Is Evan Turner An NBA All-Star-Caliber Player?
I was certainly impressed by the Evan Turner narrative over the course of the college basketball season: outstanding production across the board, speedy return from a scary broken back injury, miraculous buzzer-beater in the Big Ten tournament, National Player of the Year.
Turner is widely expected to go to the Sixers at pick no. 2, or to the Nets at no. 3 at the worst, in Thursday's NBA Draft. As such, expectations are high. Nets personnel director Gregg Polinsky called Turner "a guy who can put a team on his back," and my sense is that Turner is generally expected to be an All-Star-caliber player in the league.
After watching several of Turner's games, and also digging further into the details, I am skeptical that he will become an NBA All-Star. Don't get me wrong, I don't think Turner will be a scrub or a bust on the Kwame-Darko-Morrison level. I do think he will be a good player and I wouldn't take him below no. 4, as I think the drop-off in talent after the Big 4 in this draft is pretty steep. I just don't see a lot of evidence of an All-Star.
First of all, I still occasionally hear or read here and there of people who debate whether Wall or Turner deserves to go no. 1, and I think that's absolutely ludicrous. John Wall is, if anything, underrated as a prospect in my mind. Many seem to compare him to Derrick Rose, but I think Wall's potential projects him a clear step above the Chicago PG. While both players are superior athletes for the position, Wall has court vision which far surpasses Rose's.
And, considering that big men with length and mobility are such valuable commodities in the modern game, Derrick Favors is no. 2 on my mythical board even though I find his game disconcertingly raw at times. His tools are still too impressive - I think Favors has the potential to be a thoroughly disruptive defensive force, at the least.
I'd also rate DeMarcus Cousins ahead of Turner on talent, though I could understand if you preferred the Buckeye based on concerns about Cousins's mental makeup. Frankly, what I saw from Jan Vesely in the Euroleague Final Four was more impressive from an NBA potential standpoint than anything I saw from Turner, as well.
TURNER PROS & CONS
What are my concerns with Evan Turner? First and foremost, I'd point to this simple recent quote from Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard in ESPN Magazine: "It's so tough to be a great player if you aren't a great athlete." In watching Turner's game film, I just never saw a guy who is a great athlete, who has the explosiveness or strength which is a trademark of star wing players in the NBA.
To me, Turner needs to compensate for a lack of elite athleticism with other skills and abilities, and certainly, there's plenty to like in his game. Ohio State's offense was basically a pro-style steady diet of high pick-and-rolls, which Turner ran quite well. In general, Turner has a high basketball IQ. His vision and unselfishness as a passer are exceptional for a wing - easily his greatest strength, in my opinion - and the one skill that should ensure he's an asset to whichever team drafts him.
Turner is clever with the ball, employing a variety of spins and other moves, and does a good job keeping his dribble alive, though I do think he can be careless with the ball. A high turnover rate, like Turner had, is often natural for a young player with a high usage rate, and correctable over time, but I feel like Turner commits a lot of bad TOs, often because he lacks strength with the ball.
After shooting 36% on just 55 three-point attempts and with an awkward form, Turner's shooting is often listed as a weakness. While I don't think he'll become Kyle Korver anytime soon, I've been impressed by reports of Turner's excellent work ethic, so I think he can develop into a serviceable outside shooter, as many players do.
On defense, Turner is a solid team defender - smart, versatile and well-positioned. He turns his head a little too much, but that's a minor complaint. I've read a few suggestions that Turner is a "defensive stopper", but I didn't really see it in the Ohio State games I watched. When Manny Harris, a NBA-quality athlete, heated up to nearly give Michigan a comeback win in the game Turner won with his miracle, ET was never called upon to try to shut him down, even in the waning minutes while not in foul trouble.
The profile of NBA wing stoppers are guys with elite length and athleticism, and often with strong bodies like Ron Artest, Tony Allen or (ahem) 76er Andre Iguodala. I just don't see Turner having the physical ability to be a stopper on the NBA level.
Turner also posted outstanding rebounding numbers of 9.2 per game. I'll discuss that in more depth below.
Beyond the straightforward pros & cons of a scouting report, there were a few pieces of context which concerned me as I watched a few of Turner's games.....
BIG TEN "COMPETITION"
When I watched some of Derrick Favors's games, I often felt like there was frustratingly little meaningful data for scouting purposes because that Georgia Tech team was so thoroughly disorganized.
I was surprised to find that Ohio State games also often yielded little meaningful data in terms of projecting Turner's NBA future, though in this case because the competition in the Big Ten stunk so badly in terms of NBA talent.
