It wouldn't have been that big a deal under normal circumstances. But Myles Turner hasn't been operating within normal circumstances until lately.
Early in Wednesday's game against Utah, Turner took a pass from Victor Oladipo, threw a head fake at the rim, and muscled his way toward the basket for a layup that gave the Pacers a 10-4 lead. Over on the Pacers' bench at the opposite end of the court, Al Jefferson began standing up before Turner's shot even went up and let out a shout of approval.
That turned out to be the peak moment for the Pacers in their 20-point loss to the Jazz, but it wasn't the only positive development for Turner. He finished with a game-high 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting and played more physically than his total of four rebounds indicated.
The 21-year-old center has made a noticeable shift in his approach the past few weeks. He's rebounding better, having accumulated five double-figure rebound efforts over the past 14 games after managing just four in his first 35 games. He's also looking to score more often out of the low post – not by shooting fadeaway jumpers, as had been his habit even when a smaller defender had switched on to him, but by moving toward the basket, as Jefferson has been instructing.
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"Last year he wouldn't have even thought about a post; he would have gone with a turnaround jumper or fadeaway," Jefferson said following Thursday's practice at St. Vincent Center. "You've got a 6-4, 6-5, 6-6 guard or wing on you and you're taking those type of shots, that's when it becomes a problem for me. He understands that. He's getting his feet in the paint and getting good shots."
Jefferson is one of the most skilled post players in NBA history, a 6-10, 33-year-old still capable of scoring on any defender with a variety of jukes and spins to the basket. He's been a part-time mentor for Turner since arriving to the Pacers before last season, and has worked with Domantas Sabonis and any other big man willing to listen this season. He conducts hands-on tutorials before and after practice, and even during pre-game warmups.
Turner has been a more willing student lately. Teams had been defending him aggressively on the perimeter after he set screens for a guard, taking away his preferred method of scoring, and didn't fear switching smaller defenders onto him around the basket because he almost always tried to score while moving backward rather than taking advantage of his size advantage.
Finally, egged on by Jefferson, Turner took offense and began working to do something about it.
"Just like on the playground when you were growing up, when you've got a small on you, your first thought is to go into the paint," Jefferson said. "Myles wasn't comfortable to do that.
"I think he got tired of that. I was in his ear telling him, 'Man, you should be upset. You should be mad when teams feel they can switch and put guards on you and you're taking fadeaways in the post. You're making it harder than it really is. You've got to do something about it.'"
Jefferson has convinced Turner to be more patient after catching the ball, looking for a move based on what the defense is allowing. Turner often had played as if the ball was scorching his hands, shooting as quickly as possible, no matter what it took.
"Myles' biggest thing was to slow down," Jefferson said. "I told him to be patient, gave him a couple of moves he can use.
"That's going to make his job a lot easier, and my job a lot easier helping him, if he'll catch the ball and take his time and go up and make his move. I mean they're not even double-teaming him. To me that's disrespect, I'm sorry. I think he realizes that."
Turner's stats have taken a small hit this season, giving the impression he has regressed. All-Star Victor Oladipo dominates the offense with a usage rate of 30.5, which ranks 10th in the NBA among players who have appeared in 48 or more games. Backup center Domantas Sabonis' solid play has contributed to a slight reduction in playing time for Turner, as well. The result is Turner's scoring average (13.4), field goal percentage (.497), free throw percentage (.762), rebounding average (6.8), and playing time (28.3) are all down slightly from last season.
That doesn't necessarily mean the quality of his play has declined, however, and if his approach since the All-Star break is an indication of where he's headed, it won't. With Jefferson in his ear, he'll have plenty of reminders of how to go about it.
"He's helped me a lot since he's been here," Turner said. "The whole patience aspect of everything. Every time I have an opportunity to score down there, he gets excited."
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Mark Montieth's book, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," covers the formation and early seasons of the franchise. It is available at retail outlets throughout Indiana and online at sources such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
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