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While the Pacers came out of nowhere to nearly win 50 games last season without Paul George, the man who was expected to lead the next great Indiana squad was actually quite disappointing. However, 2015 No. 11 overall pick Myles Turner is still well on his way to becoming the next great 3-and-D big man.
To explain why he’ll be fine in the long run, let’s look at exactly what contributed to Turner’s regression last season. Mostly, it was a matter of not getting in rhythm. Turner suffered an elbow injury in January, and with so many new faces on the team, including Domantas Sabonis, Victor Oladipo, Cory Joseph and Bojan Bogdanovic, the 22-year-old struggled to adjust. The Pacers played an egalitarian style of offense boosted by Victor Oladipo’s clutch shot creation, but not everyone benefited equally. Turner declined compared with 2016-17 almost any way you look at it.
He bought into new coach Nate McMillan’s philosophy that any open shot is a good shot, and 32 percent of his shots came from mid-range, putting him in the 98th percentile for NBA bigs according to Cleaning the Glass. As McMillan and the Pacers proved last year, it’s not accurate to say that a mid-range-heavy offense cannot be efficient. Add in a little of Oladipo attacking the rim and dynamite 3-point shooting, and Indiana made it work.
That’s where Turner’s game should be focused this upcoming season. While his true shooting percentage slipped, Turner maintained above-average 3-point shooting. He shot 37 percent on above-the-break 3s, consistently nailing shots out of pick-and-pops with Oladipo and Darren Collison that were hard to contain. Collison led the league in 3-point accuracy, while Turner was in the upper echelon for bigs.
The Pacers leveraged their bigs’ shooting for the benefit of their offense, as Turner and Sabonis each finished in the top three in possessions per game as the roll man. It was a huge part of Indiana’s offense.
Yet because Turner used so many of those possessions on mid-range jump shots and struggled when he did get to the rim, he finished in the 39th percentile for roll men, according to NBA.com data. Turner was assisted on 70 percent of his at-rim attempts, but simply failed to finish. His 59.4 percent shooting within five feet left him in the company of youngsters like Bam Abedayo and floor-spacers such as Kevin Love and DeMarcus Cousins. Somehow, Turner finished only 13 dunks all season. For the Pacers to reach higher than No. 11 in offense next season and take a step forward in the Eastern Conference standings, Turner needs to use his athleticism and strength to become dominant inside.
The translation of Turner’s prolific athleticism and strong physical frame must continue to show on defense as well. In his third season, Turner looked like one of the better defensive bigs in the league, but again played just 65 games and struggled against LeBron James and the Cavaliers in seven first-round playoff games. Rim protection is what made Turner invaluable to Indiana’s defense when he was healthy. He defended the second-most field goals at the rim of any player in the NBA and allowed less than 60 percent shooting. Turner’s at-rim defense again put him in the company of the league’s best bigs — only Kristaps Porzingis, Clint Capela and Rudy Gobert were better around the basket.
Finally, one area Turner in which truly has the individual power to improve is rebounding. While Sabonis was 15th in the NBA in total rebounding percentage, Turner was nowhere to be found in the top 20, straggling all the way down at 12.8 percent of opponent misses grabbed. Overall, the Pacers were a bottom-five defensive rebounding team and merely a middling team on the offensive glass. Teams have succeeded in the past with a below-average rebounding center, but this particular Pacers team doesn’t have guys outside of Sabonis that figure to make up for Turner’s lack of rebounds if he doesn’t get better.
If you look in the right places, Turner is in rarified air along with some of the NBA’s best big men, but his overall impact game-to-game isn’t there. The Pacers were the surprise of the league last season and added even more talent this summer. They enter a weakened East and want to make some noise, but Turner’s growth will be a necessary stepping stone for the team to improve.
At just 22, Turner’s potential as an elite two-way big man hasn’t disappeared. Entering the final season of his rookie deal, Turner looks poised to break out and make good on his beautiful potential in the modern NBA.