Stephenson an Open-Court Menace
by Scott Agness
March 7, 2013, 5:35 PM
That's what is written on a piece of athletic tape on the wall above Lance Stephenson's locker, on top of his nameplate. "Gump", because in the open court, he runs as fast as Forrest Gump.
Stephenson gets on a mission. When he has the ball and is ahead of the pack, he surveys for openings and then pounces.
“I just try to push the tempo to try and create for myself or my teammates,” he said. “Whatever happens, happens. I don't really think about it, I just try to find the open spots when I'm on the break.”
Stephenson has been at his best recently when running fast breaks. In Wednesday's loss to Boston, he scored 12 points and recorded a career-high five steals with no turnovers in more than 35 minutes of work. All six of his made field goals were right at the rim.
And even if he's not the one scoring on fast breaks, Stephenson's aggressiveness allows his teammates to get open looks.
“That's probably one of our biggest weapons, his ability to push the ball like that,” Paul George said. “It makes the game that much easier for me because I know he'll find me when he gets to the paint. He finds Roy [Hibbert], he finds David [West] and George [Hill]. His ability to do that is key for us.
“When he's in transition, he makes them have to run back, get in gaps and just makes it so easy for us on the perimeter because everybody sucks in. He has the ability to get to the paint. When he's flying down the court, there's not a lot of people that can stay in front of him.”
The third-year guard - and just 22 years old - has blossomed in his third season, contributing in ways not expected. With Danny Granger sidelined for the first 55 games and again now due to soreness in his left knee, Stephenson, who makes just under $1 million per season, has started all but six games.
When Stephenson's on the floor and part of the fast break attack, the Pacers have scored almost 60 percent of the time, six percent higher than the team's average, according to Synergy Sports.
His steals lead to decisions in the open court and often end in points, no matter who's putting points on the board. Best of all, it helps Stephenson get in a zone for all to see. He gets a determined, in-the-zone look to him. Maybe it takes him back to his youth in New York, where he reportedly used to just own the playground. With that 'Don't get in my way’ look, Stephenson quickly advances the ball and runs as quickly as Gump.
"When I'm rolling like that, nobody wants to get in front of me so I just try to go as hard as possible," Stephenson said. "If I get stuck, I know my teammates are right behind me, spotting up for the jump shots. I feel like when I do that, I don't ever get in trouble."
His recent nickname is more of an inside joke with the team. Stephenson is still unclear who’s responsible for putting "Gump" above his locker, but he does know that it was one of the coaches.
"Keep on running, keep on going," is what they're asking of him, and he has answered the call.
Run Lance Run.
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