Paul George is a star, but who really gets the Pacers going?
The Pacers, however, don't always go as George goes. An extremely consistent talent, George contributes at a high level just about every night, but he sometimes has great games when the Pacers lose, and will have an occasional dud game when the Pacers win.
There is a different player - a much less lauded one - on the Pacers' team who almost always has his best games in winning efforts, and his worst games in losing ones. When he gets his game going, his teammates all respond, as he can score on his own while also doing a fantastic job of creating opportunities for others. That player is shooting guard Lance Stephenson.
New York Knicks point guard Raymond Felton acknowledged Stephenson's ability to get his team in rhythm after Stephenson torched the Knicks for a career-high 28 points in a blowout on Thursday night. "He's been playing that well all year," Felton said of Stephenson. "He's been doing that to everybody. He's making passes, he's making shots, and he's very creative. Paul George is getting all the attention as the best player on the team, but [Stephenson] is the guy that really gets them going."
I am not here to tell you that Stephenson is a better player than George. An All-Star a season ago, George is a sensational talent who plays phenomenally well on both ends of the floor on a nightly basis. Stephenson is an inferior scorer and defender, but as Felton said, he is the guy that really gets the team going. Stephenson is the Pacers' X-factor.
Take a look at the numbers - it is easy to see that when Stephenson is on his game, the team plays well as a whole. Stephenson has played in six losses this season, and his averages in those games have been 11.0 points, 3.3 assists, and 5.0 rebounds. When the Pacers win, Stephenson's numbers balloon up to 14.2 points, 5.5 assists, and 5.6 rebounds. To top it all off, Stephenson has missed one game this season, and the Pacers lost that game. It is pretty obvious that the better Stephenson plays, the better the Pacers play.
Contrarily, George's overall numbers actually get worse when the Pacers win. In seven losses, George has posted averages of 24.1 points, 3.0 assists, and 7.3 rebounds. In 31 wins, George has averaged 22.6 points, 3.7 assists, and 6.0 rebounds. The difference is not substantial, but noteworthy. Maybe he scores more in losses because his teammates (such as Stephenson) are struggling in those games, but that doesn't really matter. The fact is, a big game from George does not necessarily mean a win for the Pacers. As for Stephenson, the Pacers are 16-1 when he scores above his season average, and 19-1 when he has 5+ assists (he averages 5.1 on the year).
As I said, I am not saying that Stephenson is the better player, but because of George's consistency, Stephenson is the guy that the team needs to step up to win games. If I'm an opposing head coach, Stephenson would be a top priority on the defensive end. I would obviously do my best to make sure that George would not light up the scoreboard, but I would also employ a game plan that could shut Stephenson down.
As far as the numbers go, if you can stop Stephenson, you can stop the Pacers.