Evan Turner made a positive impact last season with his reliable point guard play, knack for hitting clutch shots, and his versatility on defense. However, his presence could create some complications with this year's Boston Celtics roster. Marcus Smart is likely to require more developmental reps at point guard, if the team intends to develop him at the position, and the "wing/swing" position gets awfully crowded when you factor in the rookies as well as incumbents -- Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, and Jonas Jerebko. And with so much money to be had next summer, some of Boston's pending free agents could become less complacent taking a lesser role than they were this past season. In short, someone stands to be more spectator than participant based on the current roster makeup.
"We really want Marcus to play a little bit more of the point guard position in summer league," Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said at his end-of-season press conference. Smart went on to play almost entirely point guard this summer, but could see fewer opportunities as the depth chart currently stands.
Brad Stevens surprised a lot of people around the league with his decision to hand Turner the keys as the team's primary ball handler, but it worked out; he ranked 20th in the NBA in "pure point rating," a metric that weights assists and turnovers relative to each other.
After Isaiah Thomas was acquired at the trade deadline, Smart's reps at point guard were virtually eliminated, shifting him off-ball. Before the break, Smart averaged 73.6 passes and 6.9 assists per 48 minutes, as calculated using SportVU data, but after the break he dropped to 54.4 passes and 4.1 assists per 48.
Turner's pick-and-roll usage was second on the team to Isaiah Thomas. Per Synergy/NBA.com, 37.2 percent of Thomas' possession came as the pick-and-roll ball handler to 35.2 percent for Turner and just 23.5 percent for Smart. Of the primary pick-and-roll ball handlers, Turner's points per possession also ranked second, with Thomas scoring an elite 0.94 PPP, to 0.72 for Turner and 0.59 for Smart.
The Celtics were clearly better off with Turner taking on the point guard duties; Stevens made him do what he does best: penetrate the paint to create offense or score from mid-range.
But this year is different.
More on Turner
Thanks to the on-hands tutelage of Boston's coaching staff and a supreme work ethic, Smart was significantly more advanced as a pick-and-roll ball handler the last two months of the season and showed substantive progress with his change-of-speeds and direction throughout summer league. If the team intends to progress Smart's offensive impact beyond spot-up shooting, something's got to give.
Turner could simply shift off-ball, or use fewer ball handling opportunities, but that diminishes his greatest skill: shot creation. He even said last preseason, via MassLive, that any coach who sticks him in the corner to shoot three-pointers is no genius. That's because he's only an average to below average spot up shooter, hitting just 28.1 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes last season.
If the Celtics did decide to try Turner in that type of role, they'd retain his versatility on defense, but they'd be doing it at the cost of keeping young sharpshooters on the bench. R.J. Hunter showed the potential of being an elite shooter in college, flashed that ability this pre-season, and is likely to someday excel in an off-ball role for a team desperate for more reliable perimeter efficiency.
If Hunter does receive an opportunity, the key obstacle for him will be to prove he can come off the bench cold and heat up. If Stevens can use Hunter as he did with Gigi Datome last season, Hunter's superior defensive awareness and playmaking gives him a chance to carve out a role in a clear area of need, ranking 27th in three-point percentage. While this role may not be substantial in volume, the 96 minutes available at guard will all be precious to come by.
James Young could also receive an opportunity if this situation were to arise. Point guard Terry Rozier may also be a defensive upgrade over Turner, despite being a rookie.
But Turner's presence diminishes the chances of either of Boston's 2015 first-round picks from receiving an opportunity this season. That may be an acceptable trade-off for a team with more senior players whose contract status and playing time needs demand precedence. The question is whether that trade-off creates the most value, on and off-court. It's a tough equation to factor.
Last season, the Celtics added by subtracting Jeff Green, arguably their most productive player at the time. More minutes became available, which allowed Crowder to flourish down the stretch, and Bradley to gain valuable reps as a scorer. Young even received a chance before the Celtics made their epic playoff push.
