Mark's Mailbag: Lance's Position, Teague's Future
Q. Do you think Lance Stephenson can regain his 2014 Pacers form? It's just a small sample but he is showing things he might.
A. I don't think Stephenson can regain his physical form of three seasons ago, but I believe he can be more mature and confident in the playoffs this time around.
He told me Thursday he is about 75 percent physically because of the sprained ankle he suffered in Minnesota. That turned out to be a good thing for the Pacers, because he was set to sign a Timberwolves contract the next day, as I wrote recently. He would not have been available to the Pacers if not for the injury.
He is, however, a more mature player. In other words, he won't be doing anything to call attention to himself during games. His "antics" from three seasons ago were not as big a deal as many people made them out to be – because his teammates didn't mind them all that much – but I don't think you'll see any now.
Stephenson has averaged 7.2 points on 41 percent shooting, four rebounds and 4.2 assists in six games with the Pacers. I don't think his playoff production will be too much greater than that, but I believe he'll be back to 2014 form – if not better – next season. He'll work all summer to rehab and improve his skills, and no doubt be eager to please.
Q. I always thought Lance Stephenson's best position is point guard. In the past the Pacers used him as a primary ball handler for one on one moves but not as a true point guard. What are your observations and take a guess on the coaching staffs perspective on this.
A. I tweeted recently that I didn't see Stephenson as a point guard three years ago, but I do now. He's handling the ball more often than not when in the game, and doing a good job of distributing it. Not only with flair on occasion, but more importantly, making well-timed and well-placed fundamental passes that create scoring opportunities. He loves to pass and his new teammates know it, so that's incentive for them to move without the ball. He also attacks the basket, and as long as he's hitting a decent percentage from the perimeter, he can be a force.
I asked Larry Bird about Stephenson playing point guard recently, and Bird said it doesn't matter. Stephenson can create offense from either guard position, and has been able to play effectively when paired with Teague. It will be interesting to see who makes up the starting backcourt next season, but I would be surprised if Stephenson isn't part of it.
Q. You think we still try to re-sign Teague?
A. I really can't guess on this. It no doubt will depend on the available options and the marketplace for him. But I have to believe the Pacers' front office is satisfied with Teague, because his numbers during the regular season were amazingly in line with his career stats. He delivered what should have been expected of him, and perhaps more.
He averaged 15.2 points, four rebounds and 7.8 assists — his assist total was a career high, because he had control of the ball so often.
He would have better stats if he hadn't struggled early in the season while adjusting to playing in his hometown. Give him a mulligan for the first five games and he averaged 15.6 points while shooting 46 percent from the field and 38 percent from the 3-point line, along with 7.8 assists and just 2.6 turnovers.
They traded for him and got what they should have expected out of him, so logically you would think they would like to have him back. Free agency can get complicated, however.
Q. Greetings from Melbourne Australia. I have always enjoyed reading your articles on the Pacers App but suddenly feel an urgent need to write to you.
I along with my 10-year old son Marcus have been Pacers fans for around four years now. It was Marcus who took a liking to Paul George during the Eastern [Conferernce] Finals a few years back that started this association with Indiana. It has since developed into an absolute passion in our household. We follow our local AFL team, our local soccer team, as well as Arsenal in the EPL. But the Indiana Pacers have become the No. 1 team of all for us. To put it bluntly, I doubt there is any fan outside of Indianapolis that supports and feels the pain and joy of any loss or win like we do here in Australia. We love this team so much that we traveled to watch the Pacers play the Wizards in Jan 2016 and we will never forget that experience.
As we approach the end of the regular season I just felt compelled to send this email after the loss to the Cavaliers. I couldn't imagine feeling any worse than after the loss to Minnesota a few days back, but today's loss has simply left me shattered. The game against Cleveland started at 8 a.m. here in Australia and it has been a bloody long day. It is also the start of our school holidays, so Marcus and I watched the game on NBA League Pass and he has been inconsolable since the defeat, although proud of the team's performance it just really hurts to see our beloved team outside of a playoff position.
I guess I'm wanting to gauge the feeling in Indianapolis. I know the team has been inconsistent and had its struggles of late but I simply find it difficult to even comprehend a postseason without watching PG. I'm hopeful the team can finish with a wet sail and that the return of Lance Stephenson can coincide with a winning finish.
Anyhow I have written this and feel a little better to have expressed my thoughts. I sincerely hope to hear back from you Mark as it would mean a lot to me to have the thoughts of someone inside the Pacers family.
A. Thanks for taking the time to write, Michael, and by the way, great job naming your son. He'll no doubt prosper with a name such as that.
You didn't ask a question so I don't have an answer, but I always enjoy hearing from fans in other countries. It's interesting to know how people become fans of any team so far away.
I checked, and see the Pacers lost to Washington when you attended. Hopefully the trip was still worthwhile. The team obviously has played better since you wrote, so your family must be feeling better now. That 3 p.m. playoff game in Cleveland on Saturday might cause problems for your family's sleeping patterns, but that's what Sunday is for: resting up. I hope you enjoy the postseason.
Q. It was nice to see Lance's apology for scoring another basket right before the buzzer. I appreciate PG saying that he should not have passed the ball to him in that situation. I can understand the coach wanting to counsel him. I also don't have any problem with your writing that "it was a violation of protocol, which expects players to dribble out the clock in that situation." And I have come to expect the NBA to make crazy calls every single night.
What is the reason for Lance getting a technical foul after video review by the referees, a three-person discussion among them, then further video review? You wrote that he "said nothing and walked toward the Pacers' bench." My review of the video (I attended the game as a season ticket holder) was that he did nothing through his actions to deserve the technical. Perhaps the NBA's Two-minute Report could say that Stephenson violated protocol by scoring the unneeded basket at the end of the game, and because of his reputation and exuberance displayed, he deserved to be named with those that instigated the on-court violation of sportsmanship (i.e., the two Raptors).
Suppose 99% of the time teams cannot win if they are down in the second half, by 25 or more points. What's the difference between a 16-point lead at 5 seconds left in the game, and a 25-point lead with 16 minutes left? If the Warriors are up 100 to 70 at the end of the third, over the Lakers, why is that not just as embarrassing for the Lakers for the Warriors to keep widening the lead when everybody knows this year's Lakers cannot overcome that lead? How about a rule change that puts PG's "cardinal rule" in play for any big lead at any time in the second half? I say the NBA's protocol for big leads is to require the offending team to play with only four players the rest of the game until the lead is cut to single digits. What difference does it make? When the NBA allows their refs to give a technical for something other than an action, a stare, or something said (like scoring too many points on an insulted team) then somebody needs to step up and ask for a reality check.
This protocol for not embarrassing professional, grown men with scoring too many points on them (whether in the second half or with 3 minutes to go, or with 3 seconds to go), should be either expanded to be fair or thrown away. The NBA needs to man up, and think about those poor Lakers and everybody else that gets too many baskets scored on them because it hurts their feelings.
A. I appreciate the tongue-in-cheek nature of your response. I'm puzzled by the anger some players manage to work up over something as meaningless as a layup at the end of a one-sided game. It wouldn't even be a big deal to me if Stephenson had thrown down a 360 slam dunk. It would have been a silly thing to do, but if that sort of thing hurts your feelings so badly you might be in the wrong line of work.
This seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon. I don't recall it being a big deal in previous decades. If a player wants to hold a grudge over something like that and use it as motivation the next time he faces the offending team, fine. But it doesn't seem like something worth fighting about.
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Some mailbag questions have been edited for length and clarity.