It’s easy to label NBA players as "busts" when they fail to meet pre-draft expectations, but what’s often overlooked is how much a player’s situation influences their success. In order for a player to take steps towards reaching their potential they must receive an opportunity, but not all opportunities are created equally.
Top draft picks like Mike Dunleavy, Jr. and Shaun Livingston were once labeled as busts but have since carved out significant roles on competitive teams. It only required patience and the right environment for them to become "late bloomers."
The same could happen for Evan Turner, who hasn’t met expectations after being drafted No. 2 by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2010 NBA Draft.
Turner was projected as a star go-to scorer after being named the National Player of the Year at Ohio State, but after four years in the NBA he has career averages of 11.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game. With an underwhelming 44.8 eFG% and 12.0 PER, many NBA writers and fans consider the 25 year-old Turner a bust.
In a 2012 interview with Dime Magazine, Evan Turner explained that being labeled a bust so early in his career was extremely frustrating. "I was looking at my NBA career as a sprint, and now I know it’s a marathon," Turner told Dime. "Everything wants to rush everything, but I’m just not like that. I’ve always been a little slow to warm up."
Turner got off to a paltry start and succumbed to the "franchise savior" expectations that were placed on him, but he has never really gotten the chance to play a full season in a system that preaches efficiency or maximizes on the positive attributes of his game.
In fact, it might be too soon to label him at all considering he will get a fruitful chance with the Boston Celtics, finally free of the stress that burdened him in Philadelphia.
Turner's journey thus far
Turner began his career playing for Doug Collins, whose offenses ranked in the top three of mid-range shot attempts, bottom seven of three-point attempts, and bottom 11 of restricted area attempts. By today's NBA standards, where the mid-range shot is evaporating before our eyes, those totals are prehistoric.
Even though Collins' motion-based offensive system was a fit on paper, the team philosophy was not, which ultimately led to his dismissal and the hiring of Brett Brown.
Under Brown, Turner started 54 games, and during that time Philadelphia's offense ranked first in restricted area attempts, 12th in three-point attempts, and 29th in mid-range attempts -- a drastic evolution from Collins' offenses.
Though the 76ers lost 63 games, Brown's system at least fits the modern style of the league, which is exactly what Turner needed to take a step forward in his development. He started taking less mid-range shots and instead opted to drive the ball all the way to the rim or just attempt a three.
|Shot Type||2013-14 (PHI)||2012-13||2011-12||2010-11|
|Restricted Area Usage||28.9%||22.0%||25.1%||22.1%|
|Mid-Range and Paint (Non-RA) Usage||55.3%||63.0%||66.6%||69.6%|
As the statistics above show, Turner attempted a higher rate of shots from generally efficient areas of the court such as three-point range and the restricted area. Playing for Brown allowed Turner to develop more as a pro, instead of sticking to the same old thing he did back in college -- pound the ball in isolation and pull-up from mid-range.
"Sometimes I think he's a victim of the fact he was so skilled at beasting college basketball and just being able to get a foot and shoulder by people and hit uncontested jump shots that he hadn't had to really rely on or need the 3-point shot," coach Brown told the Boston Herald. "He could get to the rim or get to other places on the floor that sort of identified his game. He became sort of a long 2-point shooting type of guy."
|Effective Field Goal % (eFG%)||45.1%||44.6%||45.5%||43.9%|
|True Shooting % (TS%)||50.4%||47.8%||47.8%||48.4%|
|Player Efficiency Rating (PER)||13.2||12.1||12.6||10.8|
|Usage % (USG%)||24.4%||21.2%||20.3%||17.0%|
Part of this change may have come from Brown's analytics-driven system -- Spursian, if you will -- which is fairly similar to how the Celtics may envision their 2014 roster executing. If Turner continues playing this style -- with less mid-range attempts out of isolation plays -- then he may improve immensely.
