Myles Ahead of Schedule
Though just a 19-year-old rookie, Myles Turner's play has been so surprisingly polished, it's forced Indiana to rethink its strategy
Donnie Walsh has seen more than a few prospects work out before the NBA draft in his decades as a general manager, president and consultant. But this kid walking through the door to the practice court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse last June? This kid got his attention.
"Holy ----," Walsh muttered.
"What's wrong?" a few people sitting near him asked.
"I had no idea this guy was that big a presence," Walsh said.
Walsh had just taken his first up close and personal look at Myles Turner, one of the draft candidates to be viewed, tested and analyzed that day. Frank Kaminsky, who had completed four seasons at Wisconsin and earned national Player of the Year honors, was there, too, for the specific purpose of going up against the 19-year-old from the University of Texas and helping the Pacers choose between the two.
Turner stood out that day, not only for how he played but for how he comported himself with the coaches during practice and the media afterward. The Pacers selected him with the 11th pick in the draft after Charlotte chose Kaminsky with the ninth, and the 19-year-old from Texas has since surpassed all expectations.
He worked his way into the starting lineup for the eight games previous to the All-Star break after recovering from a fractured left thumb. The Pacers won five of them despite an injury to center Ian Mahinmi and an overall desultory performance against Charlotte in the final game before the break. He's averaging 12.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.75 blocks in his starts.
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He's also single-handedly vanquished the small ball concept team president Larry Bird and coach Frank Vogel experimented with at the start of the season, because he provides the best of both worlds. His perimeter shooting spreads the floor as a smaller "power forward" would do, and his unique shot-blocking and rebounding talents strengthen the defense.
Myles Turner is big, literally and figuratively. He only figures to get bigger. And he looms large in the future of the Pacers.
"You would have to say he's one of the most, if not the most, surprising players in the draft," Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy said before Turner scored 16 points on 8-of-13 shooting against the Pistons on Feb. 6. "Everybody pretty much knew he was going to be a good player, but a lot of people thought it would take more time than this.
"Look, this was a guy who didn't even play big minutes in college as a freshman. To come in here in the NBA and do what he's doing now is a tremendous testament to his ability but also the work he's done and the way they've developed him."
Everything is Bigger in Texas
Turner's development really begins in Queens, New York, where his father David grew up within earshot of Laguardia Airport. David was a promising football and basketball player as a kid, and was projected to grow to about 6-foot-9, but the direction and ceiling of his athletic career was altered one day when, at 10, he was playing football in the backyard with his brother and suffered a broken femur in his left leg. That stunted his growth in one leg, so after a lot of family debate, he had surgery to stunt his growth in the other leg to keep one leg from being much longer than the other. He wound up reaching 6-4, and was a competent but immobile center on the Martin Luther High School team.
"I was never going to have a pro career," he said. "I played the best I could with what I have."
What he has is a limp, with a right leg bowed out as a result of the surgery. But the operation was a success in that the length of his legs varies only by one inch.
After David completed high school, his father was transferred by American Airlines, to Dallas. David went with him and earned a two-year tech school degree. He wasn't fond of Texas after having grown up in New York City, but when he wound up getting a job in Oklahoma, Texas didn't seem so bad at all. He eventually moved back and settled. Landing a job at the airport, he started out driving a bus and worked his way up to a customer service trainer.
The football injury stunted his growth, but it didn't alter his genetics. When Myles was born to David and Mary Turner in March of 1996, he was primed for growth.
"I think I gave all my height to my son that I was supposed to get," David says.
He gave him more than that. He and his wife Mary instilled self-discipline, a balanced perspective and a competitive fire.
Mom, an executive for the Starwood Hotel chain before she retired, virtually had sole custody of Myles in the evenings while David worked the night shift at the airport. She forbade him from watching television or playing video games on weeknights, and encouraged him to read. Myles won an Optimist Club award for best all-around student in high school.
The youngest of 10 children, Mary Turner had to be competitive just to survive her childhood. She instilled that in Myles in the games they played. They made one up in which they had to talk in complete sentences without ever saying "um" or other fillers. They'd go at it all night, waiting for the other to slip. It's no wonder Myles is unusually eloquent for a 19-year-old today. Or a 49-year-old, for that matter.
Mary Turner was a mixed martial arts fan, and would host parties for Myles and his friends to watch the fights. When the school year ended, David and Mary took Myles and friends to a resort to swim and relax. They went on family vacations, too.
"We made sure he had a good balanced childhood, that it wasn't all basketball," David says.
But when it came to basketball, they were all business. David played one on one with young Myles in the driveway, and refused to take it easy on him.
"I was pretty hard on him," he admits. "I wouldn't let him shoot it from the chest. Every time he did, I'd slap it down the street."
