Lance Stephenson’s return to the Indiana Pacers last season was an answer to prayers for fans in Indiana. He was the heart and soul of the Pacers’ team that took LeBron James to the wire in the Eastern Conference Finals a few years back. After leaving town and bouncing around with a few different teams, returning home was the best way for Stephenson to get his career back on track.
Coming into the 2017-18 NBA season, Stephenson knew what his role would be. Indiana needed him to be their first player off the bench and they needed him to bring energy, scoring, and playmaking.
Nate McMillan has had a love, hate relationship with Stephenson’s antics this season, but no one can deny the impact that the entertaining guard brought to the game. He had multiple huge nights at home for the Pacers, spurring his team to comeback wins on multiple occasions. Along with the good times came rough games that caused some to question Stephenson’s abilities at times.
When all was said and done, Stephenson averaged 9.2 points per game to go along with 5.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, per ESPN statistics. He shot 42.7 percent from the field overall and knocked down 28.9 percent of his three-point attempts.
Those numbers may not look amazing, but the Pacers would not be where they are this season without them.
Let’s take a look back to the Pacers’ November 24 matchup with the Toronto Raptors. Stephenson scored 13 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter to lead Indiana past the team that ended up finishing first in the East. Another big game for Stephenson was a 16-point, 11-rebound performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers on January 12 in a 97-95 win over LeBron and company.
There are plenty of games that can be pointed to when proving Stephenson’s impact on the Pacers. Not only did he make huge impacts on the game from a statistical standpoint, he also has always found ways to get his teammates involved, energized, and motivated. In addition to his teammates, the fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse cannot get enough of Stephenson.
Looking ahead at the future for Stephenson and the Pacers, he has a team option for the 2018-19 season on his contract worth just under $4.4 million. It seems extremely unlikely that Indiana would decline that option.
Stephenson may not have been perfect this season, but he fit exactly what the Pacers wanted their culture to be. He loves Indiana, and he makes that very well known. Bringing back the “Blue Collar, Gold Swagger” mindset was key for this team as well.
Antics are a part of the game, but there are no other players in the NBA like Stephenson. Whether it be blowing in LeBron’s ear or strumming his three-point guitar while skipping down the court, Stephenson is exactly what the Pacers need.
Grading his season isn’t easy from a statistical standpoint, but his impact on the team in other ways has to be considered. Stephenson didn’t have the best season of his career, but he may have had his most impactful.
Indiana’s future couldn’t be brighter with Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner leading the way. They are the faces of the Pacers’ franchise, but Stephenson is still an incredibly important piece. Bringing Stephenson home took awhile, but he should be home to stay.
Lance Stephenson 2017-18 NBA Season Grade: B+