Is Myles Turner a Franchise Centerpiece?

The Indiana Pacers will have to make key decisions moving forward to cement themselves as true contenders, and it starts with Myles Turner.

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April 28, 2018 — Source: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images North America

Closing the door on the Paul George saga meant opening the door for Myles Turner — or so the story was outlined.

George was exiled to Oklahoma City, where he would drum in the Russell Westbrook band. In return, Indiana got Oladipo — a former Indiana star typecast as the fourth option on a contending team. They also got Domantas Sabonis, whose low-post talent was squandered in his debut season. Then, management turned around and signed Lance Stephenson. If the Stephenson signing was not driven by nostalgia, then for shot-creation.

None of those players were proven stars. It seemed likely that the surplus of assets would be relegated to bench duty.

Through a fogged-up future, Kevin Pritchard put his thumb on a modernized weapon. After Paul George grew weary in a position shift, the Pacers rehashed an extremity promoted within basketball’s tight-knit circles.

The portrait of Myles Turner illustrates the hybrid position that was once frowned upon. His play is indicative of positionless, switchable basketball.

In an otherwise loaded 2013 draft, Indiana chose Myles Turner ahead of Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, and Terry Rozier.

Labeled as a project, Turner turned heads with a solid rookie year. His 10.3 points per game placed seventh among rookies. His play vindicated that unicorn trait — a high percentage of three-pointers, blocked shots, the ability to dribble and run the floor like a guard — trumped standard big man characteristics — low-post proficiency coupled with acute usage. Point proven, Jahlil Okafor is as extinct as the T-Rex.

You’ve probably heard the cliche Spiderman quote a million times: “With great power, comes great responsibility.” That’s the old hackneyed phrase of our childhood, but it rings especially true in the Myles Turner scenario. His surprising rookie year led to the mantle of expectation.

And he showed why he was so intriguing as a rookie. His second season furthered that narrative. He was the sole player to produce at least 14 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks on 34% three-point shooting. There were expectations headed into his second season — but nothing like the expectations for his third season.

So Turner was the star in waiting. Except when the season rolled around, Turner became the low man on the totem pole. Oladipo scored 22 his first game and never looked back.

As expected, Turner’s usage took a step forward, from 19.5 to 20.0. But his per-36 minutes statistics show instability. His points bottomed out; from 16.6 to 16.2. His rebounds shifted decimal points; from 8.3 to 8.2. His blocks did the same; from 2.4 to 2.3. And his turnovers rose — however inconsequential — from 1.5 to 1.9.

Unlike the Tesla, Turner is not unplayable — and certainly is not worth a recall like the Tesla. Yet, he yields inconsistent results. Inconsistency holds weight in a league where results (“what can you do for me now?” is a term uttered 34879 times every day) is the be all and end all.

If Turner is to reap the benefits of a maximum contract next Summer, an extensive and expected improvement will have to surface. Turner represents a hypothesis of greatness. Will his play solve the hypothesis or go unsolved ?— null to scouts who once dubbed him a unicorn.

In that context, contract variance is a benchmark of talent. Plenty of players bet on their own dollar value. Tobias Harris, Nerlens Noel, Jimmy Butler, bet on themselves in hopes of realizing their true potential. Whether that happens or not is irrelevant. Dissimilar to those players, Turner’s bet is not monetary, but metaphysical. How can Turner parlay his array of skills into a maximum contract?

Bidding Wars?

The Turner TV contract was set to create a higher salary cap. The casualty of the TV deal was the 2018 free agents.

If you want a sneak preview of Myles Turner’s free agency, look no further than Clint Capela. After all, the two have a lot in common. Both defend at a high level. Although Capela is gritty and Turner is more finesse.

The Rocket big man rebounds better, but the Pacer center can stretch the floor. To narrow it down, the two are in the second-tier of centers, along the likes of Andre Drummond and Hassan Whiteside. While the latter was on the receiving end of maximum-level contracts, Capela was not so lucky.

