of) Tyson Chandler and J.R. Smith but it’s clear now that he is. At least when he plays assertively and up to his capabilities. Really, even when he’s not scoring, he gives you so much more: playmaking, rebounding, defense. (Need I say that J.R. doesn’t?)

And when he is scoring, like last night, it can be beautiful. Those defensive rebounds then darting to the other side for the coast-to-coast finish. That steal and then the and one. The back door cut on a snoozing J.R. Smith. The up and under on Melo. Like I said, beautiful.

Don’t get me wrong. Now that he’s had this game once, it doesn’t mean he’s gonna come out and put up 18-8 every night. But it does mean that we finally got to see what this guy can really do. We’ve seen glimpses of it during the season in small spurts, but now we’ve seen a full game of it. On the biggest stage of his career, we finally saw its full potential.

Lance might be nicknamed “Born Ready,” but he wasn’t.

It took years of growth, but now he has become ready.

So sit back and enjoy the ride.

Topics: 2013 Playoffs, Pacers Vs. Knicks

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  • Andy_Dunn

    I’ve been saying there are big things for Lance for awhile now, people around me have thought I was crazy for enjoying his work so much but last night was special.

    This being said how do the Pacers hold on to both Lance and PG? I know Lance is unguaranteed contract for next season, then we will have so much money wrapped up into roy and PG how can we keep our grasp on a budding star?

    • Jack Wright

      we’ll be able to keep lance. Hansbrough is the guy we need to get rid of.

      • Joe Betz

        I like Hans, but if I had to choose, I would choose Lance, easily.

    • Ian

      Remember, we need to sign both George and Lance, and we need to make sure they don’t try and jump to bigger markets.
      As soon as the offseason moves are done and we’ve made whatever changes we need to I’m putting offers in front of both players before they take another leap next season and demand even more money.
      We may end up being forced to keep Hans or sign another stopgap if West gets a lot of attention on the FA market. Perhaps he’ll give a discount because he wants to win with the Pacers but who knows.

      • Jack Wright

        these guys want to stay as Pacers. I have no doubt about that.

  • DVWJr

    I’m not shocked about Lance either. This has been a slow build. I also see his offensive ceiling as higher than PG. If kept together I could see them being the best (or one of) wing combo in the NBA (in a few years as Wade gets older).

  • http://twitter.com/Other_Gabe Other Gabe

    I disagree a little. I think Lance is an awesomely assertive player, but I’m desperately hoping he doesn’t become a slightly larger Nate Robinson. He’s already got more control, but hopefully he’s willing to continue growing. I can’t really guess at his potential. He reminds me of a shorter, faster Al Harrington, kinda. But I love the killer edge to his game that no Pacers player has had since Reggie Miller, and he’s a better athlete and creator than Reggie.

    PG has barely realized a fraction of his potential though, in my opinion. This was a good year for him, but he’s got a weird, exciting body type, and if he avoids the volume shooter mold, and keeps raising his efficiency, he can rule the league in a way Granger was never quite able to do.

    • Ian

      Lance’s unique skillset is he’s a huge, athletic guard with a point guard’s handle and natural creative instincts. ‘Slightly larger’ Nate Robinson? Lance is 6’5″, 228lbs, Nate is 5’9″, 180. This is about the same difference between David West and George Hill and makes a world of difference in the NBA. He’s also nothing like Harrington, who was more of a jump shooter with not much of a handle.

  • Craig

    The development of Lance probably means Granger is being cut or traded. I imagine something’s has to give between Stephenson, West, and Granger.

    • Ian

      Can’t cut him, dude has a huge cap number and we already used our amnesty clause so there is ZERO value in cutting him. Also I don’t think we are getting anything in trade if we don’t wait until he’s had a chance to show he can still play.
      Biggest question for next season is resigning West. If we can get him on another 2 year deal at a reasonable price I’m sure we’ll do it, but otherwise we need room to resign Lance and PG after next year. Danny’s number will be off the books which will help, but I don’t think we can afford to pay West, PG and Lance after next year if they are getting good money.
      As scary as it sounds, if D-West asks for big money we may need to let him walk and give Hans the starting job (where he’s at least league average, far better than when he comes off the bench), and hope that Pendergraph and whoever else we pick up cheap can fill in the bench roles.
      Ideal scenario is that D-West gives us a discount or the market dries up for his services, we sign Lance and PG to extensions early, and Danny comes back to give us a potent additional scoring option which we desperately need. Then we either trade Danny’s expiring deal before the deadline, or resign him at a discount at the end of the season as our sixth man (unlikely he’ll want to do that but who knows), or let him walk.

  • Mr.Buck_Black

    I can see Lance becoming a Wade level player, I can see PG becoming a Pippen level player. Which of those one thinks is better will be the deciding factor as to who’s potential is greater between PG and Lance.

    Now in all likelihood (because players rarely reach their full potential), PG will end up a little better than Danny Granger in his prime and Lance will end up being about as good as James Hardin is now. If Lance can add deadly 3 point shot to his game he’ll be better than Paul Perce in his prime IMO.

