Start Myles Turner? It's Complicated

It seems obvious on the surface, doesn't it?

Myles Turner is lighting it up, averaging 19.6 points on 65 percent shooting over the last five games along with 6.2 rebounds while playing just 27 minutes per game. Lavoy Allen, meanwhile, hardly seems to dent the box score. He's averaged 4.8 points on 48 percent shooting over those five games, along with 6.2 rebounds, in 25 minutes.

So why not drop Turner into Allen's spot in the starting lineup and see if that helps lift the Pacers out of the drought that has seen them lose six of their last seven games and drop to eighth in the Eastern Conference, just 2.5 games ahead of 12th?

If only it were that simple.

Coach Frank Vogel studies the numbers and understands the complexities of such a move. He's indeed planning to increase Turner's playing time beyond 25 minutes per game and wants to get a look at how Turner plays alongside center Ian Mahinmi. But starting Turner on Thursday against Atlanta?

He's considering it, but hasn't committed to it.

"We'll find the right time to put him in the starting lineup based on way he's playing," Vogel said following Wednesday's practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Vogel's decision regarding the roles of Turner and Allen is made easier by the fact both are willing to play off the bench. But it's made more difficult by the contrast between the box score stats and the more subtle ones — primarily, the fact Allen leads the Pacers in the plus-minus rating and Turner ranks ... well, last.

Allen's rating for the season is +173, which means the Pacers have outscored their opponents by that many points when he's played. Paul George is second (+147) and Jordan Hill third (+110). Turner's rating is -54.

The basic plus-minus rating deserves a degree of skepticism, particularly over relatively brief time periods, as several other factors can come into play. The more exhaustive advanced plus-minus rating — sometimes called "real plus-minus" — takes into account pace of play, a player's teammates when he's on the court and the opponent.

In that case, Allen's rating is slightly negative (-0.16), but still ahead of Turner's (-1.37). Regardless, no matter how you want to look at it, the Pacers have performed better when Allen is on the court than Turner, so the logic of giving Allen's starting role to Turner becomes strained – particularly when one considers the fact the Pacers' most successful lineup combinations over the course of the season have included Allen. Most of Turner's success, in fact, has come when paired with Allen.

Bottom line: Allen might not pass the eye test, but he passes the advanced statistical analyses that Vogel studies. And Vogel's not surprised by what he sees.

"When you have as many scorers as we have, it's good to have a big guy who doesn't need shots," Vogel said. "He's just willing to share the basketball, kind of like Dennis Rodman was with the Bulls. He goes and gets it and gets it in the hands of the guys who know what to do with it.

"He's definitely one of our glue guys. We're more productive when he's on the court than when he's off."

Vogel particularly likes what Allen and Mahinmi bring as a tandem.

"They do all the dirty work," he said. "Defense, rebounding, rim protection, running the floor, screening, and then being willing passers. They don't force anything offensively. The fact two of those guys are out there at the same time is a good thing."

All of this verbal and numerical endorsement comes as a bit of a news flash to Allen, who brings texture and depth to laid-back personalities everywhere. Why does he grade out so well?

"I'm not really sure," he said after a pause. "Just playing defense, I guess? Trying to be as good as I can defensively."

Turner shoots early and often when he gets the ball, so playing him in place of Allen could take shots away from the perimeter players and negatively impact chemistry. So far he's played mostly when George and Monta Ellis are not in the game, so it doesn't matter. And what happens if he's not shooting well, such as in the second half of Tuesday's loss to the Clippers, when he missed all four shots? Can he contribute in other ways?

Turner was wearing a blue shirt when practice ended on Tuesday, indicating he had worked with the starters. He only did so while working on end-of-game possessions, though. Allen was wearing blue as well.

Turner would welcome playing with the rest of the starters, and believes he could find a way to fit in and contribute.

"I feel like I'd fit just fine," he said. "We've been mixing our lineup all year, since training camp, trying different things. For the most part we're pretty comfortable with each other."

Even if it means scoring less?

"I'm about this team, man," he said. "It's not about individual performance or individual accolades. Whatever Coach wants me to do out I'll do it. If it's to go out and set a lot of screens, I'll pick and choose my spots. If he wants me to be the aggressor with the second group, I'll do it."

There's another bottom line at work here: Turner hasn't played with the starters in place of Allen for more than a minute or so in one game, so that lineup remains a mystery – and a gamble. Vogel admits Turner is coming along faster than he expected, though, and given the team's recent slide is more prone to taking a gamble.

It's just a matter of time.

"I don't know if we're there yet," he said.

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