How Evan Turner Can and Cannot Fill the Granger Void

Danny Granger 2

At 10:21 a.m., I responded to a well-known Pacers fan on Twitter that Danny Granger’s contract would bring the Philadelphia 76ers up to the salary floor that the NBA had mandated for all teams. I even thought to myself, “You know, it the Sixers REALLY wanted to tank and were looking to unload Evan Turner, a trade involving both guys kind of makes a little sense.”

Of course, I didn’t tweet that for two reasons. First, in hindsight, I would have looked incredibly insightful and intelligent on twitter – and of course that could never happen. And second, I didn’t think there was any chance that Philly would actually pull the trigger on that deal.

And yet, here we are with the trade deadline behind us, trying to evaluate what exactly just happened. Isn’t this a lopsided deal based on talent alone for the Pacers? Did the Pacers really just trade away the one guy that brought it every night for some of the worst years in franchise history? Will this destroy the Pacers’ famed chemistry?

The Decline of Danny

Let’s start at the beginning: The Pacers didn’t trade the Danny Granger that most of us remember — they traded an ineffective and tragically mediocre shell of the former All-Star.

After showing some early glimpses that he would return to a comparable version of his old self, Granger has been downright bad recently. In mid-January, Granger had scored in double-digits in eight out of 10 games, and he seemed to be getting healthier and more comfortable with his new role off the bench. His shooting percentage wasn’t that high, but it was only expected to get better as he further implemented himself into the offense. The Pacers had won 13 of 15 games and the rotation looked to be rounding into perfect shape. Unfortunately, that improvement never actually came. In a lot of ways, he regressed on both ends of the floor.

Since January 18, Granger has only reached double-digits in three of 15 games. Over that span, he’s only shot 34.6% from the field, connecting on only 14 3-pointers on 35% shooting from behind the arc. This is especially troubling in that most of his shots have been of the reasonably open, catch-and-shoot variety. Granger is clearly not the threat off the dribble he once was, but that would have been OK if he could step in and stretch the defense by being lights out on spot-ups. It just hasn’t been the case as Granger has only shot 34.2% on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers this season.

Defensively, he hasn’t been a train wreck, but he clearly isn’t the hard-nosed, never-back-down defender that we all remember standing up to LeBron James once upon a time. Just last night, coach Frank Vogel turned to Copeland over him in the fourth quarter in a game that the Pacers could have really used Granger’s (perceived) size and shooting to stretch Minnesota’s defense. And there is a good reason Vogel went in another direction: Over the last five games, the Granger has had a net rating of -2.3.

This simply wasn’t the Granger Pacers’ fans remembered or hoped they would see again. Whether he will ever return remains doubtful, but he surely wasn’t on track to help the Pacers much this season outside of chemistry and leadership.

In theory, Evan Turner is an upgrade on Granger in several tangible areas including some areas of immense need.

Evan Turner

What Turner Brings to Indiana

Turner, for his part, has been a player that has failed to live up to the lofty expectations that were placed on him after dominating the Big Ten just five years ago. After making the playoffs in his first two seasons, his teams have only gotten worse as he has handled a bigger and bigger load. Still, he represents an undeniable upgrade in several key areas over the shell of Danny Granger that has been running around with the Pacers.

The most visible skill Turner will bring to Indiana is with his playmaking and ballhandling abilities. The related stats aren’t actually that impressive. He’s a little bit of a turnover machine and 4 assists per game isn’t exactly a John Stockton level of production from a guy with a usage rate hovering in the mid 20s. But Turner has clearly been asked to do far more than what he’s probably capable of for the Sixers this year and his turnovers should equalize a little bit on a team where he’s asked to do a little less. Still, Indiana fans remember what has happened the last two springs in the playoffs when Miami has ratcheted up their pressure. Danny Granger was never going to be able to survive under those circumstances, and the addition of Turner’s handle should, at the very least, come in handy against the only real threat to the Pacers in the East.

It should also not be understated how much Turner appears to relish playing against the Heat — and in big games in general. Just this year, his Sixers shocked the world (if you can really do such a thing on opening night in the NBA) when he dropped 26 points en route to outplaying King James down the stretch of an upset. Say what you want about him, the kid is not scared of the big moment.

Defensively, it’s pretty rough. He’s not a good individual defender on the wing, despite his perceived good-to-great athleticism, and he’s never exhibited great instincts on that end of the floor either. As Vogel has shown with Copeland, the Pacers are pretty unwilling to give a guy minutes, no matter how good he is offensively, if he doesn’t fit in to the Pacers’ defensive scheme. But Turner does provide some flexibility the Pacers simply lacked before. With Granger, it was practically mandatory that either Paul George or Lance Stephenson was on the court at all times. While it’s unlikely that Vogel will elect to vary from that strategy much anyway, it at least gives him the option to rest both guys and run the offense through Turner for three or four minutes at a time.