Turner was a college star for his sophomore (2008-09) and junior (2009-10) years.
Here's the NBA talent in the Big Ten in that time:
• In 2009, the only Big Ten players drafted were OSU teammate B.J. Mullens at 24 and Michigan State's Goran Suton at 50. Mullens was the only Big Ten player to crack David Thorpe's Top 50 Rookie Rankings (he was 45), while Suton played in Russia.
• In 2010, Turner is the only Big Ten player listed in the Draft Express mock draft for Thursday. Chad Ford has the aforementioned Manny Harris going at 52.
I'll note that when I watched the Ohio State-Michigan conference-tournament matchup, I saw the 6-5 Harris matched up on the 6-7 Turner for two possessions. On one, Harris blocked Turner's pull-up jump shot. On the other, Harris bodied Turner up deep in the lane and forced him into a missed shot for an impressive stop. I'm not saying that's definitive. I'm just saying that's pretty much all the meaningful data I got from that entire game, unless you put your stock in Turner nailing 35-foot runners on a consistent basis.
• For 2011, Draft Express has no Big Ten players who played against Turner listed as first-rounders, with Purdue big man JaJuan Johnson and Michigan State guards Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers tabbed as second-rounders. Chad Ford also has Minnesota's Rodney Williams ranked no. 18, but, as a freshman, Williams played just 10 minutes per game in three matchups vs. Ohio State, and just 11.9 mpg overall.
Turner essentially matched up against zero bonafide NBA players in the last two seasons in the Big Ten. None.
In rare matchups against NBA-quality wings, Turner struggled against West Virginia and players like 6-8 Devin Ebanks and 6-7 Da'Sean Butler in each of the past two seasons:
08-09: 4-17 FG, 10-11-1-3 TO (76-48 L)
09-10: 6-17 FG, 18-11-4-4 TO (71-65 L)
However, I'm reluctant to be too critical of Turner for those games because West Virginia's team defense is so outstanding. Indeed, Huggy's Mountaineers did a similar number on Wall and Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.
On top of the deficient competition in conference, I was shocked at how often opponents covered Turner with smaller players. I thought that this gave him physical advantages which are going to disappear in the NBA.
I saw Michigan cover Turner with 6-4 Darius Morris and 6-3 Laval Lucas-Perry as primary defenders, eschewing Harris despite the brief success noted above. Illinois used 6-3 conference Freshman of the Year D.J. Richardson on Turner.
My favorite Big Ten strategy was employed by Minnesota in the conference tournament championship. A report prior to the game said this:
- [Minnesota Coach Tubby] Smith continues to gush about [6-7] senior forward Damian Johnson, who got snubbed from the Big Ten's All-Defense team last week. "Damian Johnson is the most versatile defensive player I've ever coached at any level," Smith said.
The most versatile defender you've ever coached, and you don't use him on the other team's best player! How on Earth does that make any sense?! I can understand that putting a 6-7 guy on the other team's point guard might create mismatches elsewhere in a college game. But I dare say I'd rather deal with the mismatches somewhere other than vs. the National Player of the Year!
[Aside: if the no. 1 reason that college coaches fail in the NBA is that they invariably get stuck with crappy rosters, not far behind at no. 2 is the fact that they woefully fail Matchups 101, the bread-and-butter of an NBA coach's nightly duties. This one was elementary, Tubby. Geez.]
And since I dinged Turner for 2 possessions vs. Harris, fairness dictates that I note he was 1-2 vs. Johnson, including a strong and-1 move in which Turner took a hit and converted.
In general, it seemed a bit meaningless to watch these games where Turner was toying with 6-3 opponents.
In the NCAA Tournament, Tennessee took things a step further and covered Turner with Melvin Goins, a 5-11 player - 5-11! - for 40% of the time. 6-3 Bobby Maze and 6-7 J.P. Prince also each guarded Turner about a quarter of the time.
Prince was an opportunity for an instructive matchup, as he has NBA-quality athleticism and a long, lean body which vaguely resembles that of his cousin Tayshaun. However, with just 15 or so possessions, by my count, the data was again limited.
Turner did hit 4-6 FG (including 2-3 3PT) vs. Prince, but three of those were wide-open shots after Prince got no help in the pick-and-roll. On another play, Prince tipped the ball away from behind and was wide-open for a breakaway... but the ball bounced off of teammate Wayne Chism's face, right into Turner's hands for an easy 15-footer. Prince made a spectacular block on a Turner three which sealed the game, but Turner was off-balance on a desperation attempt. Prince took a charge which should have been a block, and a block which should have been a charge. And Prince did use his length to force Turner into 3 turnovers when matched up against him.
