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Potential "X-factor" Stephenson begins NBA journey

by Conrad Brunner || Caught in the Web Archive

February 28, 2011

The talented second-round pick made his NBA debut Sunday in the Pacers' 110-108 overtime loss to Phoenix, playing 4 minutes, 17 seconds before heading to the bench gasping for air.

"I need to get in better shape," Stephenson said. "I've got to get in game shape. I'm in practice shape right now."

Coach Frank Vogel has decided to begin Stephenson's initiation process with small steps.

"He’s getting his feet wet," Vogel said. "We’ll bring him along slow. You’ll probably see more of what we did (Sunday) till we start getting more comfortable and then we’ll decide whether next game he may play (shooting guard). … Just where we are at, just take it as it goes.

"We’ve felt all along that he can help us, that he is going to be a heck of a player, a heck of a talent. We think during this playoff stretch and in the playoffs he could be a bit of an X-factor, a sizable point guard like that or even what he could do at the two. We just thought it was his time."

At 6-5, 220 pounds, Stephenson has the size and strength of a shooting guard but the quickness and creativity of a point guard. Ultimately he could offer the Pacers an important option off the bench when they need to match up against bigger backcourts or when they need instant offense.

Big talent, however, doesn't always translate to big productivity in the NBA. Stephenson must show a grasp of the offense and a commitment to improving his defense.

"He competes really hard, like any rookie," said Vogel. "He's still picking up rotations. There hasn't been a lot of practice time since training camp so it's going to be a work in progress. He's familiar with everything we do it's just a matter of getting the reps.

"What he's got to gain is the cohesiveness with his teammates and the speed of the NBA game, which he's used to."

Stephenson made it clear that, after waiting 57 games for the chance to play at all, he's ready for whatever role Vogel envisions.

"Whenever coach wants me to play," he said, "I'm going to be happy with the minutes he gives me."

When Stephenson scored his first NBA points in a pair of free throws with 11:17 left in the first quarter, his family threw confetti in the air to mark the occasion.

The Pacers hope it was just the beginning of many more good times to come.

Time to roar.

Now that would be big.