Around two-and-a-half years ago, when the Indiana Pacers first drafted Lance Stephenson with the 40th overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, they did so knowing that the kid came with some baggage off the court, and truth be told, his first several months as a pro sailed on choppy waters.
For basically two full seasons Stephenson didn’t play at all, with higher-ups in the organization saying things like, “We believe in Lance and his talent, and we hope that someday he’s able to put it all together.” Those kinds of comments explained why the team took a shot on Stephenson as a highly-touted second rounder with loads of talent but a questionable history, but the risk has really started to pay off. Stephenson has finally been able to put it all together.
“I’ve matured all-around with everything—off the court and on the court with my teammates,” Stephenson said. “It was a lot of help from the veterans, who put me in my place and showed me how to be a vet, a good person, a good teammate on and off the court. I’m not saying that I’m so much better right now; I am still working on being more mature.”
It was a lack maturity earlier in his career that caused him the most problems, but this year he has started 28 of Indiana’s 34 games, and there just aren’t a lot of starters on first-place teams that can do what they do without a certain measure of that exact quality.
“Yeah, the media was killing me with that,” he said through a wry grin. “But now I’m just staying out of trouble and doing the right things. All that stuff will be behind you and nobody will think about that anymore, and they will talk about the good stuff that’s going on right now. I am being consistent right now, and with my teammates guiding me through the season, that takes a lot of pressure off.”
For Stephenson, this season has been all about opportunity, which was unfortunately born from the Danny Granger injury that will keep Granger out until around the All-Star break. Stephenson has been the new starter and has remained that way mostly because he’s been such an important defensive asset to Indiana, one of the league’s better defensive teams this year.
“You play defense, and the offense will come to you, so I just play harder on defense and all the other things will come together, especially when you have good players on the floor to help you and you don’t have to force anything,” he said. “I have been playing hard, playing well with the team. I’ve been getting confidence from the coaches, and I think when Danny comes back, everything will fall into place. I’ll just keep working hard and let the game speak for itself.”
That’s what has gotten him this far, which is all very impressive considering his rocky start to the his NBA career. Stephenson really seems to have turned his life around and buried the negatives in his past. That’s translating to a solid pro career, and both he and the Pacers couldn’t be happier with that