Turner Adjusting Through Struggles, Confident He Can Contribute

by Manny Randhawa | @MannyRsports

April 3, 2014

After the Pacers’ 101-94 win over the Detroit Pistons Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, reporters flocked to the lockers of Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West and Lance Stephenson to ask what led to Indiana’s resuscitation on offense and whether this finally signaled the turnaround they had been desperately seeking for weeks.

But sitting alone at his locker was Evan Turner, the key player the Pacers received in exchange for Danny Granger in a February trade with the 76ers designed to fortify Indiana’s underachieving bench as the playoffs neared.

“I’m Evan,” Turner replied when one reporter ventured over and introduced himself for the first time.

Just as he introduced himself in the locker room, Turner has undertaken the challenge of introducing himself to a passionate fan base with high expectations for a team that has given it every reason to demand excellence.

But the honeymoon period for Turner didn’t last much longer than the standing ovation he received during his debut on Feb. 25, a night on which he had 13 points, six rebounds and two assists off the bench.

Turner’s player efficiency rating wasn’t all that impressive with the 76ers (13.2), but since joining the Pacers, his PER has fallen to 8.7. His true shooting percentage has also fallen dramatically, from 50.4 percent to 45.8 since suiting up for Indiana.

Since scoring 20 points against the Pistons on Mar. 15 in Detroit, Turner hasn’t cracked double figures.

Defensively, Turner has been viewed as a liability on the league’s top defensive team. In an analysis of how the Pacers fared defensively while Turner was on the floor from the time he was acquired through Mar. 19, ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh noted that Indiana’s defensive rating skyrocketed to 105.7 when Turner was in the game, as opposed to 98.9 when he was on the bench.

Before the Pacers acquired Turner, their record was 41-13. Since then, Indiana has gone just 12-10. Some in the media have wondered aloud whether trading Danny Granger, to that point the longest-tenured member of the Pacers, disrupted the chemistry of the group. And whenever Turner has a poor shooting night or gets beat down the floor defensively, fans inevitably think about Granger.

“It’s had its up and down moments,” Turner said about his first five weeks with Indiana. “I definitely enjoy the winning aspect of it. Clearly, you’re gonna deal with, you know, Danny was so beloved here, and everything like that. So some nights you might get the whole heckling of, ‘We traded Danny for you, you better do something.’ But sometimes I feel like my success isn’t in regards to scoring like people think. I think in the past month or so, the most shots I’ve got is like four or five (per game). So sometimes it’s distributing, sometimes it’s playing defense, and just all-out competing.”

Coming from a team like the Sixers, who have the dubious distinction of being the second-worst team, record-wise, in the NBA, and transitioning to the team with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference is a nice change of scenery for Turner. But given the way Philadelphia plays defense, it’s been even more of a challenge for Turner to adjust to the defensive system of the league’s No. 1 defensive squad.

The Sixers load up in the paint and play a lot of help defense, attempting to rotate out on perimeter shooters. It hasn’t worked out well; Philadelphia is currently ranked 26th in the NBA in defensive rating, allowing 109.7 points per 100 possessions.

The Pacers do the opposite, playing aggressive man defense, particularly on the perimeter, with confidence in Roy Hibbert behind them if their man is able to penetrate. Learning the new system has proven tough for Turner.

“I think defensively, they (the Pacers) have different reads,” he said. “And after doing something for so long, your body’s already programmed to do something one way, how you react to it defensively. And sometimes I get caught up in that situation. Obviously, I’d love to be in the game at the end of the game and all that stuff. It’s a little different, but I’ll just adjust and support.”

Going from a losing team to a title contender, every mistake is now exponentially magnified for Turner. But the fourth-year pro said that while there is more pressure, that’s part of being a professional.

“I think as a pro you just learn the ‘next play’ mentality,” he said. “You read into it (when you make a mistake) but you don’t. You try and make sure that mistake doesn’t happen again, and you just keep competing.”

Turner said his focus right now is on making his minutes on the floor count.

“I think being efficient,” he said of what he needs to improve on. “I have to be efficient with the 12 or 13 minutes I get a game. I have to try to impact it some way.”

Another wrinkle in Turner’s orientation period with the Pacers has been the team’s struggles since the trade. That has resulted in questions from the media after many games about why the team is performing so poorly compared with earlier in the season, a time during which Turner was still wearing Sixers’ red, white and blue.

But Turner has taken it in stride, and knows enough about how grueling an NBA season can be to hold his own under media scrutiny.

“I understand, I mean it just balances itself out,” Turner said. “You take your losses sometimes, you know what I’m saying? I mean, I think (Larry) Bird said it: Life always balances itself out. Sometimes the ball might not roll your way every now and then, and sometimes it does. But hopefully, it’ll come at the right time and we’ll benefit at the right time from it.”

David West, the veteran locker room leader for the Pacers, underscored the difficulty of transitioning to a new team, particularly when coming from a team like the Sixers. But he’s confident that Turner will be a valuable asset come playoff time.

“He’s trying,” West said. “It’s tough sometimes when you come from the situation he was in. He’s been there for a few years. It’s hard to break some of those habits, and I think he’s tried to integrate himself into what we’re doing. We knew it was going to be a process and it wasn’t going to be easy. But we’re going to continue to work with him and I feel like he can help us when the playoffs get here.”

With Indiana’s bench – which was bolstered in the offseason when the Pacers added Luis Scola and C.J. Watson, among others – scuffling, the team faces questions about its depth very similar to those that surrounded it last season as the playoffs approached.

So far, Turner hasn’t provided the offensive lift the Pacers were hoping for, and along with his teammates on the squad’s second unit, has been inconsistent. But Turner is confident that his presence will result in a net positive for Indiana when it’s all said and done.

“I think I’ll help win more than I’ll hurt,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing.”

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