The Evolution of Lance Stephenson


Last year Lance Stephenson hardly played at all. This year he’s played a large role in helping the Pacers gain the second best record in the Eastern Conference and has done a far better job of replacing Danny Granger than anyone would have expected.

In the 2011-2012 season Lance had the 11th most minutes played on the Pacers with just 10.5 minutes per game (442 in total) in the regular season. He played no more than 12 minutes during any game in the entire playoffs. This season he has already tripled those 442 minutes with just 29 games left in the season while logging 28.9 minutes per game.

In many ways Lance has been able to make Danny’s absence nearly unnoticeable on the court.

He is one of the main reasons the Pacers are on track to nearly replicate their winning percentage from last season (.618 now compared to .636 last year.)

Stephenson had a storied high school career, becoming the all-time scoring leader for a school where Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair both played. Lance won four straight New York City high school championships in division AA, an unprecedented feat, and by scoring 2,946 points in his career, became the all-time leading high school scorer in New York state.

Despite the fame, championships and ungodly point totals, Lance had minimal success in college. Many attribute this to similar off-court problems to the ones he had in high school. In his one year with Cincinnati, he failed to make the NCAA tournament and decided to enter the NBA draft after one year of college.

Going into the 2010 NBA draft, Lance was predicted to go early in the second round. He slipped all the way to to the tenth pick in round two. The Pacers were on the clock and couldn’t pass on the potential.

For a long time, that’s all they had drafted: potential.

Lance hardly played at all his first season, and we’re only now getting a chance to see him live up to his amateur hype. Based on the 53 games he has appeared in this season, he has arguably been better than half the players picked in the first round of the 2010 draft — and he’s only getting better.

Earlier in the year, we mentioned that Lance is kind of reminiscent of a young LeBron James in terms of his unnatural acceleration in transition. To me that isn’t Lance’s only attribute that reminds me a little of LeBron.

To a lesser extent, Lance’s ball vision reminds me of LeBron’s and also a little of Rondo’s. Each have an uncanny ability to see open players that we can’t even see from our TV screen. A lot of the passes Lance makes, make you wonder how he even saw the player, let alone got him the ball This playmaking ability is one of the main things that’s helping the Pacers get back on track offensively in recent weeks after several months of ineptitude.

Looking at the Pacers stats with and without Lance (per 48 min) is jaw dropping.

It’s stuff you wouldn’t expect from the best players in the league, let alone someone who last year would’ve taken being called a bench warmer as a compliment. This season the Pacers are 10% below their average in assists, turnovers and steals when Lance is on the bench.

Most surprising of all is +/-.

The Pacers average per 48 minutes is +3.5.

With Lance on the court they are +7.3.

When he is on on the bench it is -1.7. 

Because many of the things stated above, Pacers fans are awaiting the return of Danny Granger, so we can see Lance help increase the offensive production of the bench. Despite the fact that Granger will return tonight against the Pistosn, however, we may have to keep waiting. Frank Vogel has said that he plans to ease Danny Granger into the starting lineup, so even once he comes back, Lance will probably be playing with the staters often

In talking about Stephenson, according to Mike Wells of the Indianapolis StarVogel has also said the following: “You look at him play every night and he’s got that energy, he’s got that fearlessness and in-your-face kind of game.”

When I think of the ideal sixth man I think of someone who has a certain amount of irrational confidence that propels him to play better than he would. Based on what Frank Vogel thinks — and what we know about what Stephenson accomplished as a teenager — it seems like Lance could fit that perfect sixth man role and help the Pacers bench to offensive success. Only time will tell.