It took until the dog days of free agency for a contract to be offered. Of course, Morey would be stuck between a rock and a hard place if a team put an extravagant offer sheet on the table. Morey was adamant on signing Capela anyway. With teams like the Kings, Nets, Suns, and Hawks armed with spending money, it was surprising Capela wasn’t offered monopoly money.

The way I see it, a 5 year $90 million contract is the floor for Myles Turner. That might seem lavish, but a destination like Indiana is forced to settle for such standards. For a small-market team, finding talent through the draft is more common than attracting stars. Overpaying may end up being a requirement.

The ceiling is the outright max, which is only attainable if Turner does everything right. For all intents and purposes, ‘everything right’ is means putting up 20 points and 9 rebounds. Even then, that might be wishful thinking given the amount of free agents that teams will be targeting next summer.

Outside Shooting and Position

In terms of modifications, the first thing basketball heads (or Morey disciples) allude to is the uptick in three-pointers. One piece of comprehensible data is the comparison of 3-point attempts between Lauri Markkanen and Dirk Nowitzki. Markkanen, known for his outside shooting, hit 145 three’s in his rookie year. Dirk, on the other hand, reached that number just three times in his career. Even the combination of Dirk’s first two seasons falls short of that number. Moreover, the Rockets of 5 years past — who ranked first in three’s — would have found themselves at 22nd in the same category if brought into modern existence.

With the infatuation with deep shots, comes the alterations of positions. The precept of each position — if those even exist — has changed. Point guards come in all shapes and sizes. From the towering, pass-first Ben Simmons to the energizer bunny Russell Westbrook. The two guard, whose role has diminished, looks more like a slight variation from the one. James Harden and C.J. McCollum straddle the combo guard line.

A small forward is the consistent piece of a puzzle; able to shoot and defend. Take Trevor Ariza for example. The power forward embraces the tweener label, but a three-point shot is more a requirement than a recommendation. The center comes in two forms; a jumpy pogo stick or a stretch-5.

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From NBASavant.com, it’s ostensible Turner operates at the top of the elbow extended beyond the three-point line. Rarely does he ever find himself meandering near the short to deep corner. Teams generally have an easy read on Turner. Like a major league batter, his weaknesses are exposed on the scouting report. Throw a curveball and Turner is caught off-guard. Force him to the short corner and he is rendered useless.

With the ability to shoot from deep comes the tendency to drift. Often times, Turner finds himself 20-feet from the basket, drifting like Wilson the volleyball in Cast-Away. Even if Turner is intent on finding his spot, his broomstick build hinders him. Against larger defenders, Turner is pushed aside and forced to settle for unfavorable positioning.

Against the Heat, Turner is pushed out of his spot on the block and forced to fade away. Hassan Whiteside has his way with the young center.

Turner finds comfort in the mid-range like a duck to water. According to NBA Stats, the Pacer big man was first for centers that attempted at least 2 shots from the 15–19 feet range. He shot 48.6% on such shots, outpacing the likes of Jokic and Nowitzki.

Outside of Kristaps, KAT, and Embiid, Turner performs moves recherche for 7’0’’ behemoths.

While he is a solid shooter, his offensive game is far from perfect.

Offense in the Pick and Roll

In the NBA, screens are the easiest way to create shot opportunities. Turner excels at getting shots out of screens, but doesn’t set up his guard for a bucket.

Even though this play ends in a basket, Turner’s poor screening is on full display. On this front, the difference between him and other centers (Steven Adams, for example) is accentuated. Once Joseph initiates the play, Turner sets a half-hearted screen at the top of the key. Before Mike Breen can say Bang!, Turner veers off to his preferred left elbow spot. His fickle for jump-shots brings to wrought his distaste for contact.

Still, his screens did not happen in a vacuum. He was 8th in screen assists and was a big reason the Pacers were 9th, percentile-wise, in pick-and-rolls (72.4%). When Nate McMillan drew up a play his first two choices were a Victor Oladipo isolation or an Oladipo-Turner pick and roll option. In total, Turner accounted for 4.9 of Indiana’s 12.2 pick and roll plays per game, in accordance with NBA Stats.

