Q&A: Pacers, big man Turner in midst of steady trek to top

Budding frontcourt star finding his niche in fourth NBA season

Myles Turner is used to the slow grind to the top.

It’s been that way for the Indiana Pacers’ big man from the first moment he picked up a basketball. He wasn’t the best right away, but his work ethic always carried him through.

That’s why he entered his fourth season in the NBA on a different trajectory with an upstart Pacers team navigating a slow grind of their own in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Pacers weren’t anyone’s preseason pick to crash the party at the top of the East. And yet here they are, right in the thick of things along with the Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers.

Turner has been a steady presence for the Pacers, a force protecting the rim (he’s averaging a career-best 2.8 blocks per game) as well as a dynamic offensive performer capable of impacting the game both inside and from deep (making a career-best 39.1 percent of his 3-pointers).

He’s evolved into the prototype stretch-five in this position-less era of the game and it is why he was one of the youngest players at USA Basketball’s mini-camp last summer with the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team.

It was there that Turner got a taste of what life could be like in future summers spent competing in World Cup and Olympic competitions with the best players in the game. It’s a peer group every player in the league is eager to join — even a humble, slow-grinder like Turner.

Turner, who sat out of the Pacers’ Sunday road loss to the Raptors with a sore shoulder, spoke with NBA.com‘s Sekou Smith about all that and more recently.

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Sekou Smith: Has this season gone the way you expected it to based on the work you did in the offseason? I was out there in Las Vegas for the USA Baskeball mini-camp and saw how much extra attention you were getting from some of the vets. It seemed like everybody was anticipating this being sort of a take-off year for you.

Myles Turner: The way I’m looking at it, I’m just trying to get better every year and help my team win. It’s as simple as that. And I think we’re doing a solid job so far. It’s not about me individually. I mean, I have my own goals in terms of where I want to be and where I want to see my game go long-term. But all of my goals right now are about this team and what we can do this season.

SS: Well, not a lot of people outside of Indiana picked the Pacers to be in this space. Is this Pacers team where you thought you’d be coming out of Christmas and heading into the 2019 part of the season?

MT: Like I said, I think we’re doing a solid job. There’s no doubt there are few games we wish we could have back, same as any season. But we’re doing a solid job right now. I really like where our defense is at and I think our chemistry overall is really good. We know who we are and what we’re capable of and we do our best to play to our highest level every night out.

SS: You had a monster December (15.7 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 3.2 bpg on 53.5 percent shooting and 50 percent 3-point shooting), when [All-Star guard Victor] Oladipo was out of the lineup for the first five games of that month. Does everything just feel different when you know you’re rolling like that?

MT: You’re so busy grinding during course of the season that it’s hard to get too deep into your own mind about how you’re playing, good or bad. I don’t like to dive too deep into it either way, dwelling on things. You have to get out there every night and do your job and then move on to the next one and do it again.

I’ve always been able to shoot and handle the ball. … My dad really put me on to it. He told me, “one of these days, bigs are going to have to do everything.” And lo and behold, he was right.”

Myles Turner, on his guard-like skills

SS: What does it say about this team that during that 11-game stretch when Victor was out of the lineup that you guys went 7-4 and maintained the way you did?

MT: It just shows that we have a lot of resiliency on this team and a lot of depth. We’ve got a lot of guys that could step up at any given moment. That’s the way we’re built as a group and that’s what Coach [Nate] McMillan expects of us. We’re all grown men and we understand the responsibility we all carry on this team. It’s never about just one of us. It’s about what we do as a group.

SS: There are still levels that each player is chasing each and every year. Here you are in your fourth season. Has your approach changed now as a “veteran?” Is it more strategic compared to the way you approached things as a youngster just coming into the league and trying to just work your tail off to create some space and establish yourself?

MT: Well kind of, man. It’s kind of like that. But I still have that worker mentality. And I’m still one of the younger players on this team, I’m 22, so even though I have more of a leadership role now, I’m still one of the younger guys. So it’s always about trying to get my work in as much as possible … you know, I don’t really feels the aches and pains like some of the older vets do [laughing]. But ultimately, I just try and work. I don’t think anything can ever replace that.

SS: Speaking of that work, I watched the way you guys worked after the sessions in Vegas. You, Devin Booker, Victor, Paul George and Kevin Durant were going at it one-on-one. It was some physically intense stuff after the big group workouts, which was no joke. Is that just more of that grind you’re talking about?

MT: It’s just an elite-level, and uh, where I want to be one day. I know I’m still working to get there. But I still feel like I can hold my own against that company. So, going up against that caliber of competition on a daily basis, in that setting, hopefully it just helps me take my game to that next level of where I want to be.

SS: Did that setting also give you a chance to see what sorts of things you could steal — and I mean that in a good way — from some of the league’s elite players?

MT: Yeah, I know what you mean. And yeah, I watch film just like anybody else. So, if I see something that I like, I might work on it here and there. But for the most part, I have my own refined game and that’s really all I can rely on at the end of the day.

SS: The change in the game seems like it really works in favor of guys like you, big men who can stretch out on the floor and play all over. Everybody wants a big man who can play basically like a man half his size. Does that make sense to you being a 7-footer and the size of a traditional big man but growing up in an era where you’re encouraged to develop all these other skills?

MT: Oh yeah, definitely. It’s what I’ve done all of my life. I’ve always been able to shoot and handle the ball. It’s something I’ve worked on from a young age. My dad really put me on to it. He told me, “one of these days, bigs are going to have to do everything.” And lo and behold, he was right. It plays right into my hands, so there is no negative connotation to it for me. I know there might have been a time before me where you had big men who were conflicted about how to deal with developing their game and choosing one way or the other. But not for me, and not for any of the bigs of my generation. If you look around the league and at the game around the world, we’re all seeing the same things.

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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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