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Turner Riding the Waves of Rookie-dom

One could understand Myles Turner longing for those simpler, blissful days of times gone by, when the pressure was light and the scoring was easy and hope sprang eternal. A couple of months, for example.

The starting lineup, it turns out, is an entirely different world – colder, crueler, bigger and taller.

The Pacers' 19-year-old rookie has faced greater challenges since becoming a starter 18 games ago. The defenses more attentive and physical, the shots less frequent and the pace faster. The result is that he sometimes looks like a teenager rather than a phenom, but still one who shows great promise.

Now that the hoopla over his move into the starting lineup has settled, his progress can be fairly assessed. The switch, which was made for the game against Atlanta on Jan. 28, was greeted with great fanfare in the media and among the fanbase, and was even regarded by some as tardy on the part of coach Frank Vogel. But Vogel warned that Turner's transformation would be a "roller coaster ride," full of peaks and valleys, and it has been just that.

He's playing more minutes, but not shooting as well and scoring less efficiently. His playing time has increased by 44 percent, but his scoring has increased by 31 percent. That's not surprising, because he's playing with the team's best scorers most of the time and not the go-to guy, but it illustrates the challenge of playing with and against the best.

Paul George can relate. He entered the starting lineup for the final 19 games of his rookie season and experienced the same issues. His playing time increased four minutes but his scoring average dropped nearly a point and his field goal percentage dropped 2 1/2 percent.

"These young guys, they think it's easy when you start out," George said. "It should be. Nobody knows who you are. You haven't been scouted. But you play a couple of games and you get hot, and they dial in on your first action and dial in on your moves. That's been the case.

"They're not giving him that jump shot at the top of the key. Early on they were (making) him prove he could hit that shot, so they were giving him that shot. And he fell in love with that shot. Now they're kind of taking that away from him."

Turner knows all too well. He stunned Pacers fans by coming off the bench with a 25-point game at Denver on 11-of-13 shooting on Jan. 17, then scored 31 on 12-of-17 shooting against Golden State five nights later. He added two more double-figure scoring games before Vogel put him in the starting lineup, and he responded with 20 points against the Hawks.

He was on a joyride. But dips were coming.

Turner scored in double figures in 11 of his first 13 games, and he scored eight and nine points in the two exceptions. Since then, over the last six games, one of which he did not start, he's averaged 7.5 points on 31 percent shooting. He missed all four field goal attempts at Charlotte last week, converting four foul shots, hit just 2-of-9 shots at Washington, and made 3-of-11 against San Antonio on Monday.

He's no longer a surprise to anyone.

"Every team has a scouting report, every team can see what I like to do, so it's up to me to get in there and work on my moves, work on my counters in the flow of the offense," he said following the Spurs game. "Yeah, it's changed a little bit. I'm not coming off the bench as a surprise any more. Teams know what I like to do."

Turner has been working with assistant coach Popeye Jones after practice to explore alternatives. They include head fakes and dribble penetration rather than sidestepping into long jumpers, and post moves to create space for shots rather than trying to muscle up with stronger veterans.

"He's got to understand the things he did at Texas aren't going to work, because guys are going to catch up with him," Jones said.

"He's a very smart kid and he picks up on things quickly."

At 19, Turner isn't going to be as strong as most of the starters who defend him. That will come with offseason training and natural maturation. In the meantime, Jones wants him to use quickness and footwork to free himself for shots around the basket. Turner could rely on his height in college, but needs more than that against the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge and Nene.

"He has all the tools to be a great post player," Jones said.

Defense has been a greater challenge, as Turner has had to guard the likes of Aldridge or chase smaller players such as Charlotte's Marvin Williams around the perimeter. Rebounding has been less consistent as well. Turner has had three double-figure rebounding games as a starter, including 10 against the Spurs, but totaled just 14 rebounds in the four games before that. Jones recalled one recent game when Turner had no rebounds at halftime and told him, "Me and you have the same amount of rebounds."

The overall degree of difficulty sometimes appears to have affected other elements of Turner's game. The open perimeter shots that once were nearly automatic haven't fallen as often lately. Sometimes he appears to rush when he doesn't need to, or fades sideways or backward as he releases the ball.

"He whines a little bit on every miss," Jones said. "I have to tell him, 'You're going to miss sometimes. Focus on the next play and making the next shot.'"

Still, Turner remains one of the most promising rookies in history of the Pacers' franchise. His stats are favorable to those of George's first season, and his season scoring average (10.4) and field goal percentage (.504) are superior to those of Reggie Miller, who averaged 10 points on 49 percent shooting as a rookie, when he started just one game.

The roller coaster brings frightening moments for all rookies, especially the teenagers. For the good ones, it will slow down.

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