Stephenson, the 6’5”, 230-pound product out of the University of Cincinnati, has quietly become one of the biggest factors for the Pacers’ success.
At times, it seems that Pacer fans and other NBA observers haven’t appreciated how important Stephenson has been in helping the Pacers become one of the most dangerous teams in the Eastern Conference.
Last season, Stephenson averaged 8.8 points per game while shooting 46 percent from the field. Stephenson also added 3.9 rebounds per game and 2.9 assists. During the 2013 playoffs, Stephenson averaged 9.4 points per game and increased his rebound and assist output to 7.6 and 3.3, respectively.
Stephenson has played well against the Heat. In the three regular season matchups, he averaged 11.3 points per game, 2.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds while shooting 40 percent from the field (47 percent from behind the arc). In their seven-game playoff series against Miami, Stephenson averaged just under nine points per game, 3.3 assists and also added 6.7 rebounds per game.
While those numbers don’t jump off of the page, it is what doesn’t show up on a box score that makes Stephenson so important to Indiana.
Stephenson drives into the paint fearlessly, resembling what Dwyane Wade used to do in the early days of his career. Although he doesn’t always make the layups he attempts on those drives, his confidence and demeanor make him a threat. It doesn’t matter if he is being guarded by LeBron James or E’Twaun Moore, Stephenson is confident and is going to play his game.
Another dangerous part of Stephenson’s game is his defense. He is lengthy and quick, so he can cover the court and lock down even the best scorers. He is extremely scrappy and has a knack for getting into players’ heads. Even superstars like LeBron James have had to deal with Stephenson's trash talk.
Stephenson’s 2013-14 season got out to a solid start Tuesday when he accumulated 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists while shooting 8-of-12 in the season opener against the Orlando Magic. It is fair to assume that this output will be a consistent thing for Stephenson.
George is developing into an elite player. He has been the biggest key to the Pacers’ improvement, but without Stephenson, the Pacers would still be a middle-of-the-pack team in the East.
There is a budding argument that a fully healthy Danny Granger will be a better option for the Pacers, although with Granger out another three weeks with a calf injury, we might not ever see a fully healthy Granger again. Even if he were at full health, that argument is somewhat shallow. Granger is a proven difference-maker on offense, but he is a defensive liability.
If Lance Stephenson keeps playing like this, Danny Granger's gonna have a hard time getting back into the starting lineup.— Bob Kravitz (@bkravitz) October 30, 2013
Stephenson is a perfect fit for this scrappy Pacers team. His continued improvement on both offense and defense is going to pay large dividends moving forward. Stephenson, along with Paul George and the rest of the Pacers’ deep roster, might be the only team in the East that has a legitimate shot at dethroning the Miami Heat.