INDIANAPOLIS — Lance Stephenson got off to the wrong kind of start with Pacers fans.
Indiana's second-round draft pick was arrested in August in New York on assault, menacing and harassment charges. Prosecutors said he pushed his girlfriend down a flight of stairs, then grabbed her and hit her head on the bottom step.
The Pacers' preseason home game Friday against the Orlando Magic offers Stephenson his first chance to show fans the enormous talent that led team president Larry Bird to select him despite his legal troubles.
"I'd like to prove to everybody that I work hard, and I'm trying to get better every day on the court," Stephenson said after Thursday's practice. "I just want to show everybody that I'm very talented and that I'm ready to win."
After a string of off-court woes for Pacers players in recent years, Stephenson reminded fans of what they had hoped to leave behind. These are fans, after all, who have openly booed their own players who get in trouble with the law
Stephen Jackson and Jamaal Tinsley the best examples in recent years.
Stephenson, who has an Oct. 19 court date, knows it will be a challenge to win them over.
"I'm just trying to move forward, get on the right track, make sure everybody on the team is happy, and especially the people off the court, like my fans and the Pacers fans," he said.
Stephenson dominated the Orlando Summer League, but coach Jim O'Brien said the 20-year-old's conditioning has suffered because he has spent so much time dealing with his case.
"The situation that he found himself in hurt him from a standpoint of continuing development from the summer league," O'Brien said recently. "For me to say anything other than that would be misleading. That being said, I think he is a talent that is at a level that people will be very, very surprised at."
Stephenson played 12 minutes in Wednesday's 87-85 loss at Memphis, scoring 4 points on 1-for-4 shooting as a reserve.
He joins first-round selection Paul George and second-round pick Magnum Rolle in a rookie class that O'Brien has praised for its athletic ability.
Rolle, a 6-foot-11 forward, averaged 13.9 points and 8.4 rebounds for Louisiana Tech last season and led the Western Athletic Conference with 2.1 blocks per game. He went 0-for-3 from the field and did not score in eight minutes against the Grizzlies.
George averaged 17 points and 7 rebounds as a sophomore at Fresno State last season. He played 26 minutes against Memphis, and said he had to adjust quickly because the NBA game presents new challenges.
"Not necessarily faster, but there's a lot more thought process in it," he said. "Guys are stronger, more physical."
He finished with 4 points on 2-for-9 shooting.
"I'm excited," he said. "I thought I played well despite not knocking down the shots that I wanted to. I think that will come as I get my legs and get the feel of the game flow