Of course, Turner did remain inefficient last season, but his rates didn't decline despite taking more shots per minute. After attempting 15.9 shots per 36 minutes with Philadelphia (his previous high was 13.1 per 36), Turner had roughly the same percentages and didn't see a drop off like many players do when they take on a large bulk of the offense. Plus, it was his first year playing this style, so there was a natural adjustment period.
Fitting Turner into the system
At this point of the summer, Brad Stevens and his staff are asking themselves questions such as: How can we put Turner in a better position to succeed? Which plays does he excel at? Which ones should be eliminated? What areas of the court does he work most comfortably in?
If Boston successfully finds answers to those questions, and Turner "buys in," then it's possible he'll see an uptick in his efficiency. Fortunately, Turner's agent David Falk says Boston was his top destination all along, probably because Stevens' motion-based system accentuates his strengths.
"I think Brad [Stevens] had an opportunity to take a player with a high skill set and a very strong desire to prove what happened in Indiana was a mistake," Falk told the Boston Globe. "I think that Brad has a chance to put him in the right sets and have a great bargain in free agency. We were looking for a coach that felt like Evan could be an important contributor to the team."
Clearly Boston is planning for Turner to be a versatile player off of their bench, which will give him some unique opportunities depending on the teammates he's playing with. Turner will need to continue to improve his shot selection on his own, but helping him develop is more about putting him in position to succeed, just like Philadelphia began to do last season.
When in possession of the ball...
One unique skill Turner will bring to the Celtics is his ball handling ability. No wing on the roster has Turner's passing or dribbling skills, which makes him a likely candidate to handle many of the secondary pick-and-roll responsibilities, and even primary duties if there is no point guard on the floor.
On the two clips above Turner makes the "simple play" out of the pick-and-roll by creating space with the dribble, keeping his head up and reading the play, and by finishing with an accurate pass. If the line-up on the floor includes spot-up threats (such as Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Kelly Olynyk, and Marcus Thornton), then Boston should make heavy use of Turner in the pick-and-roll.
Turner has also made use of his 6-foot-7, 205-pound frame by taking advantage of smaller opponents when he's playing point guard. He is a career 44.2% scorer on post ups and can create havoc by forcing switches and match-up problems with this play type. Though he probably won't be used heavily here, the Celtics do have a handful of bigs who can shoot from the perimeter, so they could potentially play an inverse style in spurts.
When playing off-ball...
With a funky looking shot and some poor basic stats, many people immediately assume that Turner can't shoot the ball at all. He might have his struggles off the dribble, but he has been a consistent spot up threat throughout his career. As a 37.5% career spot-up three-point shooter, Turner is more than competent enough to handle catch-and-shoot duties. He's not a sharpshooting specialist, but he can at least be a threat when he's hovering near the corners or elbows of the court.
Turner is also able to create space for himself off-ball, as evident in the clips above. Going back to college he's been very savvy at utilizing v-cuts to fake out defenders and that success has carried into the NBA as a career 49.7% shooter on cuts. In a free-flowing motion offense, Turner won't always have the ball in his hands, so it'll be important for him to look for open spots on the floor to fill, because if any point guard will find him, it's Rajon Rondo.
These plays are more improvisational than scripted, but Avery Bradley was successfully cutting backdoor to get open for passes from Rondo just a few years ago. In a sense, the play is scripted since it's a pre-determined read-and-react play; even the 76ers had some sets where Turner would fill a space before quickly cutting back to the rim. Brett Brown knew how to use Turner the proper away and Brad Stevens will likely do the same.
Turner will probably never live up to the hype of a second overall draft pick -- he won't become a superstar -- but that doesn't mean he can't transform into a high-end role player by seeing his usage and play types revised. As evident by his progression with the Philadelphia 76ers last season, he might just be a late bloomer.
On a short-term deal, Evan Turner is absolutely a low-risk, medium-reward player -- maybe even high-reward if he's used in the perfect role. Not every top draft pick can be a star, but not every player that fails to meet elite expectations is a bust either.
After all, an NBA career is a marathon, not a sprint.