The postgame conversation with Darren Collison had turned to the topic of Myles Turner, who had just played one of the best games of his career in a 109-101 victory over Washington that had nearly degraded into a man-made disaster.
Collison was promoting Turner, who had just blocked five Wizards shot attempts, as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, but then began considering the other ways the Pacers' center has impressed lately. That forced him to pause and gather his thoughts.
"I mean, listen," Collison said. "I'm going to be real with you.
"When you look at Myles and the type of player he can be, it's almost scary. He's long, he can roll to the basket, he can pop from mid-range, he can pop for a 3-pointer. And he can play defense. Most bigs can just play offense or just play defense, or just roll to the basket. Myles has every tool a big in this league needs at some point in every game. It's just about him putting it together."
It would be difficult to dispute Collison's viewpoint given Turner's recent stretch of play, particularly his most recent performance. He finished with a season-high 26 points Monday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, hitting 11-of-16 shots, including 2-of-3 3-pointers. He also grabbed 12 rebounds, his fifth double-figure rebounding effort in the previous seven games. And, he blocked five shots, most of them perfectly-timed acrobatic efforts that stunned many of the fans, not to mention some Wizards.
There's not much else a center can do than score, rebound, and defend the rim, is there? Oh, wait, he can show leadership. Turner is doing a better job of that too, according to Collison, who sees Turner's recent level of play as proof that the 22-year-old center is engaging in a legitimate corner-turning phase of his career.
"He's actually talking during the games more," Collison said. "He's actually being more vocal. When I first got here, he never talked that much. That's a sign of him improving and being confident. Now you're seeing his whole package.
"That's pretty scary."
For Pacers fans, it's also a relief.
Turner qualified as a disappointment early in the season. Through the first 18 games, he averaged 10.9 points on 46 percent shooting, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks. He sat out the 19th game against San Antonio with a sore ankle, but has been a different player since then. Over eight games beginning with the four-game Western Conference road trip, he has averaged 14.4 points on 53 percent shooting, 9.6 rebounds, and 3.25 blocks. He's grabbed 10 or more rebounds five times in the previous seven games after failing to do so at all in the first 15.
Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images
Turner made a similarly dramatic improvement near the middle of last season, which he attributed to a still-unidentified teammate calling him soft. The turnabout this season hasn't sprung from a singular source, however. He wasn't shoved around the corner he's said to be turning, and he wasn't motivated by anyone's speech, insult, or encouragement.
"Just playing hard, man," is his stock answer when an explanation is sought.
Although every starter in Monday's game finished in double figures, Turner was the one most responsible for preventing a controversy-burdened Washington team from handing the Pacers an embarrassing defeat. The Pacers took an 87-62 lead with 4:05 left in the third quarter on a Turner 3-pointer that forced a Wizards timeout. But, as they tend to do, they grew soft sitting on that cushion and became sloppy with the ball, their defense, and their thought-process.
Washington closed within one point with 4:45 left in the game and had a chance to take the lead. Turner, however, blocked Kelly Oubre's driving layup, which led to Collison's 3-pointer at the other end. Turner then grabbed a man-sized rebound of Bradley Beal's 3-point attempt and went on to hit a 17-foot jumper at the other end to open a six-point lead with 1:53 left.
Over just four possessions, Turner had showed most of the skill set that "scares" Collison: a blocked shot, a rebound, and a mid-range jumper. And that didn't include the 3-point shots, the points he scored in the lane, and the misses he caused without blocking a shot.
"He's bringing a lot of energy," Thaddeus Young said. "He's made up his mind, 'I'm going to go get every shot.' And defensively he's locked in.
"The ball's going to come to him, he knows that. The biggest thing is he understands that if he's not there defensively for us it's going to be hard for us to win games. He knows what he needs to do. He wants to be the game's best shot-blocker and he's proving that every night."
Turner has a goal of leading the NBA in shot-blocking. He finished third each of the past two seasons and is third again now, behind New Orleans' Anthony Davis and Miami's Hassan Whiteside. His average of 2.81 is a career high and threatens to surpass Jermaine O'Neal's franchise-record average of 2.81 set in the 2000-01 season.
"I don't know a big who's playing better defense than him these past couple of weeks," Collison said. "This is unbelievable. I haven't played with a big who can protect the paint like that since DeAndre (Jordan, with the Clippers)."
That he also happens to be able to hit a mid-range jumper, step out for an occasional 3-pointer, grab rebounds by dozen, and speak up when he feels the need? If he's indeed turning a corner, he's headed somewhere awfully nice.
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Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.
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