On CelticsBlog, the playing time distribution effect of the Green trade was outlined, and it had its clear benefits. The same result could occur if Turner were traded before the season. Assuming the Celtics stay with five big men (96 minutes total allocated to power forward and center), that leaves 144 minutes to be distributed at point guard, shooting guard, and small forward.
Here's how a minutes projection looks with Turner on the roster:
If Turner receives his typical 20-30 minutes per game, opportunities for the rookies would likely be scare. Perry Jones would probably also be the 16th player on the roster and likely cut, possibly with the hopes of him agreeing to sign with Maine Red Claws, if they hope to retain any value from the player himself.
Here's how an 11-man rotation could look with Turner's 25 minutes per game off the table with distribution to the rest of the team.
Note how Hunter and Young receive six minutes per game. Those extra 12 minutes could be distributed to Hunter, Rozier, Young, or Jones, depending on the game and the situation. If the Celtics need to supersize their lineups, maybe they roll with Jones. If they need shooting, it's Hunter or Young. If it's defense, it's Rozier.
Or, a tight early-season 10-man rotation could also look something like this, with a focus on the key rotational veterans.
Though Jerebko played a majority of his minutes as a "big" last season, even spending time at center, freeing up minutes at the "wing/swing" would provide the opportunity to create more playing time for the team's true big men by slotting him down and going to a size/length lineup more frequently.
This could be an attractive option to combat the number of teams looking to go small in the frontcourt due to the "Draymond Green Effect."
The young players wouldn't necessarily play in this scenario, but it would open up a wealth of options at both ends of the roster spectrum. Whether or not they'll seize the opportunity remains to be seen, but more minutes would be still be available for more impactful players.
Crowder, whom the team has made a strong investment in, is a significantly better defender than Turner. Smart isn't a better ball handler, but he potentially has a more impactful future. Jerebko is an equally versatile defender, a better spot up shooter, and creates unique size/speed matchup advantages at his position.
Evan Turner will have a chance for redemption with the Boston Celtics
What can Evan Turner accomplish with the Boston Celtics this season? Once labeled a bust, can Turner turn his career around? (Portions of the intro were originally published by myself on TriangleOffense.com.)
There is a domino effect if Turner is removed from the equation, and in theory, a Turner-less Celtics team presents some positives.
But even if the Celtics did want to move on from him, it's difficult to find a team that needs a point guard, has a nonguaranteed contract or cap space, and a draft pick of fair value.
But the non-contact injury to point guard Dante Exum creates a massive hole at point guard for the Utah Jazz. And, at the risk of speculating, it possibly produces a trading partner for the Celtics.
The Jazz plan on making a push for the playoffs this season, but have no reliable point guard depth behind Exum. As a sign of their lack of confidence in the position, they were even "showcasing" Trey Burke in the NBA Africa game (as the Celtics reportedly were with Turner), per Ryen Russillo.
Turner would present similar value to Exum due to his versatility, and could work as a perfect stopgap in the lineup, if Exum's injury is serious, which you have to believe it is since he's going back to Utah for evaluation on his knee. A report suggests he suffered a torn ACL, which would knock him out for the entire year.
Turner is light-years ahead of Exum as a pick-and-roll decision-maker and would arguably be an upgrade in their starting lineup. His presence would serve a similar impactful role as it did last season for the Celtics.
The Jazz have a plethora of future draft picks of low-mid value, including Golden State's 2017 first and Oklahoma City's protected first (protected 1-14 through 2020 and turns into 2020 and 2021 seconds if not conveyed by 2020). They also own all of their own first-round picks.
It would be a major win for the Celtics if they were to flip Turner, who one year ago had a reputation as a fatally flawed bust, for a future first-round pick. And it would a nice haul for the Jazz, since Turner is a reliable point guard that could thrive in Quin Snyder's up-tempo motion offense, like he has for Stevens.
Despite being one of the few writers last summer to applaud the Boston Celtics' acquisition of Evan Turner, when considering all the factors -- Smart's playing time, opportunities for rookies, and the distribution of veteran minutes -- it's possible he could be at the risk of outstaying his welcome.