In short, one of the few opportunities to see Turner matched up against an athletic player his size was inconclusive - a mixed bag on a night when Turner's 31 points helped keep Ohio State in the game, and his 6 turnovers helped cost it as well.
In lieu of a dearth of meaningful data, I stick with my instincts, which tell me that Turner is going to struggle to be nearly as productive a scorer when matched up against players at least as big and athletic as him, often more so.
In terms of Turner's impressive rebounding numbers, especially on the defensive boards, a few things gradually caught my eye.
One was that he was the second-tallest player in the Buckeyes lineup, often stationed on the backline on D, and I felt like I rarely saw him grab boards in traffic.
Then, when the Michigan starting lineup was spotlighted, I noticed their heights: 6-3, 6-4, 6-5, 6-5, 6-8. Welcome to NCAA basketball.
Again, I think that size advantages and circumstances really helped Turner rack up the boards.
I had a theory that Gordon Hayward's rebounding numbers were a little inflated because of similar factors - namely, that rebounding numbers for college swingmen are artificially high because of a lack of size in the modern NCAA game - so I was curious to see what the numbers said.
The correlation for all players, minimum 1,000 minutes, for projected NBA rebounding vs. actual rookie rebounding is 87.8%.
For players 6-6 through 6-8, the correlation is 83.6%. But minus the obvious undersized fours such as DeJuan Blair and Paul Millsap, the correlation falls all the way to 70.4%.
Smaller players and bigger players rebound in much closer correlation to what their college rebounding stats project. Mid-sized guys lag, in my opinion because are many fewer big guys in college.
The 6-6 to 6-8 guys who've had the best NBA rebounding percentages are Renaldo Balkman, Al Thornton, Terrence Williams, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Porter, Josh Childress, Andre Iguodala, Luol Deng.
Other than Deng, those all seem like especially athletic guys (I would say Melo is especially strong for his size, if not bouncy).
Again, I feel like Turner is not especially athletic for an NBA swingman, and I feel like the data backs up my hypothesis. I expect Turner's rebounding to tail off quite a bit when he ventures in amongst the NBA trees.
CONCLUSIONS AND THE B-ROY FACTOR
To recap, I have not seen the evidence that Evan Turner is an NBA All-Star-caliber player. I think that sheer size advantages helped him rack up such gaudy scoring and rebounding numbers at Ohio State, though I do believe he will continue to be an elite passer as an NBA swingman, which will be the key to his value as an NBA player, in my opinion.
I do not believe that Turner has the body to be an NBA All-Star, though I'm a little frustrated that there's so little meaningful data to go off of, based on his continual matchups against 6-3 guys in a weak Big Ten.
And hey, I'm not gonna lie, the Brandon Roy factor is in the back of my head. The players are very similar in many, many ways. Both players played with a high IQ in college, their NCAA stats were similar, and their combine body measurements were incredibly similar. Their athletic testing numbers were also scarily close, with the key difference being a 6-inch edge in vertical jump for Roy.
I do believe that Roy is more explosive in the lane than Turner, and has also always been much better at taking care of the ball. But Roy and Turner have so many similarities at face value that I don't dismiss Turner out of hand.
I don't find it implausible that Evan Turner could become an NBA All-Star. Again, I just haven't seen the evidence that he is NBA All-Star-caliber, and I'm going to stick to my guns and say that I don't think he will become an All-Star. Not a bust, just not an All-Star or a franchise player in the way I believe John Wall will be.
I know, I know, how dare I say such things about an NCAA Player of the Year. But we've seen it time and time before, and we'll see it again: stardom in college basketball does not necessarily translate to stardom in the NBA.
I believe that Andre Iguodala is possibly the most underrated player in the league, especially because of his defensive abilities, which I believe new Sixers coach Doug Collins could exploit quite well.
Conventional wisdom suggests that the Sixers will look to trade Iguodala if and when they draft Turner, as the two are fairly duplicative. To be perfectly honest, I'd rather have Iguodala.
I would draft Derrick Favors, which would give Philly a frightening trio of potential All-NBA Defensive Team players in Jrue Holiday, Iguodala and Favors. It might take longer to develop, but I think that course of action has far greater upside for the Sixers than drafting Turner and shedding Iggy. We gonna see.
Enjoy the Draft, everyone. Huge hat tip to Sebastian Pruiti of the outstanding sites NBA Playbook and Nets Are Scorching for helping me track down extra Turner game video.