Has Brad Stevens Turned Around Evan Turner?


Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

This off season the Celtics added former-number-two-overall-pick-turned-NBA-disappointment Evan Turner in what was termed a low risk/high reward move. In actuality, Turner’s age and four year record in the league with two different teams argued for it being a low risk/medium reward move at best.

At the time I broke down the signing here at Nylon in a piece called So, Evan Turner, that doesn’t need much updating.

Last Thursday morning, it was rumored that the Celtics were about to add another reclamation project signing Javale McGee to a two year deal, which ultimately fell through due an inability to agree on the second-year option.

In the meantime, the rumor ignited a bit of a debate about the extent of any actual reclamation that has occurred with Turner this season is a proxy for Celtics Coach Brad Steven’s ability to get the best out of his players. In a sense, the argument is pretty silly, a sample size of one player at a different position with a different history is never going to be a reliable indicator for the next player, but, whatever, twitter gonna twitter. But as a data point on its own, it’s an interesting enough question—Has Stevens turned around Evan Turner?

No, not really. The quick and dirty way to see this is to look at the one number metrics, and they generally agree, there’s been no significant improvement.

Of course, those metrics do not tell us everything. But their broad agreement about Turner’s lack of  improvement is damning.

The more fine-grained numbers tell a similar story as well. For example, Turner’s scoring to date this year is his least efficient since coming into the league, with a true shooting percentage of 46.9 percent.

Of course, no one should think that a head coach can magically fix a player’s jumper, but putting a player in a position to succeed and encouraging them to shoot from more efficient locations may conceivably improve overall efficiency. Turner has always been a slasher with a limited outside shot. But as I noted with his initial acquisition by the Celtics, Turner too often settles for the pull up jumper rather than forcing the issue to the basket, a habit that remains the same with Turner averaging roughly the same number of pull-up jump shots per minute played this year as he did in Philadelphia last year[1. Per NBA.com].

According to Basketball-Reference, Turner’s shots at the basket have stalled out as a percentage of his attempts after peaking last year, and consequently his free throw rate has dropped as well from last year’s high. That failure to maintain or increase free throw rate is probably the biggest detriment to any attempt to improve a slashing player like Turner’s efficiency. On the plus-side, while the efficiency hasn’t improved, the volume of scoring attempts has fallen.

Though Turner’s general efficiency has remained the same, he has changed his role with the Celtics mostly out of necessity. After the Rajon Rondo trade the Celtics were left without enough ball-handling on the team, leaving Turner the one eyed king in terms of driving the ball to the basket.  Consequently, Turner has recorded his highest assist percentage to date, and highest turnover percentage. And Turner does have a marginally better assist to turnover ratio at 2.1 compared to his career numbers.

I would also say that Turner’s defensive effort looks better at this point in the season than it did at the start of the year, with Turner playing more physically and getting lost off the ball less noticeably. The defensive metrics, such as we have are inconclusive though—his steal percentage is at a career high, his block numbers, generally a less important number for perimeter players, is within his general career range.

Stevens received a good deal of credit, especially among Celtics fans, for turning Jordan Crawford into a net positive trade asset, and Crawford did appear to play somewhat more efficiently in Boston compared to other NBA stops. MarShon Brooks did not fair nearly as well, though recognizing where to invest playing time and development is probably the most important coaching skill. This year Stevens has been able to put Isaiah Thomas, Jonas Jerebko, Tyler Zeller and Jae Crowder in positions to maximize their skills, though none has been transformed as players. Equally notable, neither Rajon Rondo or Jeff Green have noticeably improved moving on to different coaches this year.

The Javale reclamation was scrubbed at the bargaining table, a good thing for the Celtics as McGee with a team option is an asset no matter how the experiment works out, while McGee with a player option is much more likely to be a liability. Stevens appears to be a good coach managing a tough situation with high roster turnover, but, overall there is little evidence of Stevens being able pull a miracle turn around with Turner. And Celtics fans should not hang their hat on that too much the next time Celtics GM Danny Ainge tries to go bargain shopping.

Now Gigi Datome, on the the other hand….