Other than “I can’t stand Reggie Miller,” the last thing you’d expect to hear from an Indiana Pacers fan is, “I hope we start T.J. Ford at point guard.”
But that’s where I’m at right now. After incoming rookie Lance Stephenson turned in a surprisingly effective and efficient performance at the Orlando Summer League (14.8 ppg, 73% FG), the idea of him starting at point guard next season is building momentum. It was further bolstered when Stephenson inked a three-year guaranteed contract, a rarity for a second-round draft pick.
But for the sake of Lance’s pro career, I hope that doesn’t happen.
I’ve watched Lance grow up over the last few years. I first met and wrote a feature about him when he was a sophmore at Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, then I wrote a cover story on him when he was 17 and going into his senior year. Since then I’ve kept contact with Lance and his father, and followed his progress during his freshman year at Cincinnati. I’m rooting for Lance, and I was thrilled that my favorite team picked him up as a second-round steal. And I do think he’ll be a good NBA player.
But he shouldn’t start at point guard right now. At least not from Opening Night. The Pacers have enough holes in the lineup and things to iron out in the rotation that they don’t need a rookie point guard who’s learning not only a new position, but a new lifestyle and a new league, thrust into a starting position when he doesn’t have to be.
The problem is that — because Indiana used its No. 10 pick on Paul George instead of trading for a starting-caliber point guard like Darren Collison or Ty Lawson — the only other options besides Lance at the one are T.J. Ford and A.J. Price; the latter is coming off major knee surgery, while the former has lost all trust from coach Jim O’Brien and is being shopped in trade talks probably as you read this.
But among the group of Indiana PG’s, Ford is the most ready to play major minutes right now. And while his reputation in the League can’t get much worse, he has put together solid stretches of play recently. Last February, when Ford came off an extended benching by O’Brien and had to fill in while Earl Watson was hurt, he put up 11.5 points and 3.4 assists in 10 games. And he’s at least familiar with offensive anchors Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert and Troy Murphy, plus Ford has enough experience to kind of hold down the fort until Lance or Price is ready.
In the meantime, O’Brien will have the flexibility to bring Lance along slowly, giving him minutes at the one and the two while coming off the bench and easing his transition to the NBA game and NBA life.
It looks like Lance will eventually be the Pacers’ starting point guard. That’s fine by me. I just hope it doesn’t happen sooner than it should.