In the past two weeks, we’ve taken in-depth looks at Tyler Zeller and Marcus Thornton, Boston’s two latest acquisitions pre-Evan Turner. But rather than just breaking down Turner categorically, let’s start a little differently. It’s not difficult to see what Danny Ainge might be thinking with this signing — Turner is cheap, he was once considered a very high-potential player, and Brad Stevens worked an impressive reclamation project last year with Jordan Crawford before Ainge eventually dealt him to keep the tank alive. Perhaps Stevens can do the same with Turner, either building him up as a potential role player or as an asset to acquire a couple more second-round picks.
On the court, the Crawford/Turner comparison has some interesting parallels as well as some key differences. The most notable difference, perhaps, is the range. Crawford and Turner had similarly inefficient numbers from 3-point range last season, but with a key difference: Crawford’s looks were a lot tougher. Steez finished 2013-14 31.8 percent from behind the arc to Turner’s 32.1 percent, but Crawford would frequently shoot off the bounce around pick and rolls or from nearly 30 feet with a few seconds left on the shot clock. Turner, meanwhile, is correctly not known as a 3-point shooter. In Indiana’s offense, this meant a lot of really solid looks at the hoop. As a result, he shot 50 percent on an admittedly small sample size with the Pacers.
Turner was solid from the left corner (43.2 percent) and from just inside the line (47.8 percent) but bad from the right corner (32.4 percent). It’s a weird quirk that probably doesn’t matter in the longterm — Stevens isn’t going to be running any floppy action for Turner along the baseline for corner 3-pointers. What matters, mostly, is that Evan Turner isn’t going to be stretching the floor by any means for the Celtics. That might be okay, but it’s important to keep our expectations floor-level for his long-range shooting.
Crawford and Turner share one rather intriguing characteristic: They are both sneaky decent passers. For Crawford, this essentially meant that he could run the offense as a point guard in Rajon Rondo’s absence. Turner won’t need to be the primary ball-handler, which will be nice for him. He can pick and choose his spots, and his spots seem to line up nicely with how the Celtics will want to use him. In Indiana, Turner ran frequent pick-and-pops and pick-and-rolls with Luis Scola, and they showed decent chemistry together.
Kelly Olynyk’s skillset mimics Scola’s in a lot of ways — they are both mobile bigs who can stretch the floor in pick-and-pops as well as handle the ball diving to the basket. Sullinger is, of course, less mobile than Olynyk but he’s also able to stretch the floor with Turner in the PnR.
At 6’7, Turner has enough height to play both shooting guard and small forward, which could give him an interesting role in Boston’s offense — the anti-Jeff Green. The offense can initiate with Turner, whereas it can only end with Green. Where Green would rather settle for a 3-pointer and float around the perimeter, Turner works to get a shot he wants closer to the hoop. This doesn’t always mean good things: Turner is in love with mid-range jumpers and long two-pointers. Here’s a look at his shot chart from last season:
As you can see, most of Turner’s shots came from 15 feet or closer. That’s not a bad sign — generally, that would simply mean he is attacking the rim, which you like to see. The problem is his percentages. One circle removed from the restricted area, Turner can’t convert 50 percent, despite taking the majority of his shots in that region. He missed profusely from the left side and the center of the key, and even around the rim he shot just 51.3 percent…not awful, but not incredible either.
Thirty percent of Turner’s shots with Indiana came out of the PnR, via MySynergySports.com, and his shot selection was questionable at best. Often, Turner fired up mid-range jumpers fading to either side without getting his feet set. He struggled to break into Frank Vogel’s rotation in the playoffs, and the lack of confidence showed in his game. Playing pickup with a bunch of people for the first time, it can be easy to want to chuck up a bunch of shots early in the game as soon as you get in to prove that you belong. That’s what Turner seemed to be doing. He clearly wanted to make an impression a little too much, and as a result ended up firing up a lot of bad shots.
Turner likes to put the ball on the floor quite a bit, sometimes too much. 13.3 percent of his shots came in isolation sets, and he often tries a move, a second move and a third move before he’s able to create enough room to get off a shot. It’s not uncommon to see Turner try to shake a defender with a crossover, dribble behind his back, then try to beat the defender with his first step. Part of the reason he is forced to do all this dancing is because he simply isn’t as quick as most defenders, and it doesn’t hurt him as badly as one might think: Turner averaged just over two turnovers per 36 minutes last season. But the added motion doesn’t exactly help him stay on-balance and set when he finally rises for his shot.
Philadelphia was a cushy situation for Turner: He was able to get the shots he wanted whenever he wanted them, and — like Michael Carter-Williams — he put up nice stats thanks to a very fast system. It must have been a shock to his system, then, to be moved to Indiana where defense was the focal point and his offense had to come within the flow of everyone else’s. Defensively, Turner’s biggest struggle is with screens — a bit of a problem for a shooting guard/small forward. Turner sticks on screens like super glue unless he goes under the play, which came back to bite him in the playoffs against Bradley Beal several times.
Interestingly, despite his lack of physical attributes, Turner seems to defend one-on-one just fine. In one amusing sequence against OKC shortly after joining the Pacers, he stopped Kevin Durant cold twice in the same half before getting absolutely toasted by Caron Butler in the second half. The problem for Turner is that as an individual defender, he’ll likely get assignments against difficult opponents like Durant or LeBron. Those players are going to figure him out and score. Meanwhile, when he’s running across screens and sticking to the screener, even less talented opponents will figure out ways to score. He’ll need to figure out a way to improve his defensive awareness if he wants to make an impact on that end.
Jordan Crawford started last season scorching hot from the floor before cooling off a little bit pre-trade. Stevens earned a lot of praise for his improvement, and Steez certainly seemed to respond to his coaching, but the real work was done by the player.
Ainge knows this, and he’s likely banking on Turner responding to Stevens’ coaching similarly to Crawford. Turner has some skills that the Celtics can use, or at very least emphasize for future suitors. Ainge didn’t spend much money, but it’s not really accurate to call Turner a low-risk, high-reward player. A low-risk, high-reward player is someone you keep for the long haul at a very low price — Chandler Parsons in the first few years of his career, for example.
Turner is more low-risk, medium-reward. He’s not a part of Boston’s plans longterm, even if he does perform well, and he and his agent both likely know it. If Boston can showcase his skills and flip him for draft picks, it will be a win for both sides.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.