COMMENTARY | The Indiana Pacers have a lot of talent on their roster heading into the season and are primed to be a top team in the NBA.
Their entire starting lineup and the majority of their bench are going to perform at a high level, but there is one player in particular that needs to step up this season.
Lance Stephenson will be asked to do a lot this season, whether it be as a starter or as the Pacers' sixth man. Stephenson showed a lot of improvement last season in every aspect of his game on the court and also as a person off the court. Larry Bird has been adamant that he believes Stephenson has the potential to become a star in the NBA. Whether or not Lance lives up to those high expectations or not is to be determined, but there is no doubt that he has a high ceiling.
His role will be the same whether he comes off the bench or starts. Indiana will ask him to push the tempo on offense, play tough defense, and be a playmaker for his teammates. Stephenson showed some of what to expect from him last year during the Pacers' postseason run, averaging 9.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game.
As you can see by his numbers from the playoffs last season, he's more than capable of scoring the basketball. His outside shot needs some work, but he was able to knock down open looks last year. The word from around the NBA is that Stephenson was working especially hard on his perimeter shooting this offseason. Stephenson is also a bigger guard, at 6 feet 5 inches and 230 pounds, which allows him to get to the rim and finish through contact. Assuming that he has improved his perimeter and mid-range game, he'll be a very deadly threat offensively.
Rebounding is another area that Stephenson impressed in last season. As a shooting guard, you don't usually expect a double-digit rebounding threat on any given night. That is exactly what he offered during the playoffs last season. The Pacers pride themselves on being a defensive team, and rebounding is part of getting a defensive stop. With Roy Hibbert, David West, Paul George, and Lance Stephenson rebounding the ball as well as they do, they are going to be dominant on the boards yet again this year.
The defensive side of the basketball is another area that Stephenson could use improvement. He's tenacious when guarding the basketball, but does lose his assignment off the ball at times. He needs to improve his focus as well as his all-around defensive effort. Athletically, he is more than capable of becoming a top-tier defender, but he needs to work hard in order to reach that point.
Perhaps the most underrated aspect of Stephenson's game is his ability to make plays for his teammates. He has blazing speed in the open court and can create a fastbreak out of any situation. His court vision is top notch, and that allows him to see plays before they happen. Granted, there are times where he gets ahead of himself and turns the ball over, but, as he continues to learn the NBA speed, he'll be just fine. He has had a full offseason to work and prepare for a large role in the Pacers' offense, and this area has without question been one of his areas of focus.
Overall, Stephenson is a very well-rounded player. At the young age of 23, he still has a lot to learn about the game, but with big minutes he'll continue to learn quickly. Stephenson has one of the best basketball minds in the history of the game to go to for advice and tips in Larry Bird, and, as mentioned before, Bird is a big supporter of Stephenson's as well. Expect to see a big season from Lance Stephenson.
The Pacers have to be excited about what they saw from Stephen a year ago, and there is even more excitement growing for this coming season. It has been a long journey from having major off-the-court issues to finding success in the NBA for Lance Stephenson, but it appears that his time has finally come.
His "Born Ready" nickname will be put to this test this season being the Pacers' X-factor.
Evan Massey lives in Indianapolis and has followed the Pacers for the past 15 years. He has written for many online NBA websites, including Hoops-Nation.com, Pro Football Spot, and Naptown's Finest. Follow Evan on Twitter at @massey_evan.
- Sports & Recreation
- Lance Stephenson
- Indiana Pacers
- Larry Bird