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The Curious Case of Evan Turner

Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire

Evan Turner is a polarizing figure, to put it lightly. Not since the days of Rajon Rondo (which I understand wasn’t that long ago) have the Boston Celtics had a player who generated as much debate and difference of opinion.

There are some Celtics fans who feel that Turner, an unrestricted free agent next summer, is an asset, that he has enough versatility in his game to warrant a roster spot beyond this season. Others, however, feel that he’s essentially fool’s good and is taking precious minutes away from Boston’s young guards.

Let’s examine both ends of the spectrum, shall we?

For starters, one can see why the average fan would think that Turner is a good player. He fills up the box score, makes some fancy passes on occasion and has hit some big shots as a Celtic.

Turner is a guy who can post a triple-double on any given night, displaying solid passing ability and a penchant for grabbing more rebounds than you’d expect for someone of his size.

Although he’s naturally a small forward, the Ohio State product frequently runs point guard for the C’s. This in and of itself leads some to believe that the 6’7″ Turner is a diverse member of the team and someone who should be kept around long term.

All of that is understandable.

However, for the basketball fan who uses more than an arbitrary eye test to determine how good a player is, Turner grades pretty poorly.

First of all, Turner is a terrible shooter. The Ohio State product has a lifetime field goal percentage of 42.7 percent and a career three-point rate of 30.8 percent. His outside shot has worsened, too. Since coming to Beantown, Turner is hitting triples at a paltry 25.7 percent clip.

As one can expect, Turner’s advanced shooting numbers also look horrendous. He boasts a career true shooting percentage of 48.5 percent, and his effective field goal percentage is only 44.8 percent.

So, for one thing, Turner is very inefficient, and he has a rather poor shot selection that magnifies said deficiency.

Second, in spite of the fact that Turner can play multiple positions, there’s no evidence that his presence actually helps his team offensively. Actually, it’s the other way around.

Throughout his six-year stint in the NBA, Turner’s teams are actually 1.1 points worse per 100 possessions offensively when he’s on the floor, per Basketball-Reference.com. Last year, the Celtics were 3.1 points worse, and 1.8 this season.

Also, Turner’s offensive box plus-minus has always been in the negatives. His career-best is minus-2.2, per Basketball-Reference.com.

Another issue with Turner is his inability to get to the free throw line. He averages 2.2 free throw attempts per game for his career, and during his time with the C’s, he’s tallying 1.7. If he were getting to the charity stripe at a decent rate, it’d mitigate his poor shooting, but he isn’t.

What’s so good about Turner again?

Oh, he has some fancy handles, right? Well, he also has a career turnover percentage of 15.1 percent, so are his handles really that impressive? There are times when Turner tries to force the issue, dribbling into a wall of defenders or trying to squeeze passes into traffic. Those are the types of things that result in giveaways.

Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire

Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire

On top of Turner’s problems offensively, he’s not a very good defender.

Turner’s squads are 2.3 points worse per 100 possessions defensively when he’s in the game. Last season, Boston was 3.4 points worse.

Now, in Turner’s defense (no pun intended), the C’s have been a significantly better defensive team this year when Turner is on the court, but that’s a small sample size, and you have to assume it’ll regress to the mean based on his career trajectory.

Perhaps the icing on the cake for everything listed above is Turner’s win share numbers. He has a career average of .047 win shares per 48 minutes, per Basketball-Reference.com, and his .071 mark thus far in 2015-16 would actually be a lifetime best. For reference, league average is approximately .100.

Win shares aren’t a be-all, end-all stat, but they do provide a fairly solid indication of how effective a player is. So, based on win shares, Turner is a below-average player.

You can say whatever you want about Turner’s ability to record triple-doubles, but the numbers don’t lie. Turner just isn’t very effective.

That means the Celtics would be remiss to bring Turner back for another go-around after this season, and not just because he won’t help the team as an individual.

It also has to do with the fact that Turner is taking minutes away from guys like Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter. You know, players who actually have a future with the ballclub.

Because Turner is essentially a point guard in a small forward’s body, he’s stepping on the toes of some of the youngsters on the roster. Smart and Rozier are also combo guards who fill a similar niche, so keeping Turner around is only going to stunt their growth.

Yes, Turner is only 27 years old, but this is now his sixth year in the league and he’s shown no signs of improvement. He is what he is at this point. Chances are, he isn’t going to get any better.

Why would you retain him then?

Smart money is on Turner being gone at season’s end. There’s also a chance that Turner gets dealt at the trade deadline, Jordan Crawford style. Maybe some team will be fooled by his decent counting stats and give up something of value.

This isn’t to hate on Turner, because he’s actually a very easy guy to root for given his life story. But this is a business, and the objective of this business is to win championships. Keeping Turner on the roster is only going to make that more difficult.

Perhaps Turner could find himself a role on a contender. His future just isn’t with the Celtics.

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