    • Derek U

      PG is already a better all around player than Granger is in his prime. Granger hits clutch 3 pointers (sometimes), and has size on PG, that’s it. PG hit’s clutch 3′s (sometimes) with the ability to take it to the rim on anybody.

      • Ian

        This is probably true, all-around doesn’t necessarily mean better. As great as Paul is, Granger’s 08 season was pretty special (25.8 ppg, 5.1 rebounds on .404 shooting from 3-pt range).

        But Granger was 26 at that time, so I do think there is time for Paul to catch up and pass him there.

    • Ian

      I love Lance and Paul, but lets be realistic. Wade is one of the 10 best SGs of all time, and Pippen at least in the top 20 SFs of all time, as is Paul Pierce. While I think the George-Pippen comparison is not completely unrealistic, Pippen is likely the absolute max ceiling for him. When Wade was 22, he was averaging 16.2 ppg, 4 boards and 4.5 assists as a rookie, and the next season he was at 24.1/.6/6.8. Age makes a huge difference.

      If Lance turns into a 16/5/5 guy in his prime, we will have done VERY well. Thinking that he’ll start turning in 30.2/5/7.5 seasons like Wade is really far fetched. Lets not get carried away with expectations.

      I don’t think James Harden is a good comparison, because Harden is an outstanding shooter with an almost unreal ability to draw fouls. I don’t think Lance will ever be quite the shooter Harden is. ‘Poor man’s D-wade’ is not a bad ceiling I think.

  • Jack Wright

    Early in the season, Lance looked to Pacers fans how he probably still does to everyone else — Out of control. But it doesn’t take very long for this perception to be erased. Out of all current Pacer players with the exception of David West, I have the most trust in an offensive possession when the ball is in Lance’s hands. Lance is able to make good things happen and turn nothing into something like no other Pacer. He’s quick; he’s strong; he can finish at the rim; he’s fearless and he has incredible instincts, which enable him to be a great passer in tight situations.

    I think we’re seeing now that the Pacers are only a couple years into what could end up being a decade (or so) long era of top-notch NBA basketball. The backcourt of Hill, Stephenson and George — I tend to think that small forwards are more guards than big men — is already very good, but each of these players (particularly Stephenson and George) will likely show great improvement over the next several years. This backcourt is young enough and has the potential to be one of the league’s very best in the near future. And with Hibbert at center, our frontcourt is already most of the way set up to be excellent for years to come. We also have plenty of time to look for that power forward of the future who will someday replace David West. This is probably the best time to be a Pacers fan since the late 90′s – early 2000′s.

    Now, BEAT THE HEAT! Or give ‘em our best, at least.

  • http://twitter.com/gtothesquare Geries Handal

    Here is Lance’s highlight reel from game 6 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYjVK8dcCGk . Also the steal and1 in slow motion http://youtu.be/vjUVPCTfaB4?t=2m21s We can see how in control he is.

  • Joe Betz

    I think we can make the case for Lance’s ceiling being higher, barely, because of his aggressiveness and ability to finish in a variety of ways around the basket. Without question, PG is the better shooter, defender, and athlete. Only one of those things is unchangeable. If Lance develops a true jump shot and rounds out his game, his efficiency will dwarf PG’s…but that’s a big, hoped for soon “if.”

  • Derek Cooper

    I think lances naturally take charge aggressive style-personality complements pauls naturally chill passive style-personality. Not that they don’t both pick their spots and do both at times_but lances eyes look more take charge-y and pauls eyes more chill_anybody else see what I’m talking about? And lance seems like he may develope into the perfect guy to put the ball in his hands in cruchtime_which is perfect+exactly what we need…

    • Jack Wright

      yeah I see what u mean

      • Derek Cooper

        It kinda cracks me up a little bit cuz pauls eyes look so relaxed+sleepy yet he’s so active+tenacious on defense. ____also that’s a funny-good point u had up there about small forwards should be considered a part of the backcourt not the frontcourt- so true+obvious but never crossed my mind+havnt heard anyone else mention it before.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.s.stewart Matthew S Stewart

    Offensively, Lance could (maybe, possibly) be better than PG, but no way could he be a better defender.

    That said, Larry’s legacy as an executive is looking pretty good right now.

    • Ian

      Yeah, OJ looks like he could be a good guy off the bench next season as well. Can only assume that right now Vogel doesn’t like his defense.

      Too bad he left that turd of a Plumlee pick before he left lol

      • Donald Hermann

        Big men take time to add strength and work on timing. The plumlee pick wasn’t meant to be a next day pick but that he could develop into Jeff Foster down the road.

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  • Avi Friedman

    Ha guys thanks for the reads first of all.

    You guys gotta stop with the comparisons. As far as we know there has yet to be a player quite like Lance. We haven’t really seen what he can be like consistently. He has yet to develop a good jumper but shown signs of it this season (35% from 3 pre all star break). Let’s just wait and see and hope that he becomes his own unique player and not already get caught up in comparisons.

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