Myles Turner is heading into the biggest year of his career as the Pacers transition into a new era. What can Indiana expect from their new star?
When Ramona Shelburne reported that Paul George had been converted into Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, what was known for a long time became official: Myles Turner is the new face of the Indiana Pacers.
What has he been doing during the off-season before the start of the biggest campaign of his career? Hosting Q&A sessions on draft day, interviewing players during the NBA draft, supporting his new teammates, attending Indiana legend Tamika Catchings’ jersey retirement ceremony and wearing swim shorts at the Pacers’ Summer League games.
Despite being 21 years old, he’s as mature as can be and is more than ready to be the last name announced during introductions at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The question remains: is he good enough to run the show? What will a Myles Turner Era look like?
Myles Turner’s sophomore campaign
It’s clear that Turner’s game showed significant improvement in his sophomore season. Among the biggest developments were the leap in his defensive abilities and three-point shot. In comparison to some of the players he was projected as similar to in FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO rankings after his rookie year, he displayed some of the best statistics of the bunch.
His block totals were at an elite level — third in the NBA for blocks per game. But it’s the combination of that defensive anchor mentality and his sweet stroke on the offensive end that make Myles Turner so unique. Here are the list of players throughout NBA history that produced Turner’s output as a blocker and shooter last season (2+ blocks per game, 58.5 TS% and 34.5 3P% while averaging at least one 3-point attempt per game).
That table didn’t glitch. No one else has put up those numbers, ever.
The skill set of a guy like Turner doesn’t come around often. Those who can block and defend better than him can’t top his shooting ability. Those who shoot better can’t top his rim protection. He rivals (and sometimes outperforms) the Unicorn himself, fellow 2015 draftee and current poster boy for the skilled-and-shooting big man movement Kristaps Porzingis.
His size, blocking ability and shooting touch are a rare breed even in an NBA as inhabited with shooting big-men as today’s. It seems as if there are only a few players that can check off every box rather than a few, and Turner is certainly one of them. It’s not unreasonable to say he has the highest ceiling of any Pacer — ever.
Is Myles Turner the second coming of Chris Bosh?
On the topic of comparisons, a common one made during his rookie season up until now was of Turner to Chris Bosh. The idea was alluded to in the aforementioned article detailing Turner’s sophomore season, but the numbers strengthen the argument more than any eye test or barber shop conversation could. Looking at both players’ first season in which their three-point shot-taking took off (Turner’s second season and Bosh’s second season during his stint with the Heat) procures some fun results.
Of course, a glaring oversight into such a comparison now is the fact that Bosh was the third option of a perennial championship contender and Turner must be the leader of a team that wants to become one during his prime. It appears to be getting harder and harder in today’s NBA to win with a big man leading your team as opposed to a guard or wing- take the recent team success for players such as Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Porzingis, for example.
Perhaps it’s only coincidental — the rosters surrounding those big men have been less than ideal in recent years (though Towns may now have something in Minnesota). But it’s not like the Pacers’ current roster is a summer song either. Being a star center on a subpar team is seemingly more difficult than being a star guard or wing right now. It’s not necessarily a cause for concern and ranks very low on the list of the Pacers’ current problems, but Turner definitely has his work cut out for him.
But, using the aforementioned CARMELO forecast as a guideline, Turner’s prognosis for the future is positive. CARMELO currently projects him to be a future all-star, putting his market value over the next 5 years at $157.5 million. Oh, unfriendly reminder — the Pacers need to pay him next year. That sweet rookie contract is mere pennies to the payday Turner that’s coming in his extension.
Some really interesting names have popped up on the comparisons area of the chart. Kevin Garnett is now the second-closest comparison, right behind Brook Lopez. Anthony Davis is third. Benoit Benjamin is sixth. Not that Benjamin was spectacular or anything, but he does have an interesting name.
Turner, by most statistical measures, is primed to not only continue to improve but to hit star-or-superstar status within the next few years. But basketball, much like all team sports, is situational and Turner’s game can be enhanced or deterred based on his surroundings. On that front, there is good and bad news.
The present and future of the Indiana Pacers
The good news is Turner just might have the right combination of players that are 1.) not good enough to take the ball away from his hands and 2.) complementary to his game. Not to beat on a dead shuck of corn or anything, but contrary to the new Pacers slogan, Indiana didn’t grow anything resembling a good roster this offseason.