David also coached the first AAU team on which Myles played, but knew his limitations. The summer before Myles' freshman year in high school, he hired a friend, longtime personal trainer Ken "Slim" Roberson, to put him through individual workouts. Roberson had roomed with Karl Malone when they were basketball teammates at LSU, and later became Malone's personal trainer. He also had worked with future NBA stars Larry Johnson, Chris Bosh and Kurt Thomas, and, for a couple of years, Lamarcus Aldridge.
"I knew I had to put him with somebody who could get him over the hump," David says.
Roberson and Myles met about four times a week on average, in the evenings when school was in session and in the mornings otherwise. He took Myles to the track and put him through sprinter workouts, mostly, to build speed and stamina, to the weight room to build strength and to the court to build skills.
The goal was to land a college scholarship and get a free education, a point Mary Turner made clear from the beginning. Roberson, though, was accustomed to training athletes to become professionals and always had that in the back of his mind with Myles. His development was set back, though, when Myles broke his ankle during a practice as a sophomore in high school. He chased down a player to block his shot, pinned the ball against the board and landed on the opponent's foot. When the kid's foot rolled over, Myles' foot was broken.
Two days after his surgery, his father had him in the garage lifting weights. He came back to play his junior season in high school, and by the following summer was beginning to attract serious attention from recruiters on the AAU circuit. By the time he entered his senior high school season, he was ranked the No. 2 prospect in the country – behind Jahlil Okafor – by most services.
"He shocked everybody," David Turner says.
His improvement coincided with his shocking growth spurt. Myles was about 6-foot-3 as a high school freshman, and an awkward one at that, but he grew rapidly. His feet grew three sizes, from 14 to 17, in two weeks the summer before his junior year in high school, making those size-14 Air Jordans his parents had bought him a bad investment.
Myles grew so fast, in fact, his parents swear they could hear his bones expanding, Hulk-like, while he slept at night, taking every inch of the height his father didn't get.
"People don't believe us, but it is what it is," David says. "It's like when you crack your knuckles. You just hear it. It's strange. We didn't know what it was. We thought he was popping his toes or something.
"I literally woke up one morning and I had to look up to see him. That's when I knew it was … wow, he was growing exponentially."
Myles wore a size-21 shoe his senior year in high school, but his feet weren't that big. His arch is oddly positioned on his foot, so the correct size – 18 at the time – didn't feel right. He left extra space in the toe of his shoes and laced them tightly. (His huge feet offer hope that he's still growing. He was measured at 6-11 ½ in his shoes at the pre-draft combine. His father and Roberson believe he's reached 7-foot by now, and might not be finished growing.)
Myles could have gone virtually anywhere out of high school, but chose Texas over Kansas. He didn't reach his conclusion until he woke up the morning of his nationally televised press conference, where he revealed his decision by pulling a burnt orange bucket hat out of a bag and putting it on his head. Texas, in Austin, was close to home where his family could see his games. He also appeared to be the missing piece for a special team that had reached the NCAA tournament the previous season. And, it didn't hurt that he had played in a pickup game with his boyhood idol, former Texas one-and-done star Kevin Durant, who threw him a lob pass for a dunk.
By then, the ambition of the Turner family had grown from landing a college scholarship to being worthy of entering the NBA draft after his freshman season. When they reached that conclusion, not everyone was on board.
A Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist wrote:
"He is a wonderful, sweet kid with a good dad and a great family, yet he has absolutely no business being in the NBA Draft after one underwhelming year in Austin for Rick Barnes."
It was, undeniably, a rather underwhelming season. Myles had averaged 10.1 points at Texas, hitting just 27 percent of his three-point attempts, and 6.5 rebounds. Considered a missing link when he enrolled, he wound up starting just seven games.
Most damning was the fact Turner had failed to impress in the games against the elite competition. Against Kentucky, he played 18 minutes off the bench, hit 1-of-5 field goals, grabbed five rebounds and scored six points before fouling out. He scored just four points against Oklahoma, hit just 4-of-11 shots against Kansas and was nearly invisible against Iowa. He did have three games of 25 or 26 points, but they came against inferior competition – St. Francis, Lipscomb and Texas Tech, which went on to finish the season with a 13-19 record, 3-15 in conference play.
His final college game came in a loss to Butler in the NCAA tournament. He hit 1-of-5 shots in that one, scoring two points. He grabbed 10 rebounds, but also had four fouls and four turnovers in 16 minutes off the bench. Over his final five college games, he totaled just 22 points while hitting 10-of-28 shots.
At the end of it all, he had failed to show an effective post-up game, and shot poorly from the perimeter. Hardly the stuff from which lottery picks are born. It's not difficult to see why an NBA team would have favored Kaminsky, who averaged 18.8 points at Wisconsin while hitting 42 percent of his three-pointers, along with 8.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots.
