Myles Turner spent the weekend in Chicago, in and around the NBA All-Star activities. He was a color commentator on TNT's broadcast of the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday and soaked up plenty of the glamour of the festivities before heading to Turks and Caicos for a couple of days of relaxation.
It made him wonder a little.
Three years ago, he was a second-year center who had scored 30 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in the season-opener and would go on to average 14.5 points on 51 percent shooting. He played in the Rising Stars game then, scoring 12 points and grabbing four rebounds in 18 minutes, and many people would have predicted then — not unreasonably — that he would play in the main event someday.
Instead, he's the closest the Pacers have to what he never expected to become: a role player. He's averaging fewer shots (9.3) than each of his fellow starters as the Pacers resume play in New York on Friday and fewer minutes than all but Victor Oladipo, who until now has been on a restricted diet of playing time but has been set free.
Watching the latest batch of Rising Stars, Turner couldn't help but reflect on his particular turn of events and wonder what might have been.
"Of course," he said following Thursday's practice at St. Vincent Center. "I have all the confidence in the world in my game and my ability. I know I could be out there doing some of the things these guys at my position are out there doing."
A few points need to be made here.
For one, Turner doesn't speak those words with bitterness. In fact, those three sentences were followed by a "but" and two more sentences that restored context to his thoughts. "At the end of the day I like winning more than anything," he added. "I've always said you can average 20 on a losing team and be going home in early April instead of making an impact on a team in the playoffs."
For another, it's not as if Turner's shot at playing in the All-Star Game, as remote as it might seem now, is over. He's 23 years old, at least five years from his peak.
And for yet another, most relevant to the Pacers' current bid to achieve their goal of earning a top-four spot in the final Eastern Conference standings, it appears as if Turner could benefit greatly from Oladipo's presence in the starting lineup. Turner seemed noticeably more active and engaged in the Pacers' two games before the break, when Oladipo began blending better with his teammates.
Turner scored 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting in 23 minutes in last Monday's loss to Brooklyn, then had 14 points, nine rebounds, and two blocks in 33 minutes in the victory over Milwaukee two nights later. Only three of his field goals came off assists from Oladipo, but the energy and quickened pace Oladipo brought to the goings-on seemed to lift Turner's level of play, not to mention his opportunities.
Photo Credit: Matt Kryger
He does that for all of his teammates, of course, but Turner is the one who had most often been left out of the offensive flow before Oladipo's return — to the point coach Nate McMillan had to call plays now and then to guarantee him a touch. With the respect defenses give to Oladipo's quickness by bringing extra defenders to cut off his penetration, someone is likely to be open. And that someone very well could be Turner, the guy usually standing over in the corner.
"Vic attacks and gets downhill, forces defenses to collapse and make more reads," Turner said. "He gets me more open shots, gets guys more involved."
Involvement matters for Turner, as it does for any player not featured in the offense. The Pacers are blessed with uncommon scoring balance and have no traditional role player along the lines of Dale Davis or Jeff Foster in the starting lineup. Turner hasn't been assigned that role, but it tends to turn out that way given the shots Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon get from all those high pick-and-rolls and T.J. Warren gets simply by creating shots for himself.
Turner has accepted a lesser role. Sometimes, perhaps, too eagerly. But he tends to produce when playing starter's minutes. In the 21 games this season when he's played 30 minutes or more, he's averaged 14.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks while hitting 48 percent of his field goal attempts, including 39 percent of his 3-point attempts.
Turner was the Pacers' most accurate 3-point shooter in December but has slipped to 34 percent, the lowest percentage since his rookie season. He cites the challenge of finding a shooting rhythm when he's not as involved in the offense, a belief backed by his 30-plus stats.
"I might go six or seven possessions without touching the ball," he said. "For a shooter, psychologically that might mess you up a little bit. It's a matter of getting some open looks or doing something with the ball."
Which, again, is not stated as a complaint. Turner has been discouraged by his role on occasion this season, it seemingly being inappropriate for a Rising Stars alum, but his teammates reel him in.
"Guys see me get frustrated at times and keep me in tune, keep me going," he said. "They know what I bring to the table is more important than how many shots I get."
While Turner's stats might indicate he's been assigned a supporting actor's role, McMillan doesn't see it that way. The Pacers' starting lineup is blessed with offensive balance. Warren and Sabonis average a fraction over 18 points, Brogdon averages 16.9 and Oladipo — who averaged 23.1 two seasons ago — figures to average at least 18 when he finds his groove.
That kind of blessing can become a challenge for players and coaches alike if anyone balks at sharing the load.
"We've got to play the game and allow the game to come to us," McMillan said. "We can't force. We've had good ball movement all season long and now we have a major part of our offense (Oladipo) coming back. He's not healthy yet, but we know that's going to take some time to work in. Guys are going to have to make some sacrifices. Even he will make some sacrifices.
"The style of play hasn't changed, the number of guys we have averaging double figures has. There's only one ball out there. You've got to make some sacrifices with attempts, and with minutes, and you can't take that to the defensive end of the floor thinking about it.
"One night it could be Myles making the sacrifice. The next night it might be Warren. It could be Victor. It could be Malcolm. It's not one guy who's going to have to sacrifice. Night in and night out it's going to be a different guy."
But most nights it's been Turner, the former Rising Star. His offensive role might expand as Oladipo re-emerges and blends, and there will be games in which he plays like the All-Star envisioned a few years ago. But the Pacers at least have the comfort of knowing he likes winning more than anything.
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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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