For those that are assuming Turner will be a massive drop off from Granger in terms of sheer shooting, it may not be so cut and dry. While Granger was hitting the massively important corner 3 at an above-average rate, he was pretty awful from every other spot on the floor.

Granger Shooting

Turner’s shot chart looks almost the exact opposite this season, as he’s been either average or slightly above average from nearly everywhere but behind the arc.

Turner this year

This clearly could represent a problem to a team already tight on floor spacing in the units that Turner may be likely to play with. However, a closer look at last year’s shot chart might offer more use in predicting how Turner will shoot in his new role on the Pacers.

Last season, Turner’s usage rate was almost 4 points lower than it’s been this year and he was able to be a little more selective with his shooting. The result was a shot chart that looks far more promising in terms of long-range shooting.

Turner last year

Surprisingly, Turner was a league-average shooter from every area behind the arc last season. A glance at his catch-and-shoot numbers from this year seem to argue that he hasn’t regressed as a shooter this season, but that he’s simply taking tougher shots that he’s had to create for himself. In fact, his catch-and-shoot percentage is almost two full points higher than Granger’s, per NBA.com. (To be clear, a catch-and-shoot percentage of 37.1% isn’t much to brag about, but the point is that he is not going to be a worse open shooter than what Granger was this season.) It goes without saying that with George Hill, Lance Stephenson, and Paul George on the team, Evan Turner will probably see more open shots this year than he has in his entire collegiate and professional career.

In the end, Turner is an athletic player that plays unbelievably hard and should thrive alongside George, Stephenson, and Hill on the wings. According to NBA.com, Turner is tied for 36th in the entire league in “Distance run over 48 minutes,” averaging 3.3 miles per game. When only compared to wings, Turner rises into the top 15. Of course Philly’s hectic style of play undoubtedly contributes, but as a reference, Paul George covers 3.4 miles per game.

To be honest, the best possible comp for Evan Turner is probably a lesser Lance Stephenson — he’s a guy that plays incredibly hard and brings an aggression to the team that can spark a run at any moment, but he’s also known to take some bad shots and play himself out of games.

Still, if Turner can learn to simply play within himself for 20 minutes a game, it’s hard to imagine a world where he brings fewer tangibles to the table than Danny Granger has over the last month.

The Impossible to Replace Intangibles

And that, of course, is most likely going to be the true gauge of whether this trade winds up as a success or a failure. Larry Bird built this team on chemistry and defense. In a league full of teams built around superstars, the Pacers have been built around each other.

Granger offered almost nothing of tangible value to the Pacers last year, and yet he was still involved in one of the season’s most memorable highlights.

As Roy Hibbert so poignantly noted shortly after the trade, none of the Pacers appeared to be celebrating this trade. The Pacers loved each other and had developed an “us against the world” persona on their journey to toppling the champs. For all the possible advantages that Turner can bring to the Pacers’ roster, it’s also possible that part of their heart has been traded away.

And what if this trade adversely affects Lance Stephenson? Many fans, mere minutes after the trade was finalized, started celebrating that the Pacers finally had “Lance Insurance” in case he were to walk this summer.

Let’s be clear: Turner might make the loss of Stephenson hurt a little less, but Turner in no way offers the same possible value that “Good Lance” might give the Pacers over the next half-decade.

But if Lance thinks that that is the Legend’s motive, how much longer will we even see “Good Lance?” Stephenson has already been borderline out of control at times since he was passed over for the All-Star game as he’s been trying to “kill everybody.” If one thing is clear, it’s that the Pacers need Lance to play within himself and stay in control at all times if they are going to challenge anyone for a title this year.

On the other hand, Larry Bird seems to believe that he, Vogel, and David West have established an infrastructure that is strong enough to withstand anything that Andrew Bynum, the loss of Danny Granger, or anything else can throw at it. Who am I to question the Legend? His failed moves have been few and far between over the last five years, and one has to trust the instincts that he has whenever a basketball is in the equation.

All of this also completely ignores Lavoy Allen, a guy who calmly did work while playing 20 minutes a game for a team that nearly reached the Conference Finals two seasons ago. Statistically, he was one of Philadelphia’s best defensive players (which is a little like saying that Harry Styles is the best singer on One Direction but still …) as his team’s defensive rating jumped 3 points when he entered the game. At the end of the day, he may not crack the four-man rotation of bigs, but injuries and depth are always a factor come May and June, so if nothing else he should offer the Pacers some increased flexibility on back-to-backs.

The loss of Granger will probably sting for a while — especially if the Pacers wind up having a parade right up Meridian in the middle of July.

But no matter how many negatives I am able to come up with, I can’t get past this one thought: Trust in the Legend, and the Legend just went all in for 2014.

Tags: Turnering A Corner

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