With the 2011 NBA Draft minutes away, let’s take a look at last year’s second round pick, Lance Stephenson.
With the Pacers reputation in the dumps in recent years because of off the court issues, the Pacers took a huge gamble with the volatile Stephenson, who has had a few run ins with the law in his past. And so far it has been a disaster. Nevertheless, Larry Bird and the front office seem to believe in his potential and will keep him on for a little while longer to see if he grows up.
The 20 year old, 6’5″ Stephenson was selected with the 40th overall pick in the 2010 draft. Stephenson was a standout high school player from New York, one of the most hyped since the likes to Sebastain Telfair and Stephon Marbury. He played college ball for one year at Cincinatti, where he averaged 12.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game and had been rumored to cause some chemistry issues in the locker room. Oh, and he was suspended in high school for an altercation with a teammate and faced charges for groping a girl.
Nonetheless, Stephenson’s talent made it hard to pass him up, especially with the 40th pick. I recall ‘Born Ready’ was tagged as the wildcard of the Pacers’ draft, which would be deemed a success anyway because of Paul George.
So the Pacers were impressed with Stephenson’s ability in camp and signed him to a guaranteed contract for two years. He’s really a combo guard who is not a great passer or shooter, is a terrible defender, but can take his opponent off the dribble and finish at the rim with his strength and athleticism (at least at the high school level). I guess the Pacers believed he had untapped potential and could grow into a solid player.
But shortly after the signing, Stephenson appeared in the news for allegedly pushing his (ex) girlfriend down a flight of stairs. It was exactly the kind of publicity the Pacers had been trying to avoid for the last few years. Community sentiment was to get rid of this kid right away, signed contract or not.
However, the Pacers remained patient with Stephenson, giving him another chance. He had umimpressive numbers in the Summer League but was kept around the team to learn the sets and his new teammates as opposed to being sent down to the D-League for a run. I still don’t know if that was the right decision.
In any case, Stephenson did not see any court time until the 27th of February, shortly after former head coach Jim O’Brien was fired and Frank Vogel was announced as his interim replacement. He played some significant minutes for a few games before the Pacers decided to make a serious run for the playoffs and limited his playing time down the stretch.
Was he any good during the time he was on the court? Not really. A few flashes of brilliance on the offensive end (including an 11 point career high against Oklahoma City in a blowout loss and a career high 6 assists against Dallas the next game), but Stephenson clearly had a lot to do to work on his game. The advantages he had at the high school level, and to a lesser degree, at the college level, were almost wiped out at the professional level.
And then, in early April, just as the season was winding down, the Pacers announced (rather quietly) that Stephenson would not play another game for the rest of the season for violating team rules. No specifics were given but all we know is that it was related to maturity issues. And there were rumors that both Dahntay Jones and Danny Granger were extremely upset with him and Jones apparently even went after the rookie.
For the season, Stephenson played in 12 games and averaged 3.1 points, 1.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.33 turnovers and shot 33% from the field. Not large enough of a sample to reach any kind of a conclusive statement on Stephenson’s game, but his off the court actions speak a lot more about his future with the Pacers.
For now, it seems Bird is still willing to give Stephenson one last chance. He is, after all, signed on for a relatively cheap 800,000 through next season. Sure, Stephenson can work on his game and improve, but what about his disruptive personality? Barring some unforeseen miracle, I don’t think Stephenson has a future with this team, or any NBA team for that matter. Even if he stays with the team, will he see any playing time next season (in the even there is a season)? Or is it better to banish him to the D-League and forget they ever drafted him? Either way, it doesn’t look promising.