Inconsistency

Turner scored 20 or more points in a game 13 times. Every time he did that, he (probably) elicited a Larry Bird grin and a Reggie Miller snarl. The problem was the encore of those performances. He had 4 games of less than 10 points following a 20 point performance.

To be defined as a star, you have to prove night-in and night-out that you are worthy. Turner just isn’t at that level. Further, it remains to be seen if he ever will be at that level.

Passing Vision

When it comes to vision, Turner is not Steven Spielberg. Heck, he isn’t even George Lucas. When Turner gets the ball at the high post, his mind scatters and hands sweat profusely. Even his domineering height is not a cure for lack of vision.

His turnovers climbed to 1.9 this season, a career high. In the pick and roll, especially, Turner was atrocious. For players that played in 50 games and had a pick and roll frequency (as a roll man) of 30% (or higher), the center placed sixth in turnover frequency.

If Nate McMillan yearns to maximize his team’s passing ability, leaving Turner on the bench and putting Sabonis at the 5 is a logical ploy. While Sabonis is nowhere near the passer his father was, he is capable of making passes in tight spaces. He keeps his eyes up and finds shooters in the corner with ease or a cutting Oladipo.

For Turner, there is obvious room for improvement. There were some aberrations though. Like this touch pass to Ian Mahinmi out of the pick and roll, where he was strikingly unselfish.

If Turner can add passing to his skill set, he will aide in the development of other pieces on Indiana’s roster.

Block Artist

Lebron James has a knack for exposing players. So when he split Indiana’s defense and ascended for takeoff, it was fair to wonder if another LeBron top-10 play was in-line. Snaking around a screen, LeBron ascended to the rim, only to find Turner. The former Cavalier cocked his arm back, while Turner swung his arm like a pendulum. The ball ricocheted off the backboard. Fans jumped out of their seats. The scene was heroic, like when The Rock immaculately defeated a Skyscraper.

Turner’s defense is the matchbox for Indiana’s fire. On some plays, His verticality paints a picture of prime Roy Hibbert.

That was a rare play though, oftentimes Turner’s shot-blocking was volatile. Third in the league in fouls, the former Texas big man can’t help himself.

His foul issue was on full display in game 7 against the Cavs, when his emotions got the best of him. Scoring 3 points and 4 rebounds, his game was arrhythmic and lacked confidence.

He not only makes smart plays, but also goes the extra mile. He puts his body on the line and outlets it to Paul George to kick start the offense. He could be selfish and get his own shot. Instead, Turner has the wherewithal to notice a defender flying at him and dishes out the extra pass.

The box score — which only denotes a block — does not do this play justice. The ability to turn defense into offense is sold short in today’s league. The play was a throwback, more common when Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain roamed the league.

By keeping up with Tyreke Evans’ hesitation, Turner does his job. His teammate, expecting an Evans blow-by, steps in to take a charge. Evans, being a nifty passer, shovels the ball down low to a diving Brandan Wright. Wright hops up off two feet, only to get rejected by Turner.

On this play, Turner stays with Evans and then steps in to help his teammate. His block sealed the victory. Not only that, he snatched the board. Rarely does a block win a game. Turner is in the rare company of the clutch defensive player (another member is Anthony Davis).

What Lays Ahead

In drills, the center looks the part of a top-5 big man. That’s just it though. In theory, Turner has the skill set to dominate in today’s NBA. His ability to stretch the floor and defend the rim is a contemporary masterpiece. Except the game isn’t played on paper — or against trainers with blocking pads. Myles must show improvement or a max contract is merely a pipe dream.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference, NBA.com, NBASavant.com, and Synergy Sports Technology.

Butler women’s basketball beat reporter for the Butler Collegian, Butler men’s basketball beat reporter for the IndyStar. Twitter: @drewfav

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