It all began with a tweet, from an elite Pacers big man of the previous decade to a rising star of this decade. From Jermaine O'Neal to Myles Turner:
"Let's get some mid post/low post work in when you get back to Dallas this summer," O'Neal tweeted on Feb. 4. "Love the energy you play with. Let me know."
Turner's response was clear, concise and immediate: "Hell yeah!"
It seems like a good idea, right? O'Neal, who returned to Bankers Life Fieldhouse to be honored along with other players of the previous decade on Sunday, was the most skilled post player in franchise history. He had jump hooks with either hand, spin moves that enabled dunks and turnaround jumpers over either shoulder. Basically, just about everything short of a sky hook, which he didn't really need.
That arsenal of scoring weapons was the catalyst for O'Neal to become a six-time All-Star selection, the Pacers player who has placed highest in the voting for league Most Valuable Player (third, in 2004) and a player who once scored 55 points against Milwaukee without hitting a 3-pointer on Jan. 4, 2005. Granted, the Bucks were a bad team at the time, were missing two centers, were at the end of a four-game road trip, and for some odd reason refused to double-team O'Neal, but still … he hit 18-of-28 field goal attempts and 19-of-25 foul shots, all in just 36 minutes while passing up scoring opportunities late in the game against an NBA team.
Imagine if Turner had just a sliver of O'Neal's skill sets with his back to the basket. Turner, at 6-foot-11, is the same height as O'Neal and about 20 pounds heavier, but is more representative of the modern NBA big man. He's most effective facing the basket, all the way out to the 3-point line where he's hitting 34 percent of his attempts. (He was shooting 40.5 percent at the end of January.)
Turner seems somewhat lost whenever he gets the ball close to the basket. He'll either shoot a fading shot or, more often than not, pass out to a teammate on the perimeter. He's recently shown a knack for slick interior passing, but has yet to display anything that could be accurately described as a post move.
PLAYOFF PICTURE: Track the Pacers' Playoff Push »
Which is how O'Neal could help. O'Neal lives about a 15-minute drive from Turner's parents in the Dallas area, so it won't be difficult to get together for private tutoring sessions in the off-season. Both are willing participants. It's unlikely Turner could become as savvy a post-up player as O'Neal had been – they have different physical traits – but Turner obviously could benefit from learning a few skills.
"One of the things (that) was really a game-changer for me was when (former Pacers assistant coach) Mark Aguirre worked with me when I got here," O'Neal said Sunday, before the Pacers played Miami. "There's not a lot of things you have to change about yourself, just a technique that you have to get.
"For a kid who can already shoot the three … now if he gets that mid-range area to the low box area, he becomes un-guardable. That's what makes (Karl-Anthony) Towns and (Joel) Embiid and Anthony Davis so difficult to guard, because they can give you everything from outside to the inside."
Turner's work ethic and desire to improve has never been questioned, so this seems right up his alley, and perhaps even his highway.
"That would be a fun experience," he said on the day O'Neal tweeted his suggestion. "Any chance I can get to learn, I try to do that. He's offering some advice and some workouts, so hopefully that can be arranged."
Turner also could consult one of the NBA's most skilled post-up players from across the locker room. Al Jefferson, whose back-to-the-basket moves have kept him in the league for 13 seasons, has worked with Turner on occasion, mostly in the pre-season, but they have not kept it up. Jefferson, the master of the drop step when defenders try to prevent him from shooting a jump hook, says such nuances can come later for Turner.
"This is my thing with Myles," Jefferson said. "Myles' game is perfect for what the NBA wants from a big man now. His game is perfect for that. Pick and pop. Iso. I'm not trying to put the post move in his game right now. When you get six, seven, eight, nine years in the league … look at Kobe (Bryant) when he started posting, Michael (Jordan) when he started posting … when they got older, they started posting.
"I think the post move for Myles should be later on in his career. Don't get it twisted, he'll get opportunities. I tell him, sometimes it's flat-out disrespectful the (shorter) guys they feel they can put on you when you're in the post. To me, there are times he needs to take advantage of that. But as for full-out post moves, that's for later on in his career. But that doesn't mean he can't work on it and get better at it."
Pacers coach Nate McMillan is in favor. He said Turner works on post-up moves before some practices – he calls such skill-building sessions "vitamins" – and assistant coach Bill Bayno was seen working with Turner after a recent practice. He's not about to order Turner to the low block and start running the offense through him, as previous Pacers teams have done for Mel Daniels, Rik Smits and O'Neal, but he would appreciate having that option to add to the halfcourt offense.
"He's drifting farther and farther away from the basket," McMillan said earlier this season. "I think he has the ability to play both inside and out. We don't want him to take that option away. I'd prefer him to look for more post-ups and not be so predictable and become a pick and pop center. Against the bigger guys I think he can stretch the floor, but some of these guys, he should be able to establish himself in the post."
Turner turns 21 on March 24, so he's often fighting boy-against-man battles around the basket. It's no wonder he prefers to float to the perimeter and shoot jump shots, and the Pacers' offense is designed for him to do just that much of the time. His ability to draw opposing centers away from the basket is an asset that creates an open lane for teammates to penetrate and enhances opportunities for offensive rebounds.
Still, as he gets older and stronger and wiser, he should have a wider variety of scoring options.
"He's still in his young man's body, and going down and taking that pounding, guys shy away from that," McMillan said. "It's something we have to be patient with, but it's going to help us be a really good team when he develops that part of his game."
Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and you could be featured in his next mailbag.
Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.