It’s actually really close to bad, but not close enough to produce highly valuable draft picks. But, if there’s one thing this rebuild-that’s-actually-a-poor-reload has created, it’s players that could suit Turner’s development well.
The Pacers used Turner as the pick and roll man quite often last year — 335 times to be exact, clocking in at fourth in the NBA. This was in large part due to the nature of Jeff Teague and Paul George’s offensive play, as they punched in 536 and 301 possessions as the pick and roll handler, respectively.
In one of the few instances where Darren Collison and Cory Joseph can be named in the same breath as Teague and George, the Pacers’ new point guard core has some experience as the pick and roll handler as well: 372 possessions for Joseph, and 320 for Collison. Lance Stephenson will want his piece of the pie, too, along with Victor Oladipo.
Moving on to the frontcourt, his fellow big men provide enough spacing and versatility to let Turner have the freedom to get what he wants on the court. While this is still subject to change, Thaddeus Young has somehow braved the storm and remained on the Pacers roster in an offseason full of turnover. Young isn’t a volume shooter from deep (1.8 attempts a game last season), but he does shoot well enough (38.1% last year) to keep defenses honest and away from the bucket when necessary.Combined with the 3-point potential in rookie TJ Leaf (46.6% in college) and Domantas Sabonis (32.1% last year, though he improved to 34.3% after the All-Star break), Turner doesn’t have to worry much about his frontcourt partner being confined to one area of the court.
Give Myles Turner the damn ball
Just as important as what his fellow teammates do is what his teammates don’t do, though. Turner was clearly the third option on this Pacers offense — sometimes even the fourth depending on who was on the floor.
Paul George had a usage rate of 28.9%. Jeff Teague sat at 22.1%. They are both no longer Indiana Pacers and were replaced with worse but less ball-demanding players. Glenn Robinson III, the likely starting small forward, was passive last year with a usage rate of 12.8%. Collison didn’t even crack 20% on the Kings. Oladipo knows how to stay in his lane from his year in Westbrook World. Turner may not have the firepower beside him that he had last year, but he does have players that should get out of the way and let him ball.
The bad news is there is one person who seems hell-bent on making sure that doesn’t happen: the head coach. To say Nate McMillan underused Turner last year would be an understatement. Despite his skill set and productivity, Turner’s own usage rate came out to be 19.5% last year. For comparison, Porzingis sat pretty at 24.2% and Anthony-Towns was living large at 27.5%. Turner wasn’t consistently being underused, either.
Turner also didn’t get up a lot of shots despite his efficient scoring and improvement in both FG% and 3P% last year. He somehow shot under 11 times a game, which isn’t even a full two shot increase from his rookie year. Once again referring to his draft class big men — Porzingis shot 14.9 times a game and Anthony-Towns put up 18.
Turner was seemingly on the verge of breaking out as a 3-point shooter last year, shooting a whopping 45.2% from the arc in the months of December and January. After hitting a cold streak in February his attempts plummeted and his threat as a shooter from deep was all but gone. In a series where the Pacers put up 115 3-pointers in 4 games, Turner accounted for 6. Turner definitely has some blame to take in terms of his poor shooting late, but at some point the head coach of the team needs to take his 7-foot guy that can shoot threes and, well, run plays where said guy can shoot threes. At 1.4 3PA a game, Turner simply had little chance to develop any rhythm from deep.
Ideally, those tides should turn next year. Turner is even hinting at that aspect of his game being improved next year via his new Twitter name, “Myl3s Turn3r”. By the default lack of other options, Turner’s usage and 3-point shooting should skyrocket next year. Of course, should doesn’t mean will. McMillan hasn’t yet proved that he knows how to correctly use who is now the best player on his squad, and it will be hard to believe he can until it happens.
Ready or not, this is Turner’s team now. He has the talent and raw ability to be a star and a situation that could provide him that elevation if he takes advantage. There are question marks, most of which concern his head coach. But he couldn’t ask for much more heading into year three of his career. As the Pacers head into year one of their new era, Turner has the opportunity to make this franchise his own. This season will almost certainly determine if he’s able to rule his kingdom.