Myles Turner is a rim-protecting, stretch-shooting big who has All-Star potential. But he is not without flaws. We break down what he brings to the Indiana Pacers.
This is a guest post to 8 Points, 9 Seconds that was written by Donovan Reed of Patterns of the Pick and Roll. See his previous breakdown of Georges Niang here.
Myles Turner is all the rage. Hampered early in the 2015-16 season by a thumb injury, Turner garnered league-wide attention with a flurry of blocked shots and silky jumpers upon his return. With Ian Mahinmi gone and the Pacers mandating a philosophical shift towards faster, more-offensive-minded play, he seems all set to take the Pacers into the modern era.
Yet Myles Turner is already old news. He’s a bit of a plodder in an era where quick is the new big, and a stretch-5 in a game that no longer fears statuesque marksmen.
Myles Turner, the Shooter
Before Turner can even make the transition to a playmaking five, he needs to prove he has the chops from deep. For all the histrionics regarding his jumper, he lofted only 14 trifectas in his rookie season and connected on 27% of his (shorter) 3s at the University of Texas.
Fantasizing about Turner scorching the nets is tantalizing, but at a certain point you need some evidence; like, it’s fun to say my ex Karen will come back, but at a certain point I have to realize she left five years ago and I should probably move on with my life. (I will never give up on you, babe. Take as much time as you need.)
Still, don’t let skeptics wielding small sample sizes fool you: There is real reason to believe Turner will be a weapon from the great beyond. The best 3-point shooters connect from the stripe, and Turner made 84% of his free throws at Texas and 73% as a rookie. He’s already testing the limits of his range, hitting a tasty 40.7 % of his two-point jumpers this past season, and his stroke is delectable:
His feet are eternally angled to the left, away from the basket, but it doesn’t matter — his upper body is always squared to the hoop. He jumps straight up and down, putting an arc on the ball that’s rare for colossals, and his release is quick and elevated. Smalls don’t have a prayer of blocking his shot, and bigs can’t get there in time.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Turner will fulfill his stretch-five destiny as prophesied by Larry Legend. Shooting is valuable at all positions, but it is most valuable at the five, where it can suck unwieldy rim protectors out of the paint, opening the lane for gimme shots at the rim. Camped out on the weak side of pick-and-rolls, Turner will make room for the back-breaking lobs that demoralize defenses. On the strong side, his magnetism will give curious guards room to explore. And as the pop man, he will force defenses to make a difficult decision: Creep up and risk being thru-streeted to the rim, or sit back and let Turner tee off.
The Need to Do More than Shoot
Teams don’t let rainy giants bully them anymore. Mobile defenders can collapse and recover before snipers acquire their target, and teams will just switch the pick-and-pop. To keep everything on the table, Turner needs to slice-and-kick like his vertically-challenged friends. He already has a good sense of when to pump fake and go, and while he’s a bit of a waddler, he’s generally able to penguin his way into the paint when dudes bite. He sometimes settles for tough finishes in traffic, but he’s shown the ability to calmly survey the floor on his teetering drives:
This off-the-dribble game will help him exploit ready-made cracks in the defense, but Turner will need to sharpen his one-on-one skills to remain a threat in the pick-and-pop.
Tristan Thompsons can exploit size mismatches with bull-in-a-china-shop routines on the boards. Turner lacks the motor and the mobility to do the same. His size alone will help him sky for the occasional rebound over a smaller man, but he doesn’t rebound outside his area enough to overcome stagnating the offense.
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Despite lightning-quick hands and excellent timing, he posted a Bargnanian 5.5% offensive rebound percentage this year, per Basketball Reference. There’s some inherent noise in those numbers, but the tape backs them up. Turner doesn’t have the lateral quickness to chase errant boards, likely because he struggles to get down in a quick stance. The best rebounders are constantly fighting to improve their position, getting low to root out opposing box-outs, and executing swim moves and looping arm-under moves.
Turner’s more of a I’m-gonna-stand-semi-close-to-the-basket-and-hope-the-ball-comes-my-way kind of guy. When he’s outside the paint, he rarely runs to the rim to give himself a puncher’s chance at the board. It’s possible he’s just following captain’s orders to get back in transition, but big men usually have the green light to hit the glass, within reason.
Turner must prove he can punish mismatches in the post. He’s shown Charmin-soft touch on his floater, evidence there may be a reliable righty hook in there somewhere. Against Napoleons, a tapered hook will suffice; you don’t need a treasure trove of post moves when you can shoot uncontested bunnies. And teams are always hesitant to switch one-five pick-and-rolls anyways. Against certain lineups, Turner may not even see a switch.
But coaches are creative. They will find ways to swap Turner screens, sliding a wing on the primary ball-handler or cross-matching their four onto the second-year big. Right now, he just doesn’t have the goods to beat legitimate defenders down low; he lacks the strength to secure prime real estate, and the polish to boogie his way to high-percentage looks, settling for no-man’s-land flip shots and telegraphed fadeaways. In the roll-’em-out regular season, he will be a weapon. In the matchup-driven playoffs, Two-Moves Turner will be an asset, but not the world-beater he could be.
