During the Indiana Pacers’ successful run from 2012-14, they were a big, slow team that relied on their strength and defense more than any NBA team north of Memphis.
So when team president Larry Bird committed to a sleeker “pace and space” vision for the franchise this offseason, it was unclear how they would assemble the necessary pieces for such a style, especially when Roy Hibbert and David West were both staring down eight-figure player options for next season.
West’s surprising opt-out right before the draft kick-started the Pacers’ transition this offseason, but there was no clearer sign of their new pledge than when they drafted former Texas center Myles Turner with the 11th overall pick in this year’s draft. As a shot-blocking seven-footer, Turner’s skill-set largely overlapped with Hibbert’s, only Turner brings better mobility and three-point range––two things that have and will never be parts of Hibbert’s game.
With Tuner in the fold, Bird went to working overtime to move Hibbert, and once this summer’s free-agent musical chairs of big men worked itself out, he was able to move Hibbert to the Los Angeles Lakers for a draft pick and cash, effectively clearing Turner’s path to the court.
Despite his tantalizing abilities, Turner is a raw talent whose play and stock have been erratic during the last year-plus. He was the number-two prospect coming out of high school behind Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, but he struggled during his freshman season at Texas under former coach Rick Barnes, which was a large reason why he fell to late in the lottery.
Then during the Orlando summer league last month, Turner was perhaps the most dominant player on the floor, averaging 18.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, and a ridiculous 4.3 blocks per game. He showed off his versatile skill-set as well, going 2-3 from downtown to go along with a couple other mid-range jumpers and multiple athletic put-backs near the rim.
In general, he looked like the kind of exciting young talent who warrants floor time, but the dip in production during his time at Texas has many wondering what kind of role he’ll be able to play for the Pacers this season.
Over at SB Nation’s Burnt Orange blog, Cody Daniel offers some context for evaluating Turner’s time at Texas, which was marred by an apparent lack of confidence and a bad fit in the system. Here’s Daniel explaining how Turner’s fit with the Pacers and summer-league success contrast to his one season on campus:
“For the most part, this growth doesn’t come through a mere single season in college. Additionally, the vast majority of college schemes are built on team play. In particular…the guard-heavy isolation offenses that Rick Barnes implemented, paired with the Horns’ apparent inability to find quality spacing, consistent ball movement and post-feeds, quite simply prevented Turner from ever really being able to find a rhythm and comfort with his role. But since his departure from Texas, everything has been focused on individual development and how much he can impress NBA teams into selecting him — the kind of individual attention he will steadily receive in the NBA, as compared to the team-first concepts in the NCAA.”
For an 18-year-old battling the mass disappointment of failing to meet expectations, a bad team fit can compound any issues or frustrations, and based on Turner’s enormous success down in Orlando this summer, Texas seems like it was a very bad fit for the young man. It seems very possible that he could have compromised on the style of play when choosing schools as well, given that his family lives near Austin and surely played a role in his final decision.
All of these are positives for the Pacers, whose transition to a spacier style of play will benefit Turner. In terms of his confidence, coach Frank Vogel has a sterling reputation as a player’s coach who also very recently dealt with a moody big man. Turner will surely be no problem, and he would be hard-pressed to find a friendlier mentor than Vogel.
The coach turned Hibbert into one of the premiere defensive big men in the NBA, and the rookie will have a similar opportunity, especially with the helpside timing he showed off during summer league play. On offense, Turner––along with the team’s new strategy––represent the first chance for Vogel to show that he can develop a strong offensive attack. Hopefully his mentality at that end won’t get lost like Hibbert’s did.
Contributing right away can be difficult for young big men, as NBA frontcourt players are the biggest guys on the floor, and playing paint defense requires quick thinking on several levels. There’s simply a steeper learning curve for bigs, which is why so many rookie rim-protector find themselves tethered to the bench with foul trouble.
That is one of the biggest causes of concern for Turner both now and going forward. Even during summer league, he averaged more than 4 fouls per game, a number that bodes poorly for his on-court potential as a rookie. Turner struggled with fouls as Texas, so it’s not a new concern, but he’ll need to work extremely hard in that area in order to remedy his frenetic habits. If he can do that, it will be hard for Vogel to play the likes of Ian Mahinmi, Jordan Hill, or LaVoy Allen over Turner.
Once again, Vogel and the Pacers’ staff could be the perfect fit in regard to his foul trouble, as they trained two formerly foul-prone big men––Hibbert and Mahinmi––and turned them both into very respectable rim protectors. In Hibbert’s case, the staff even helped fix his running gait, an area where Turner has also had issues but looked much improved during his three games in Orlando.
As with any rookie, it’s hard to predict contributions, and as with any rookie big man, it’s extremely hard to predict contributions. There’s no doubt, however, that Turner will get his opportunities, though, especially with the limited potential of the rest of Indiana’s frontcourt.
With his three-point range, mobility, and rim-protecting potential, Turner would be the perfect center for today’s NBA and a unique two-way talent should he blossom. He could be the piece that puts the Pacers over the top. He will have chances as a rookie and will hopefully show flashes, because until he cuts down on his foul rate, his chances will be limited. If he can figure that out, he could be an immediate contributor for this team.