Evan Turner sure did lose himself a lot of money over the last few months.
In his 39 short games in an Indiana Pacers uniform, Turner went from one of the trade deadline’s hottest commodities to receiving DNP-CDs in the most crucial stages of the playoffs, unable to contribute off one of the NBA’s most-maligned benches.
When Philadelphia 76ers General Manager Sam Hinkie traded Turner to the Pacers at the February trading deadline, the move was perceived to be one of the more egregious indications that Hinkie was tanking his season away. The transaction had Hinkie giving up a starter, Turner, and a solid rotational member, Lavoy Allen, in exchange for Danny Granger and a 2015 second-round pick. Hinkie immediately bought out Granger’s contract, absorbing a massive $14M cap hit just so Granger may be released. (Granger would sign with the Los Angeles Clippers for the remainder of the season.) In other words, Hinkie received no on-court value via the transaction.
On the other hand, Turner didn’t contribute a whole lot of on-court value himself while in Indianapolis. Turner’s regular season statistics while with the Pacers look alarmingly like the full-season stats of Hollis Thompson, an undrafted rookie for the Sixers who received a minutes boost after Turner’s departure:
|MinutesPer Game||Points Per36 Minutes||FG%||PER||Salary|
It’s true: Turner can handle the ball consistently in ways that Thompson — a 3&D player if there ever was one — cannot. But that may well have been Hinkie’s reason for trading Turner away, so as to get Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams more space and opportunity to control the ball by himself. Hinkie’s gambit just might have worked: in the month of April, after five weeks of adjusting to Turner’s absence, Carter-Williams managed season-best splits of 52.5 FG%, 42.9 3P%, and a 120 Offensive Rating.
So, Turner’s absence didn’t really hurt the lottery-bound Sixers. While the seeds of the Pacers’ much-publicized locker room dysfunctions had been sown well before Turner’s arrival: the team went 42-13 before Turner arrived, and 24-22 (including playoffs) after he joined the squad. Over the course of the playoffs Turner became so turnover-prone that head coach Frank Vogel had no choice but to dwindle Turner’s minutes down to nothing. After averaging 12.6 minutes per game in the Pacers’ first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, and then 13.8 in the second-round series against the Washington Wizards, Turner was allowed only four minutes total in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat. On Monday the Pacers front office elected not to extend a qualifying offer to Turner, and he is now a free agent, yet untouched on the marketplace.
From the outside, it’s very easy to look at Turner’s once-upon-a-time very high draft position and declare that, if such a high-ranked prospect has not shown any glimmers of improvement by now, then he has totally busted. Turner was picked second overall by the Sixers in the 2010 Draft, ahead of superstars like DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, and Eric Bledsoe, and ahead of valuable, franchise-nucleus starters like Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Greg Monroe, or Avery Bradley. It’s even reasonable to say that, if Turner had already developed the time of game that went in accordance with his draft slot, then Hinkie wouldn’t even be in Philadelphia: if Turner was able to be a superstar leader of a team, then the versions of the Sixers led by Doug Collins would not have underperformed and instigated the ouster of Collins and his regime.
It would be extremely counterproductive for Turner to spend any time considering his plight compared to his more productive peers in his draft class. Wiser, at this point to focus his career on transforming into a role player. Turner can still contribute value in the NBA, but it’s time to put to rest concerns about being one of the league’s stars.
Probably the most concerning aspect of Turner’s game is his woebegone shooting accuracy. For the entirety of his career, Turner has been one of the few players in the NBA to receive a lot of shooting opportunities — and then to miss most of those opportunities.
Turner is one of the league’s worst performers in terms of True Shooting Percentage (TS%), a statistic that weights a player’s two-point accuracy, three-point accuracy, and free-throw accuracy, all into a single statistic. In the 2011-12 season, Turner’s sophomore year, and the first season in which he qualified for the FG% leaderboard, Turner had the 110th-best TS% out of 113 qualified shooters. The next year, Turner was 122nd out of 123. And then this year, he was 117th of 124.
Given the long-term stagnation of Turner’s accuracy, one of the first accusations to level in his direction would be a lack of effort and interest. It’s a reasonable thing to wonder, given how often Turner coughed up the ball during the highest-leverage spots of his career this spring.
But I don’t think lack of effort is the culprit here. Although he perhaps lacked the agility and toughness to do justice to Indiana’s vaunted defensive concept, Turner continued to at least pour full effort into his defending as a Pacer.
Another accusation to be hurled Turner’s way is that he simply can’t shoot. We’ve seen and will continue to see plenty of players who, even though their host of other skills screams NBA-capable, cannot release a smooth jump shot. While Turner’s career 32.6 3P% does not proclaim that anything is “broken,” it’s perhaps an indication that his accuracy is average at best.
Only: even while he struggled so mightily as a Pacer, Turner shot 16-for-31 (51.6%) from three. Yes, 31 shots is certainly a small sample size, but those 31 shots are also spread out over three full months of play. It’s hard for Kyle Korver to stay above 50% from deep for three months at a time.
Maybe the problem with Turner is not his dedication, not his accuracy, but his decision-making. Turner’s career rate of 2.3 turnovers per 36 minutes does not initially seem alarming. But in reality, Turner is effectively turning over the ball so many times per game with his unwise shot selection. When operating as a ballhandler, Turner frequently makes poor decisions at several points as the play unfolds: he dribbles into corners, into double-teams, misses open men, and tends to cap things off with an off-balance mid-range shot — the inefficient bane of the modern NBA.
In a way, it’s a tribute to his skill that he’s been able to tally so many NBA points while setting himself up so poorly. With ballhandling duties (involuntarily) removed from his hands in Indiana, Turner was able to find openings in the defense while moving off the ball, and sank shots once he received the kick-out.
There’s no obvious fit for Turner across the free agent market. Any General Manager who picks up Turner will necessarily already have to have tremendous job security. But with a little imagination, and open lines of communication between organization and player, there could still be a way for Turner to be a valuable member of a positive team. 3 & D is not a bad way to be.