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Replacing Evan Turner

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Evan Turner signed a 4 year, $70M contract this summer to join the Blazers. Can the Celtics replace his production with a handful of players on their rookie contracts?

NBA: Preseason-Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

In Moneyball, there’s this scene where they’re talking about substitutiing Jason Giambi’s production with Scott Hatteberg, David Justice, and Jeremy Giambi:

This season, the Celtics won’t have a Giambi-sized hole to fill, but they will miss Evan Turner off the bench. ET’s numbers weren’t gaudy (10-5-4 in 28 minutes), but he settled the second unit and was a clutch player from Brad Stevens at the end of close games. Like Billy Beane and Peter Brand, Boston will attempt to replace Turner in the aggregate with their young core of Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Kelly Olynyk.

One of the reasons why Evan Turner worked so well in Brad Stevens’ offense was his ability to score from almost anywhere on the floor (at least within the three point line). He epitomized the read-and-react system’s randomness by being able to probe with his dribble and pull up from anywhere.

Evan Turner 2015-2016 shot chart via NBA.com/stats

Last season, 60% of Turner’s offense came in the mid-range. He was particularly efficient in the paint, shooting a blistering 46.3% inside of 15-feet. Nobody will forget those meandering dribble drives that end with what seems to be an ill-advised pull up jumper and an affirming Tommy Heinsohn yelling “that’s his shot.”

For what it’s worth, Jaylen Brown is still a work in progress. He’s shown some promise getting the ball on the low block—Turner would pick on smaller guards in the post, too—and using his size and strength to overpower smaller and slower defenders, but his jumper still needs work. As advertised, where Brown excels is at the rim. In limited minutes, he’s got to the cup 31 times in 7 games and is second on the team in free throw attempts per game behind Isaiah Thomas. So, while Turner’s versatility will be missed, Brown’s ability to get easy buckets and to the line will give the 20-year-old a productive role on offense.

It’s not just a matter of where Brown’s shots will come from, but the speed in his decision making. One of the biggest criticisms waged at Turner was that he overdribbled and some of the analytics bear that out. Almost a third of ET’s shots came after 3-6 dribbles where he hit 47.7% of his shots. However, 20.4% of his shots came after 7+ dribbles and his FG% dropped to 40.8%.

So far, we haven’t seen that from Brown. With Stevens wanting to ramp up the pace and “fly around,” players are encouraged to quickly read the defense and either make a pass or a move. More times than not, that’s lead to a drive for Brown. Evan Turner is a very skilled player and you could get him the ball particularly in late game situations when you needed a bucket, but Brown’s quick twitch should have a more cumulative effect on the offense.

Turner averaged over four assists a game in 2015-2016. He served as the primary ball handler in the second unit and moonlighted with the starters to get IT4 off the ball. That responsibility will now fall on the shoulders of Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart. So far, the summer league and training camp results have been positive.

Rozier and Smart have averaged around 5 assists each per-36 minutes in Boston’s seven preseason games. They’ve done it in the pick-and-roll and through penetration. What’s helped them both has been their improvement in the mid-range game. They’re a combined 18-for-30 outside of the paint. And like Brown, they’ve used quick hitter drives to shrink the defense and find open shooters and cutters. Neither has Turner’s size that allows them to slow down the game and look over the defense, but as soon as Olynyk returns, that should add another weapon to Boston’s bench arsenal.

Olynyk won’t be back until mid-November, but he’s been cleared for full contact in practice and is on schedule with his six month post-surgery timeline. Olynyk averaged 20 mpg last season, 15 of them with Evan Turner on the floor. Olynyk won’t be “replacing” Turner as much as the ball handlers and wings, but he does approximate some of Turner’s playmaking instincts. They can both score, but they’d rather find an opportunity for their teammates. Like Turner, Olynyk can play with his back to the basket and act as a point man in the high post. The Celtics won’t always be able to play at a high pace and it’ll be important to have playmakers than can create in the half court.

The success of the Celtics won’t hinge on one player, but there will be times this season where we’ll miss Evan Turner. He’s a shining example of what Brad Stevens’ Midas touch can do for a player and that’s the hope with Boston’s entire young core.