Fingers have been pointed in many different directions over the last two months as fans and writers have tried to diagnose the root of the Pacers’ problems. Roy Hibbert has been terrible until very recently. Lance Stephenson was playing selfishly. The Pacers’ chemistry was dealt a blow when Danny Granger was shipped out of town.
Of course, the truth probably resides in the combination of some or all of the above. But the Pacers have played better for most of the last four games and some of the old reasons appear to be fleeting. Hibbert has been better — dare I say back to normal? — since Game 2. Lance Stephenson has clearly been the motor of the team throughout the playoffs. And the last two games, the Pacers have actually looked like they’ve been having fun.
As problems seem to fix themselves, one glaring issue remains: the Pacers are getting very little from Evan Turner.
The numbers are stacked pretty heavily against the former Buckeye. Since he joined the squad, the Pacers have gone 20-17. In the playoffs, he’s been extra awful, posting a plus/minus of -58 in just 116 total minutes while the Pacers overall have gone +39. Indiana is 2-0 in games where he had DNP-CDs, and Turner has begun to rack up some Sam Young-esque vitriol from Indiana fans on social media.
It’s important to note that Danny Granger is currently offering next to nothing for the Los Angeles Clippers. Granger has 26 points since the beginning of April. Go back and read that last sentence again. He’s only connected on 2 of his last 18 shots, and Jared Dudley has replaced him in the rotation.
Larry Bird saw the writing on the wall with Danny Granger. He will almost certainly never return to even a shadow of the player he once was, and could even be out of the league soon. Still, the Legend had to hope that Turner would give the Pacers more than what he is currently offering.
Both the eye test and base stats confirm that Turner is a superior player to Granger at this point in their respective careers. While Turner is a limited (and that’s being kind) defensive player and below-average outside shooter, his size, athleticism, and playmaking are still legitimate NBA skills. The problem is that Turner’s good attributes don’t necessarily translate to on-court success with this Pacer squad — especially in the playoffs when rotations tighten up and starters play extended minutes.
Turner has been the Pacers’ main on-floor creator in only five of his 116 playoff minutes. Per NBA.com, he’s played 71 minutes with Paul George handling playmaking responsibilities and 36 minutes with Lance taking the same role. In other words, for 111 of his 116 playoff minutes, Evan Turner has been asked to provide floor-spacing and action away from the ball for the Pacers’ offense. Turner, quite simply, isn’t that useful of a player in this role. Turner has only connected on 28 total corner threes on the season, while shooting less than 38% on one of the easiest shots in basketball. Defenses are perfectly content to sag off of him, killing the Pacers’ spacing.
Once you factor in his below average to awful “E Honda” defense, the result is a player that hurts his team at both ends of the floor. No rotation player has a worse offensive rating than Evan Turner’s pitiful 88.6 in the playoffs, according to NBA.com. Defensively, he is also the worst at 112.3.
For all of his issues, he’s not a bad playmaker. He can particularly score pretty well out of the pick and roll. Were Turner given the opportunity to lead a bench unit while both Paul George and Lance Stephenson rested, even for just 5 minutes a half, we may see something closer to his actual potential.
Another possible lineup that Turner could thrive in would be a “big” lineup where Turner, Stephenson, and George all played together. Realistically though, this would most likely only work if Turner could hide on a Shane Battier/Rashard Lewis-type defensively and both George Hill and CJ Watson were struggling or in foul trouble. Further, the lineup would only work well for Evan were Lance and Paul George to allow him run the point and work off the ball. Of course, completely reshuffling the offense just to put Evan Turner into a position to thrive probably wouldn’t be good for the Pacers on balance.
It’s important for Frank Vogel not to play him just because he’s there.
Many playoff teams only give legitimate postseason minutes to three backcourt players, and CJ Watson can space the floor better than Turner and is also a far better defensive player. Luis Scola is in a similar boat. If Hibbert continues to play the way he has since Wednesday, Vogel will most likely attempt to keep either he or David West on the floor as much as possible. Mahimni is a far better defensive player than Scola and will continue to see the lion’s share of backup minutes as long as foul trouble isn’t an issue.
Going forward, Vogel should consider shelving Turner completely, or only playing him for the 5 to 8 minutes a game when both Lance and Paul are resting. The spacing is just too poor to play him off the ball, especially when he’s playing with Lance Stephenson while George is on the bench. One has to think that in these lineups, Copeland would offer a much better alternative to Turner as he’s a far better floor spacer and can’t possibly be any worse defensively.
One can easily foresee a scenario in which Evan Turner is an effective basketball player again. In the future, he could even thrive for the Pacers were Lance to find another team this summer. Unfortunately for Turner, his opportunities just don’t exist in these playoffs, not when Paul George is averaging 42 minutes a game while Lance averages more than 35.