Lance Stephenson is leading the league in triple doubles and leading the Pacers in one win after another.
Last night, the Brooklyn born highlight film, fresh off a triple double, had the pleasure of returning home and playing in a homecoming game against the Brooklyn Nets. Stephenson didn’t disappoint as he scored a career-high 26 points and racked up 7 rebound, 5 assists and a few flashy dribbles, moves and passes that are becoming common entries in the NBA’s daily best highlights.
Bird took a chance on Stephenson with the 40th pick, and while Walsh would have to say “oops” on that, such was Stephenson’s reputation as a tempestuous presence after one lukewarm college season (at Cincinnati) and all the Born Ready hoopla at Lincoln High School in Brooklyn.
Coming behind Lincoln predecessors Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair — both of whom were disappointing pros for different reasons — Stephenson was also dealing with the growing notion that New York City players were legends only in their own minds.
In a recent telephone interview, Konchalski said: “In high school, Lance’s whole focus was on scoring, on breaking Telfair’s state record, which he did. Now he’s one of the best rebounding and passing wings in the league, he guards multiple positions and his own scoring is almost secondary.”
Would such a transformation have occurred under the dropped ceiling and circus of Madison Square Garden? The answer might be the next question: When was the last time the Knicks really nurtured and retained a good, young player?
Brooklyn may not have been a much different professional environment and possibly would have been worse, given all the home borough distractions.
When he arrived in Indianapolis, Stephenson was not exactly beloved, and center Roy Hibbert described him with a rather profane noun. “He’d tell you that himself,” said Hibbert, who credited the former center, Jeff Foster, for “settling him down.”
As Stephenson put it, “A lot of good vets put me in my place.” According to Walsh, Stephenson is now the protégé of the no-nonsense power forward David West. When he crosses the line, he will hear it from West, Vogel and even Bird, one of the great trash talkers but in a more clandestine way.
Bird once believed Stephenson might have the most natural talent of anyone he drafted, probably a reach now that George has ascended to the league’s elite. Still, Stephenson, George and Hibbert give the Pacers a nucleus of players still getting better, making the recently activated former All-Star Danny Granger expendable.
“Everything he does is very efficient, instinctive,” Walsh said of Stephenson. “He can get past his man almost every time, and he has a great knack for finding guys under the basket and out in the corners, which is what we do, spacing the floor.”