Other than Paul George’s return to elite form, the best thing about the Indiana Pacers’ uneven start to the season has been the play of rookie center Myles Turner.
The big man out of Texas has already made an impact at both ends of the floor. He’s shown off a smooth jumper that lives up to the “stretch 5” hype and also delivered some much-needed rim protection on defense. For a team trying to juggle the conflicting objectives of winning now and overhauling its strategic identity, Turner represents a boost in both areas.
So of course, because life isn’t fair, Turner was injured in Wednesday night’s game against the Boston Celtics, sustaining a “chip fracture” in his thumb on his non-shooting hand that’ll keep him out for at least four weeks. He’s “consulting with the Pacers’ medical staff regarding the next steps in repair and recovery,” which, whatever that means, doesn’t sound promising.
It’s an unfortunate break for both Indiana and Turner. The Pacers have already been extremely cautious in handling any physical issues with the rookie thus far, so that “at least four weeks” marker seems like it has the potential to rise. Indiana limited Turner’s minutes during the summer and preseason in light of soreness in different parts of his leg, most significantly his knees. He’s still just 19 years old and could still be growing, literally, despite already being 6-11. The health of young big men is already a precarious thing, and the Pacers don’t want to do anything to stunt the growth of such a unique, promising prospect.
Missing so much time so soon will be disappointing for the young man, especially after he was off to such a promising start, averaging six points, three rebounds and a block in a little more than 15 minutes per game. Provided there are no unforeseen physical complications, however, it shouldn’t come at a detriment to his development, as Turner is by all accounts a diligent worker and mature player for his age.
Indiana is definitely going to miss him. So far this season, the Pacers had basically been splitting the minutes at the center position 50-50 between Turner and Ian Mahinmi, with a little bit of Jordan Hill mixed in when necessary. Outside of that group, Lavoy Allen is the only true big man on Indiana’s roster, leaving their front line thinner than it already was.
Without Turner, Hill will go from playing “when necessary” backup center to doing so full time, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. While Hill has proven that he has skill to offer this Indiana team, they’re not the same as what Turner offers.
On offense, this might not be a problem, as Turner doesn’t quite yet pull opposing bigs away from the hoop like he will eventually, and for some reason, teams still guard Hill around the foul-line-extended. Floor spacing shouldn’t change too much in that sense, and since neither player is a very good passer, that area is a wash.
The kicker here is that Indiana is actually a much better rebounding team with Hill on the floor than Turner, especially on the offensive boards. As a team, the Pacers normally grab 23.9 percent of available offensive rebounds and 48.3 percent of rebounds overall, but those numbers fall to 15.4 and 44.4 percent, respectively, with Turner in the game. Conversely, during Hill’s minutes, both rates climb significantly, to 30.1 and 53.2 percent. For all his faults, it’s hard to deny the work that Hill has done on the boards for Indiana this year, especially since it jibes with the eye test.
The bigger loss will come on the defensive end. The loss of Turner leaves Mahinmi as the Pacers’ lone shot blocker, and rim protection is something Frank Vogel prefers to have on the floor at all times. Obviously, that won’t be possible during the 20-ish minutes per night that are usually reserved for Turner, so Indiana fans will probably see a lot more of the Jordan Hill/ Lavoy Allen frontcourt, a combination that has a ridiculous +20.4 net rating in 80 minutes so far this season. Clearly, the lack of rim protection hasn’t been a huge problem so far, but Vogel was surely deploying such lineups ideally, i.e. in situations that he didn’t think were suited for Turner.
Now that he doesn’t have that choice, those matchups will become less than ideal, and both Hill and Allen will be asked to take on responsibilities they might be less-suited for. Chase Budinger and Glenn Robinson III should also get some reps at that spot against smaller bench lineups, but that’ll also depend on matchups. Indiana’s entire bench unit will have to elevate its team defense during Turner’s absence. It’ll be more imperative for Mahinmi to stay out of foul trouble as well, so as not to endanger the Pacers’ lineup versatility.
For a first-year bench player, Turner’s vacancy leaves a surprisingly difficult hole to fill. He has a unique skill set, and he’d been putting it together so quickly, Indiana doesn’t even have a facsimile of how Turner plays. Already this season, though, Vogel has done good work with a half-baked squad that’s caught between two eras, so Turner’s few weeks away shouldn’t shatter anything, just lengthen the development process.
**All statistics courtesy of NBA Stats.**