New York City was once the world’s most prolific producer of elite basketball talent. But over the past quarter-century, as the sport’s popularity has spread and grown, New York’s pipeline to the NBA has shrunk. To many, the Mecca of Hoops is now better known for churning out overhyped busts who flame out before their 25th birthday. Lance Stephenson seemed destined to join this ignominious list. The Coney Island native had starred for the Lincoln High School basketball team when he was in eighth grade. He eventually became the state’s all-time leading scorer, earning his “Born Ready” nickname along the way. But his amateur days were tainted by off-court issues, and his stock went into free fall before the 2010 NBA Draft. The Indiana Pacers picked him in the second round — and it turned out to be a steal. Last season, Stephenson led the league in triple-doubles and helped carry the Pacers to the best record in the Eastern Conference. He has emerged as one of the league’s most entertaining players. The game he brings to the court is emphatically New York City. On offense he is an artistic playmaker, stringing together blacktop dribbling moves and imaginative passes. On defense he fuses playful mockery with a relentless and fierce competitive drive. The basketball gods have rewarded him: This summer the Charlotte Hornets signed him to a three-year, $27 million contract.