The signing of Evan Turner was met with an understandable amount of skepticism from Celtics fans. The former number two overall pick failed to live up to expectations in his three and a half years with the Philadelphia 76ers and he was seen as a guy that put up a lot of empty stats on a bad team. A mid-season trade that sent him to the Indiana Pacers sunk his value even further when his game regressed playing for a team with championship aspirations. As his rookie contract expired, Turner entered free agency for the first time burdened by the dreaded bust label.
Despite those previous disappointments, Turner can still be useful to the Celtics. For one thing, expectations will be much lower. He's signed to a modest 2-year, $6.7 million deal that accounts for only a piece of the mid-level exception. While bringing Turner on board was nothing to get excited about, it was seen as a low risk opportunity to tap into the potential that once made him such a highly regarded prospect.
So far the results have been inconsistent this season, but we're starting to see flashes of how Turner can help this team. On the surface his statistics look like they are in decline, with his scoring average of 9.2 points per game at it's lowest point since his rookie season. However, we have to factor in that his minutes are also at a career low and he's playing a much different role than he has in the past.
On a per 40 minute basis, Turner's scoring is still above his career average at 16.2 P/40. His efficiency has also improved dramatically, with career highs in True Shooting Percentage (53.9) and PER (14.43). Those numbers are merely average at best, but they still exceed expectations.
Turner has always been considered a good ball-handler for a wing player, which is an aspect of his game that the Celtics seem to be utilizing effectively. He's averaging a career high 6.0 assists per 40 minutes and 24.6 assist ratio. Coach Brad Stevens set the expectation before the season that he expected to have Turner play a lot with the ball in his hands and even had him start at point guard in the preseason, with Rajon Rondo sidelined.
"We've got multiple primary ball-handlers," explained Stevens on the eve of the Celtics preseason opener. "I've always been a guy who thinks you can play two point guards together."
The benefit of Turner's versatility showed in Sunday's win over the Washington Wizards when he was asked to be the one to bring the ball up court late in the fourth quarter of a tight game to prevent the opponent from deploying a hack-a-Rondo strategy. Having multiple ball-handlers on the floor allows the Celtics to run their offense without having to worry about teams exploiting Rondo's free throw funk.
Monday's rematch in Washington may have resulted in a double-overtime loss, but the silver lining was the effectiveness of the Celtics bench, which contributed 82 points. Turner led the way with his best game in a Celtics uniform, scoring 18 points, collecting 6 rebounds and dishing out 8 assists. His 39 minutes were the second most on the team and the Celtics were +17 with Turner on the court. The highlight of his night came when he hit a desperation corner three to tie the game with 0.6 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime.
Turner is starting to settle into his new role with the Celtics and is averaging a respectable 10.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists over his last five games. His 22.8 minutes per game is a bit higher than expected, as Stevens is showing a surprising amount of faith in him so far, but it's starting to pay off.
Turner will need to show more consistency in order for him to be worthy of the minutes he's getting, but the results he's producing in this limited sample size have shown what he's capable of. If he can keep it up, he has the ability to become a valuable role player for this Celtics team.