There were other factors to consider, though. Turner was just an 18-year-old kid playing his first college season, and his freshman stats were better than those of another notable Texas freshman. NBA All-Star Lamarcus Aldridge had averaged 9.9 points and 5.9 rebounds, returned for his sophomore season and then became the No. 2 pick in the draft. For added perspective, when Reggie Miller was 18 he averaged 4.6 points playing less than 14 minutes a game at UCLA.
Turner also had graded out well in the more precise analytics that took into account his playing time and what happened in games when he was on the court.
Bottom line: Turner had averaged just 22.2 minutes for a team whose coach was fired at the end of the season and, arguably, hadn't maximized his skills.
Turner has always refused to complain when asked about his college basketball experience, refusing to complain about anything. His father, however, acknowledges the family's frustration.
"Of course I wasn't happy with it, but I'm going to take the high road like my son and say that's behind us now and helped shape who he is today," David Turner says.
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"He loved the school; it was absolutely fabulous. He loved the town of Austin, too. The basketball experience wasn't what we thought it would be. We got through it."
Barnes, now at Tennessee, has his version of things. In an interview with ESPN.com during Turner's freshman season, he talked as if it wasn't his plan to have Myles playing away from the basket so often.
"... he should be on the block all the time," Barnes told Myron Medcalf. "I think he could be a dominant 12-foot-and-in player … But he's got to want to do it all the time. And then his teammates have to want to get him the ball. That's a big part of it, too."
For NBA draft personnel, evaluating Turner clearly was going to require some projection, even more than with most of the early-entrant draft candidates. The reports from scouting services praised his wingspan (7-foot-4), shooting touch, shot-blocking instincts and willingness to box out for rebounds. They were less impressed with his upper body strength, lower-body agility, toughness around the basket, passing skills, post moves or his ability to stay out of foul trouble.
He clearly was bursting with potential and had exquisite intangibles, but there were those troubling subplots. Why did he start just seven games at Texas, a less-than-dominant team? More than that, was something was wrong with his running form, a possible indication of a structural problem that could haunt him throughout his NBA career.
One year earlier, Julius Randle faced pre-draft concerns about his right foot, which had been broken in the second game of his final high school season, 18 months earlier. The Lakers drafted him with the seventh pick in 2014, but he broke his tibia in the season-opener. That remained fresh in the memory of NBA executives, who don't want to waste a lottery pick on an athlete with a physical issue that might cut short his career or curtail his production.
Turner was examined at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, the same hospital where his father had undergone his operation in high school. There it was discovered the problem was weak gluteus medius muscles, which could be corrected through strength training. Turner's agent, Andy Miller, flooded league personnel with reports and X-rays to try to ease their concerns, but there were lingering concerns.
Turner alleviated many of those concerns in his pre-draft workouts. His second workout was with the Pacers on a Sunday afternoon, after he had flown in from Utah the previous evening. It was difficult to declare a clear winner of his match-up with Kaminsky in the portion of the practice viewed by media, but Turner obviously had a better body for the NBA. And, at 19, far more upside.
A couple of mock drafts had Turner going to Miami, one pick ahead of the Pacers at No. 11. One or two had him going to the Pacers. Most had him going shortly after the Pacers' pick, either to Utah at 12, Phoenix at 13 or even Oklahoma City at 14. On the morning of the draft, the consensus prediction among the Turner family was that he would wind up with Utah.
The Lakers' decision to draft D'Angelo Russell with the second pick surprised many NBA executives and reshuffled the order somewhat. The Turners thought Miami might take Myles with the 10th selection, but the Heat went with Justise Winslow. That left Turner available to the Pacers, something Bird says came as a surprise to him.
The Turners weren't at all disappointed. And David now sees it as fateful. There's a place for Turner in the Pacers' starting lineup, he gets along well with his teammates and he's comfortable living in Indianapolis. He's rooming with a friend from high school who attends Butler, and his mother has relatives in Fort Wayne.
"Indiana surprised us on draft night," David Turner says. "But it couldn't be any better."
Ahead of the Curve
Turner wasted no time making Bird look prescient. Playing three Summer League games in Orlando, he averaged 18.7 points. 8.3 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game. He hit 60.5 percent of his field goal attempts, including two-of-three three-pointers.
Turner should carry a silver marking pen with him everywhere he goes. He's the player who draws the optimistic linings around whatever clouds hover over the Pacers when things aren't going well. His immediate and impressive contributions since coming back from the fractured left thumb that kept him out of 22 games have drawn national attention. He scored 25 points off the bench at Denver. Two games later, he scored 31 off the bench at Golden State. After an efficient 16-point performance against the Clippers, he was made a starter, and responded by scoring 20 points in a dominant win over Atlanta. In the next game, against Denver, he had an impressive block of Gary Harris' dunk attempt. In the next game, against Cleveland, he had a get-up-out-of-your seat block of LeBron James' dunk attempt that was replayed endlessly on national television.
