INDIANAPOLIS -- By most accounts, Lance Stephenson of the Pacers is one of the most improved players in the NBA this season. The Brooklyn resident and former Lincoln High star is better at everything, including handling whatever might come his way. That will be useful if, as expected, he loses his starting job when Danny Granger returns this week or next.
Stephenson figures to start Monday night against the Nets at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, an honor he has earned as a second-year player by scoring 8.3 points a game and averaging 3.8 rebounds. When the Pacers visited his home borough last month -- before Stephenson left the game early with a foot injury -- Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo praised the shooting guard for his consistency, calling him "tremendously improved."
The player said after the shootaround Monday, "I feel like it was patience. Coming from college, you do everything fast. In the NBA, you think everything is supposed to go fast, but it's all about taking your time, going to the open spots and getting to the right spots to make the shots."
He returned home to New York only for a short while last summer, spending most of the offseason in Indiana working with Pacers coaches. "My jump shot is going right now. That takes a lot of people off because last year, I was just a driver, a creator. Now, I'm hitting the open jump shots so it opens up a lot for me," Stephenson said.
Still, that probably won't be enough to keep him in the lineup once Granger, formerly the Pacers' top scorer, comes back from a knee injury to make his debut either Wednesday against the Bobcats or next week against the Knicks.
"I feel like any role the coaches want me to play, I feel like I can succeed at," Stephenson said. "With Danny coming back, I feel like we're going to be a better team. As long as him coming back helps the team, I'm cool with it."
Even though he has "Indiana" on the front of his jersey, "Brooklyn" always will be written on his heart. He gets a charge out of seeing that word on an NBA uniform. "A lot of people in my neighborhood couldn't make it to the Knicks games because of the trains. Now that there's a team in Brooklyn, it gives kids an opportunity to see NBA players come in," he said, adding that Barclays Center might be "the best arena out of all the arenas we have."