Lance Stephenson was long a fan favorite in Indianapolis. He gave the fans countless memories, and now he is giving fans in China the chance to love him too.
The 2010s were a decade of success for the Indiana Pacers. Although they were unable to win a championship because of the Heatles, they turned in one of the most consistent runs of any franchise.
Where most teams had down stretches, the Pacers were able to retool rather than rebuild and instantly became competitive again after stagnating. Myles Turner is currently the longest serving member of the Indiana roster and was only around for the tail end of the Paul George Era. There was only one player who connected that era to where the Indiana is today: Lance Stephenson.
He may have never been in the same level talent-wise as George or current franchise cornerstone Victor Oladipo, but it isn’t difficult to say Stephenson was more beloved than both. No matter how many other NBA jerseys he donned during his career, he will always be an Indiana Pacer first and foremost. He ultimately played five-plus seasons during two stints for the fans that loved him the most.
By all accounts Stephenson’s NBA career appears to be over. He one middling season with the Los Angeles Lakers may have put the nail in the coffin, but that also doesn’t mean his playing days are done.
In August, Stephenson agreed to sign a one-year deal to play for the Liaoning Flying Leopards of the Chinese Basketball Association. This was a chance to still play the game he loved and provide the incredible gamesmanship he was know most for, for a brand new fan base.
This season in China has been anything but a swan song. Stephenson is currently averaging 26 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists in the CBA, per basketball-reference. For a player that was always irrationally confident, this must be a dream opportunity. He is performing in a fashion that would have sent Bankers Life Fieldhouse into an absolute frenzy.
The closest Lance ever got to that sort of production in the NBA was in the 2013-14 season when he was nearly an All-Star while averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 4.6 assists. At just 29, his current tear could be just the start to several more seasons of elite production in China. He will be able to dominate in a way that simply wouldn’t be possible stateside.
The NBA’s emphasis on 3-point shooting has forced the lovable Lance abroad. He is a career 31.5 percent shooter from long range and only eclipsed 35 percent three times in nine seasons. That same problem has followed him to China where he is currently knocking down 30.2 percent of those looks so a return to the league looks even more bleak.
Even if his time in the association may be done, there are plenty of fond memories to look back upon fondly. Stephenson was part of one of the best Pacers squads ever, he was as unpredictable as they come, and most of all he undeniably loved playing the game. If all that isn’t enough, one can still stop by his Instagram to catch him playing that same guitar in China from time to time.