While Turner's scoring gets most of the headlines, it's the shot-blocking that most impresses Roberson. Has been since Day One of their workouts together. Among all the future pros Roberson has worked with – Malone, Bosh, Johnson, Thomas, Aldridge – Turner stands out for that reason.
"Out of all those guys, Myles stands alone with his ability to block shots," Roberson says. "There's none like Myles.
Which is not to say the rest of Turner's game isn't promising. The shooting percentages speak for themselves, but Roberson says the breadth of his game is yet to be revealed. The post-up skills, he says, are already there.
"There's a lot of things we worked on over the years we haven't even implemented," Roberson says. "As you see him get more and more comfortable as games go on, you'll see him do some back-down stuff – jump hooks over both shoulders, up-and-under-moves, you'll see a whole lot of things. The more comfortable he gets, the more of his arsenal he'll display.
"And he has an ar-se-nal," Roberson adds, whistling to add emphasis.
Roberson is equally enthusiastic about Turner's long-term future. What happens when he gets his "grown-man" strength? How much better can his skill-set become? He's got nearly 10 years to maximize his skills. How much better can he get?
Roberson might be biased, but he's also intimately aware.
"I personally feel if he stays healthy, he could go down as one of the best bigs to play the game," Roberson says. "I really believe that. If he's allowed to get in 10 years – oh, yeah, oh, yeah, oh yeah. Hes' a fast learner, and once he figures it out, oh boy, it's a wrap.
"He's one of those type of people who are always trying to get better, and he's harder on himself than anybody. It can be ridiculous sometimes how hard he is on himself. He's one of the most driven athletes I've ever seen. I put him up there with Karl Malone and (Larry Johnson). Karl Malone was ridiculous. He looked at himself like a machine. Whatever he needed to do to be the best, nothing interfered with that. The world had to stop to make sure he did what he needed to do that day to do his job. I see a lot of that in Myles."
Walsh knows better than to give in to false hope, but is no less impressed.
"He's got everything in my mind," he says. "For a guy to walk in at age 19 with the body he's got and the skill he's got as far as shooting the ball … and then take his other attributes, being tremendously smart, articulate and caring, I sit there in amazement.
"Whatever you tell him to do, he does. He wants to be great. That may be the key thing. He really does want to be a great player. I'm excited about him."
Vogel? How could any coach not look forward to working with someone with this much promise?
"He has a lot of room for growth," Vogel says. "He's everything you want in a rookie, but he's still 19, He's still going to make mistakes and still has a lot to learn.
"We're enjoying that process. It's actually a lot of fun. The mistakes he makes, it's like, 'That's OK, he's learning. He's figuring it out.' That's a fun process to be part of. Him being in there is probably the biggest (reason) we're going to grow as a team."
There's more to the package. Turner's upbringing has made him as well-rounded as a 19-year-old can be. While home on the All-Star break, he was honored by the mayor in his hometown of Euless, just outside of Dallas, with a proclamation declaring it to be Myles Turner Day. He also appeared at his former junior high school, Central, to present the first annual Myles Turner Award to the middle school basketball player who met the 15-item checklist of requirements, including academics, citizenship, community service and skills.
"He's one of those rare human beings," Roberson says. "When you talk about awesome human beings, he's in that category with Larry Johnson. If Larry allowed you to know him, what a beautiful soul he was. People who played with him would know that. Myles, what a beautiful human being. When he does things in the community, it's literally from the heart. His mom made sure he did that type stuff when he was 10 years old."
Roberson has a story to illustrate.
"One day it snowed here," he says. "Myles was a senior, No. 2 in the country, and he was next door shoveling snow off the sidewalk of one of his neighbors. Just went over there and cleared it out for them. He's that kind of guy. Totally genuine. He doesn't do anything for photo ops."
Turner is quickly involving himself in the Indianapolis community, too, and has started a company – MTX Management, under the direction of his parents, who have retired from their previous jobs – from which he will launch his charitable foundation and carry out business interests.
But he's also a teen-aged rookie who knows his place in the locker room. After the win over the Pistons, Lavoy Allen jokingly called him over to take the deodorant off the top shelf in his locker for Allen to use. Later, he called Turner back to return it to the shelf.
It was all done with smiles, including one from bystander C.J. Miles. Turner didn't seem to mind at all.
"I got you, bro," he said, as he completed the chore.
It was big of Turner to be so humble. A franchise waits to see how big he can get.
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