Get to Know Your Starting Five: Lance Stephenson

Scott Agness | May 21, 2013

He may be one of the most interesting players on the Pacers’ roster. Before he ever played in the NBA, this quick, high-scoring prodigy had the streets in New York buzzing over the way he dominated games. He could do what he wanted, score at will, and he did it mostly with pure talent – thus the nickname, “Born Ready.”

The Pacers organization, particularly then-President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird, thought Stephenson was a high first-round talent. But because of some questions about his character and whether he could make it in the league, Stephenson slipped all the way down to the second round, where the Pacers picked him 40th overall. After his hometown Knicks passed on him in the 2010 NBA Draft with picks 38 and 39, the Pacers snatched him up. They smiled wide, knowing they had gotten all-time high school leading scorer in New York and one of the top guys on their draft board.

Related: Lance Stephenson 2012-13 Photo Gallery »

When he came to the Pacers, it took some time for him to adapt to the professional schedule, culture, and demands. Most of all, he needed to open his ears – to everyone. Stephenson wasn’t a project, but he was raw in a lot of departments. It was a task to get him to do simple items like show up on time, wear his practice jersey in practice, and move his dirty clothes 10 feet into the laundry cart. He rubbed players the wrong way, but Bird had faith in Stephenson and stayed on him.

This season, Stephenson grew tremendously and moved in the starting lineup in place of the injured Danny Granger. Instead of being the team’s top scorer off the bench, his anticipated role in training camp, he earned a starting position and provided big minutes. His mindset changed over the offseason and he decided he was going to stay in Indianapolis and get to work. It was rare to not see Stephenson at the Fieldhouse each day putting in work on the court and in the weight room.

In the middle of this season, Roy Hibbert, who admittedly didn’t care for Stephenson early on, put two pieces of athletic tape above Stephenson’s locker on his nameplate and wrote “GUMP.” That’s because the coaches and players love when the 22-year-old grabs the rebound and goes. He’s nearly unstoppable, so they encourage it at all times.

Coming from the streets of New York, Stephenson’s a trash-talker and that got him in trouble last postseason against the Heat, when, while on the bench, he flashed a choke gesture towards LeBron James, who missed two foul shots. This series, however, he’s got an opportunity to let his game do all the talking, as he’s playing over 34 minutes per game. Stephenson scored a career-high 25 points and had 10 rebounds in a series-clinching win over the Knicks, of all teams.

As he and the four other starters made their way next door to the team’s locker room after that game and nearly got to the podium in front of the media, one staff member yelled at Stephenson, “Lance, you have to wear pants.” He’s used to speaking with reporters in a towel or boxers so it didn’t register with him.

Stephenson deserves so much credit for his maturation over the last year, but there’s still plenty of growth to come. He has started to listen, communicate better, and put the work in to improve.

He has an excellent frame for a guard, is dangerous off the dribble, and will often slip past the defender on the baseline for an easy layup. Stephenson’s outside shot is improving and so is his overall game. Most thought Bird was foolish for calling Stephenson the most talented player on their roster, but now we all see it. The Pacers like what they have in him, and they are getting him cheaply – his salary is less than one million dollars this year – because he’s still under his rookie contract.

Stephenson is averaging 9.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists in the playoffs.

Be sure to check out Lance Stephenson on Twitter.

Get to know the other four members of the Pacers starting five below:

Get to Know Pacers Point Guard George Hill »

Get to Know Pacers Small Forward Paul George »

Get to Know Pacers Power Forward David West »

Get to Know Pacers Center Roy Hibbert »

Get to Know Your Starting Five Main Page »

Bonus: Get to Know Pacers Bench Players »

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