There has been much debate regarding who should start at the point for the Celtics going forward. In a "development" season, many have wondered why a former 2nd selection "bust" - Evan Turner - has found himself heavy minutes in this team's back court. Let's take a closer look and see what can be gleaned from this unsolved mystery.
Improvements in Efficiency
More on Evan Turner
More on Evan Turner
According to the Draft Express Historical Player Database, since 1989 the average "Guard" selected with the second overall selection has produced a basic stat line of: 32.4 MPG | 13.6 PPG | 4.2 RBS | 5.6 APG, which are all slightly superior to Turner's averages.
Most draft day "busts" define themselves by their inability to earn meaningful minutes or produce for their team. Turner's case is somewhat unique in that he has had the opportunity to play consistent minutes throughout the course of his career, but failed to produce in high volume or efficiently relative to expectation.
While Turner's per-game production hasn't reflected it, the times are a changin' when it comes to his overall efficiency:
By the numbers, Turner's efficiency has improved substantially across the board. While the "eye test" has left many cringing at his shot selection and sometimes "out of control" appearance, the end result has led to substantially better results.
According to NBA.COM player sortable statistics, Turner's "TS%" ranks 46th out 93 "Guards" who have played over 25 games and received 500+ minutes of playing time. This middling ranking may not seem impressive, but consider that Turner's career average of .489% would rank 76th on this list - 30 spots lower among all main rotation guards.
While his style of play may not be for the faint of heart, these numbers suggest two very important things at first glance. It appears that coach Brad Stevens has properly identified the best play types and situations to put Turner in. More importantly, Turner has displayed a willingness to adhere to his coach's design and work within the system.
These are two critically important pieces of information for a Celtics fanbase searching for answers in a season lacking easily interpretative purpose and direction. It suggests that Coach Stevens is having success both identifying key information for player success as well as delivering that message in a way that is internalized by his players. Considering Turner's reputation coming into the year and his production to date -- that's coaching.
So, what exactly is happening? One of the helpful ways to digest player performance information is to look at how a he's played situationally. Let's break down Turner's total games played into three subsets defined by minutes:
There are 116 "Guards" averaging over 10 minutes per game in the NBA while appearing in more than 25 of their team's games. The least used in that group average under 20 minutes per game overall. Turner has only played under 20 minutes in 19% of his appearances for Boston, just once since Thanksgiving. His average minutes played and percentage of games played above 20 minutes per game put him around the 40th percentile, or "middle of the pack" for playing time.
Based on the numbers, Turner has been at his best when playing in the 20 to 25 minute range - a range typical of primary backup guards or those who play in an even 3 or 4 guard rotation. Boston's trio of Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and Turner represent the latter type of rotation. Turner's 2.6/1 Assist-to-Turnover Ratio would rank 24th out of 93 main rotation "Guards" who play over 20 minutes per game.
A quick review of game film and box score data suggests that Turner has thrived when the backcourt has been more productive, allowing coach Stevens to pick his match-ups and helping Turner avoid forcing the issue. When the team is getting good production from other players, Turner has shot less and passed more with greater success.
However, he has also used substantially more possessions in these successful situations, which indicates that the quality of his performances could have more to do with how well his teammates are playing than how involved he is in the offense overall.
This is an important point to consider that bears watching going forward as many professional talent evaluators have written off Turner's developmental potential. While the sample sizes may be small, it is encouraging to see a player who was once considered talented enough to warrant the 2nd overall pick, make improvements in key areas of his game. These are without doubt modest returns relative to the hopes of the past, but the focus should be on what is, not what was when it comes to a player's actual quality.
How Turner's Past & Present Impact Smart's Future
Many players fall victim to "reverse hype" when the disappointment of failing to live up to initial expectations limits objectivity when measuring real progress. Based on the results to date and a price tag under $3 million for another season, the minutes Evan Turner is earning through improvement seem like a sound investment in player development.
There is no question that the team needs to streamline its roster and stabilize its rotation to maximize the developmental value of its core assets. But Turner's age, ability, progress, and price-point all support the investment in playing time he is receiving. Marcus Smart may be the future, but there are 96 minutes to share at "Guard," which should leave ample opportunity for Smart to earn substantial playing time without simply giving it away without merit.
Often times people equate shear volume of playing time to developmental improvement without considering context. There is a difference between "reps" and "quality reps" when it comes to player development. When opportunity comes without accountability bad habits often become harder to change. For all his potential, Marcus Smart has shown plenty of warts as well. While he may be the next Kyle Lowry down the road, his offensive tendencies strongly suggest he'd benefit by following the example of others for now.
One need look no further than Evan Turner for an example of what can happen when a young player is given too much, too soon, in an environment devoid of consistent structure and pressure to conform to set standards. In an instant gratification world, a bit of patience may pay dividends for Smart's future growth. Regardless of the modest returns thus far, Evan Turner has provided a solid, yet obtainable standard for Smart to aspire to.
Competition is good for development. In a season where objectives may appear cloudy at times and the natural focus drifts toward the unlimited potential of the unknown, Evan Turner's early returns suggest that progress is being made and that there is sound leadership a midst the chaotic reality of rebuilding...or "building" as Brad Stevens likes to call it.