Player Review 2014: Evan Turner
Years Pro: 4
Status: Has one year remaining on his rookie contract, with a qualifying offer the Pacers can reject.
Key Stats: Averaged 7.1 points on 41 percent shooting in 27 games with the Pacers. Had averaged 17.4 points in 54 games in Philadelphia, where he played 14 more minutes per game.
Evan Turner is one of the most enigmatic players ever to don a Pacers uniform – a player capable of scoring outbursts, but one who struggled to fit into the offensive scheme of a balanced and established team. All of which makes his future as uncertain as the next decade's technology.
The acquisition of Turner just minutes before the Feb. 20 trade deadline seemed like a great idea at the time to most who follow the NBA closely. He was the second pick in the 2010 draft, eight spots ahead of Paul George, and was averaging 17.4 points for Philadelphia. It seemed the Pacers were getting a younger, healthier and more versatile player for Danny Granger, not to mention a capable backup power forward/center in Lavoy Allen and a trade exception and some financial relief.
Photo Gallery: Evan Turner's 2913-14 Season-in-Review
It didn't work out as Larry Bird and others hoped, but it's still unlikely anyone close to the team would declare it a mistake. There was sound logic behind the reasoning, and Granger was no more a factor for the Clippers in the playoffs than Turner was for the Pacers. Did it cost the Pacers in the playoffs? We'll never know for sure, but the stats and the locker room observations say probably not.
Turner was basically two different players this season. As a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, he averaged those 17.4 points in 35 minutes per game. As a Pacers player, he averaged 7.1 points in 21 minutes. When his stats are adjusted to 36 minutes per game for comparison's sake, he scored better, shot better and rebounded better with the 76ers, but his assists were a tick higher and his turnovers a tick lower with the Pacers. He also shot much better from the three-point line with the Pacers after working with a shooting instructor, 50 percent compared to the 29 percent he shot in Philly.
Granger, meanwhile, averaged 8.3 points with the Pacers in 22.5 minutes per game before the trade and 8 points with the Clippers – after Philadelphia released him – while playing 16 minutes. In the playoffs, Turner averaged 3.3 points on 43 percent shooting for the Pacers, while Granger averaged 2.6 points on 28 percent shooting for the Clippers.
Some outside observers claimed trading Granger damaged the Pacers' chemistry and contributed to their late-season struggles. That was news to those inside the locker room, who saw Granger usually being the first one to leave after home games, and Turner sticking around to socialize with his teammates. Granger was a respected veteran trying to revive his career, a good guy who was liked by teammates, but had not been a leader or mentor to anyone on this team other than Paul George when George was coming out of college.
“There's a lot of things with the Evan move,” Bird said at his postseason session with the media. “Danny was coming off a year where he didn't play. He was injured again with his calf. He was coming back but he wasn't playing very good for quite a few games there.
“The problem you get into when you do these deals is when you bring guys in that are used to playing 30-35 minutes and are all of a sudden down to 12 or 14, are they going to be able to handle that? … Evan seemed like he had to get into the flow of the game before he really got it going. I'm a firm believer. I love his game because he can do a little bit of everything. Whatever happens, wherever he's at next year, if he plays 30-35 minutes he's going to average 17 points.”
Wherever Turner is at next year is a mystery for now. The only shot he has of returning to the Pacers is if Lance Stephenson receives a free agent offer the Pacers can't match and signs elsewhere, thus leaving enough room to sign Turner without exceeding the luxury tax threshold. Even then it's questionable whether the Pacers would consider picking up the option on Turner's rookie contract, at a cost of nearly $9 million.
He did, however, show he can score with ease when he gets the opportunity. He forced his offense shortly after the trade, but then seemed to settle into the schemes. Still, he's accustomed to being the primary scoring option, and struggled to find his rhythm outside of that role. His defense was an issue as well. He put effort into it, but often seemed out of position and unable to contain his assignment.
On the rare occasions he got a chance to be a focal point of the offense, he looked more like the Turner of old and the kind of player Bird can believe in. In the six games with the Pacers in which he played more than 25 minutes, Turner averaged 17.8 points on 58 percent shooting from the field, and hit 7-of-11 three-point shots.
For example, he scored 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting in his Pacers debut in a blowout win over the Lakers on Feb. 25, and had 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting in a blowout loss at Charlotte. In his first start, at Milwaukee when the starters were held out, he scored 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting and added seven rebounds and nine assists. In his other start, in the final regular season game at Orlando, he had 14 points while hitting 5-of-6 shots, with eight rebounds and six assists.
His lack of postseason production left a lasting memory, however. He had two solid games in the first round against Atlanta, averaging 10 points while hitting 8-of-14 shots combined, including 2-of-3 three-pointers. He sat out the last two games of that series, however, because coach Frank Vogel didn't believe the matchups were appropriate for him. He was generally ineffective in six games against Washington, then was sick for the first game of the Miami series, and went on to play in just one game for all of 3 ½ minutes.
Odds are, he'll be back to being more productive next season. Wherever he is.