Myles Turner, the Rim Protector
Any offensive output might just be gravy. When people hear Myles Turner, they think
bad hair defense. The noise about Turner as a shot-blocker is real; he averaged 3.08 blocks per 48 minutes, good for the 12th-best mark in the league. And he played roughly 39% of his minutes at power forward last year; with more time manning the middle, you can pencil him in for some added rejections.
Still, shot-blocking doesn’t always equate to sound defense; Turner can be creaky from time to time. He makes the obvious rotations — guys screaming down the wide open lane, right into his wheel house — but misses the more subtle ones. He occasionally foregoes verticality — leaping straight up with arms extended to contest a shot at the rim — instead swinging wildly at the ball. He has the length and timing to get away with it more than he should, but when you forfeit sound principles someone is bound to punish you.
If his rim defense is creaky, his pick-and-roll defense is nearly off its hinges. He takes bad angles, isn’t always in position and doesn’t always help when the ball-handler denies the screen. These issues came home to roost in the Raptors series (a series Turner played well in for the most part). Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph picked him apart for easy driving lanes, securing pivotal buckets down the stretch:
Should his bugaboos stem from a juvenile lack of understanding, we can ditch the panic button for now. Will Turner ever be the most fundamentally sound pick-and-roll defender? Probably not. You just don’t see guys make that kind of rags to riches transformation.
But Turner is green; he will be 20 years old when he starts his second year. Improvement will undoubtedly accompany his mental maturation and accumulation of hoops experience. It’s a fair bet that Turner will become at least serviceable against ball screens.
Should these bugaboos stem more from immobility, however, Turner will have trouble staying on the floor against the most potent lineups in the league. Being stuck in cement is the kiss of death in today’s NBA. (Fun Fact: Kiss of Death was also my nickname for my ex Karen. She said she would never kiss me, even if my life depended on it. God I miss that woman.)
Static bigs face two choices against lethal off-the-dribble shooters: Stay back and concede death by long-range bombing, or come up and let ball-handlers stroll by you. Both choices end in a quick hook. Unless he can trap on the perimeter without springing leaks, Turner may be less able to ever become the monstrous defender his supporters expect him to be.
But scabs and all, Turner is a definite plus on defense. He won’t make every rotation, but he’ll make most of them, and he wards off drives by sheer intimidation. It’s the DeAndre Effect.
DeAndre Jordan isn’t the most proactive or consistent help defender, but when you see him lurking in the lane, you think twice about paying the toll. (For clarification: You do, I don’t. I’m coming straight down the lane and banging on that scrub. All-Hillsborough County Team Honorable Mentions, represent.)
The Pacers can feel safe giving him the Honorary Hibbert Award as Indiana’s defensive centerpiece. In a vacuum, Ian Mahinmi is a better defensive player. He’s more reliable, and his mobility lets him affect more plays on the perimeter and at the rim. But games aren’t played in a vacuum, and the Myles Turner Block Party probably tilts things in the Texan’s favor against most matchups.
The Overall Myles Turner Package
On the other end, Turner can provide luxuries that past Pacer bigs couldn’t offer. With Turner spacing the floor, you can play bricky fours like Thaddeus Young and Jeremy Evans without gunking up the offense. It’s even tougher to guard Paul George pindowns when the screener can either roll to the rim for lobs or pop for feathery jumpers. And ball-handlers who previously had bigs waiting for them at the rim will get to attack large, immobile men out on the perimeter when Turner pops.
When the real season starts in April, people will switch Turner ball screens and the Pacers will have to play ISO from time to time, but they have enough isolation punch (see Paul George, Jeff Teague) to scrounge up points in those situations. Right now, Turner is a real asset, plain and simple.
That said: It’s worth wondering if Turner will depreciate faster than most second-year studs. He’s not Roy Hibbert, but his lateral mobility is questionable; he struggles to get low and stay low in a defensive stance. In the free-flowing, 3-point era, mobility is key to pretty much all things defense. Long jumpers lead to long rebounds.
In typical, under-the-basket skirmishes for putbacks, it’s size, strength and positioning that rule. For long rebounds, you need to out-quick people. Against five-out lineups, rim protectors need to scuttle from the three-point line to the rim and back, sometimes more than once in a single possession. And against the deadliest off-the-dribble 3-point shooters, you have to guard on the perimeter without being exposed. Whether Turner is up to these tasks remains to be seen.
Right now, these aren’t huge issues unless you’re playing the Dubs, Cavs, or Blazers. But teams are hoisting 3s at record rates, and every year is uncharted territory. Who knows what the league will look like a few years down the road. Maybe arcing 3s off-the-dribble will be a prerequisite for staying on the floor. Maybe teams will start launching from 10 feet beyond the arc. Maybe all this will happen in five years, 15 years, or not at all.
Just three years ago, Roy Hibbert looked like where the league was going: Stout paint-protectors making the rim a no-fly zone. Now, the league has all but left him behind.
If Turner lacks the mobility to play in this Futuristic Wild Wild West, he could go the way of Hibbert — unplayable against the best offenses. If he proves perimeter-friendly, he could be an All-Star.
I’m hoping for the latter.