Denton: Turk Comfortable in Magic's System

By John Denton
January 11, 2011

NEW ORLEANS – The way Hedo Turkoglu sees it, he’s the same player now as he was two seasons ago when he was helping the Orlando Magic reach the 2009 NBA Finals. But, as he stresses, he was also this same player last year and earlier this season when he was badly miscast as a spot-up shooter in Toronto and Phoenix.

What has changed, Turkoglu says thankfully, is the situation around him. Back with the Magic following a blockbuster Dec. 18 trade, Turkoglu is once again the dynamic playmaker who has both the size and the vision to create for others and stuff the stat sheet.

He insists that he could have very well been doing the exact same things in Toronto, where he was awarded a $52 million free-agent contract only to have the ball figuratively snatched out of his hands. Remarkably, the Raptors took one of the game’s best passers and tried turning him into a spot-up shooter. And in Phoenix, where the Suns already have Steve Nash dominating the ball, Turkoglu felt like little more than window dressing as his playmaking skills went mostly to waste.

But in Orlando, where he give the keys to the car and instructed to be the cog in the Magic’s machine, life is good again. Finally, he said, he’s allowed to do what he’s good at again.

``In that year-and-a-half (in Toronto and Phoenix), I wasn’t able to do the things that I’m good at no matter what happened,’’ Turkoglu said. ``But now I’m in the right situation and I’m being used the right way and I can be productive. Nothing really changed with me, but I’m back to being the player that I can be now.

``Basketball-wise, I’m the same guy that I was before,’’ he continued. ``One thing I know for sure: If I would have been used like this before I guarantee that I would have done the same thing. I was just trying to be a team guy and do what I was told.’’

Turkoglu’s stellar play of late has helped the Magic (25-12) go on a franchise-record-tying nine game winning streak. Orlando will go for its 10th win in a row Wednesday night in New Orleans, and it will likely ride the play-making skills their 6-foot-10 point forward if the game is one the line down the stretch. Turkoglu is undoubtedly happy being back in Orlando, and according to those around him, he’s been eager to show that he’s an elite player and not the one who flopped in Toronto and Phoenix.

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``People kind of wrote him off, saying that he got all the money and then he was just relaxing. But the two situations he had in Toronto and Phoenix, those weren’t good situations for him,’’ said Orlando shooting guard Jason Richardson, who was a teammate of Turkoglu’s in Phoenix. ``Once he got back here (to Orlando), his familiarity being around this team, city and organization has helped. And him knowing that we need him to be a playmaker has been so good for him again.’’

Added Magic coach Stan Van Gundy: ``He’s highly motivated right now. For whatever reason, the year-and-a-half before this was not great for him and he’s enjoying being able to make more plays and he’s making the most of it.’’

Is he ever? In the span of six days last week, Turkoglu notched new career highs in assists (17) and steals (five) and recorded the third triple-double of his career, all coming in a Magic uniform and the most of any player ever to don Orlando pinstripes.

And the 2008 Most Improved Player award winner might have never been better than last Saturday night in Dallas. The author of so many fourth-quarter heroics during his first stint with the Magic from 2004-09, Turkoglu took over the game in the final period against Dallas. Even though the Magic kept running the same pick-and-roll set time and again, the Mavs had no answer for Turkoglu, who had 10 points five assists and two steals in the fourth quarter alone. During one incredible stretch, Turkoglu either scored or assisted on 18 straight points. For the game, he had 17 assists, 10 points and five more steals.

``I’m really enjoying it because I’m being used again to do stuff that I’m good at again,’’ Turkoglu said with a big smile. ``It’s not like I was asking to take a bunch of shots (in Toronto and Phoenix). Even if you tell me I can take 30 shots, I won’t do it. It’s not me and I’d rather throw a lob to Dwight (Howard) or to another teammate for a layup or post-up.

``Doing those things make me happier than scoring because (giving) that’s like me as a person,’’ Turkoglu continued. ``I’ve been an all-around player my whole career, so I want to rebound, get steals and assists and scoring to help out the team. If I fill the stats then I feel like I’ve something good in every part of the game to help the team.’’

Something that Turkoglu also did to help himself this season was to shed almost 20 pounds while trimming his body fat index to 8 percent. His days of eating pizza before games, as he often did during his first go-around in Orlando, is a thing of the past, especially after he started working with Steve Nash’s nutritionist in Phoenix.

``I changed some of my meals, learning what’s good to eat and what’s not good to eat and when I should eat. Being disciplined with myself has helped me out to be in better shape,’’ Turkoglu said. ``It was just about being disciplined, not eating late and not eating bad stuff. That’s helped me energy-wise and it’s been important to learn what to digest before the games. With my body, I can feel it, but baseball-wise I’m still the same Hedo. I’m being used with what I’m good at. I was just kind of waiting to be used in the right way again.’’

In 11 games with Orlando, Turkoglu has averaged 12.5 points, 6.5 assists and 5.4 rebounds for the Magic. Those numbers dwarf the 11.3 points, 4.1 assists and 4.6 rebounds he put up last season in Toronto and they closely resemble his numbers from 2008-09 – his final season in Orlando – of 16.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists a game.

What delights Van Gundy the most is that Turkoglu’s assists (71) with the Magic are more than triple his turnover totals (20). Turkoglu said he’ll be forever grateful to Van Gundy, who believed in his playmaking abilities and put the ball in his hands at the end of games. And now that Turkoglu is back in a familiar role, the Magic are reaping the benefits.

``Stan knows what I do and knows that I’m not going to try and dunk on somebody. But I can drive and draw two defenders and kick the ball to the open man,’’ Turkoglu said. ``The past two years if I would have been used like this I would have done the same things. When I was in (Toronto) I wasn’t expecting to be used exactly this same way, but I hoped I would be used somewhat like this so that I could help the team. Let me do what I’m good at to help the team. It was easy to be a spot-up (shooter), but I wasn’t helping the team. I know what I can do. Me getting 17 assists and triple-doubles again, it just shows me doing the stuff that I’m good at again for the Magic.’’

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