After winning the 2010 college POY and being selected with the #2 overall pick, Evan Turner was expected to be in the thick of the race for Rookie of the Year.
Instead, the 6’7 205 small forward out of Ohio State has struggled to earn consistent playing time in Philadelphia and has been called one of the league’s most disappointing players.
And while his numbers aren’t very impressive (7/4/2 on 42% shooting), there are a couple of important caveats to consider. In college, he was a point forward, dominating the ball for 40 minutes and surrounded by the same plethora of defensive-minded jump-shooting role players (David Lighty, William Buford and Jon Diebler) that have made Jared Sullinger a star.
Turner’s strengths, mainly his ability to pass and dribble at 6’7, were accentuated, while his weaknesses, lacking elite athleticism or a consistent three-point shot, were minimized.
Turner had a much different role in college.
Unfortunately, to be effective playing without the ball in your hands on the perimeter, you need to be a good three-point shooter and an effective defender. That’s why Turner has been losing playing time to Jodie Meeks (a knock-down shooter) and Andre Nocioni (a feisty defender) in recent weeks, including getting only four minutes of run in the 76ers huge victory over Atlanta last night.
But basketball is a zero-sum game, so putting the ball in Turner’s hands would take it out of someone else’s. Philadelphia already has three high-usage guards (Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala and Louis Williams), and Turner isn’t better than any of them right now.
Williams, an explosive 6’2 175 combo guard, has thrived as a 6th-man scorer off the bench. He can spread the floor (34.5% from beyond the arc), get buckets in a hurry (averaging 14 points in 23 minutes of playing time) and run point in a pinch (with a 3.3 assists: 1.3 turnover ratio).
Iguodala, the team’s nominal franchise player after receiving a six-year $80 million contract three years ago, has been his normally consistent self, averaging 14/6/6 on 45% shooting and playing dominant defense on all three perimeter positions.
Most significantly, Jrue Holiday, a 6’3 180 point guard out of UCLA two years younger than Turner, looks like a star in the making. With a nearly 30′ vertical and a 6’7 wingspan, he is one of the biggest point guards in the NBA. He’s a complete offensive player too; he can get his own shot (14 points on 45% shooting), create offense for others (averaging 6.2 assists to 2.6 turnovers) and spot up off the ball (shooting 37% from long-range).
A future All-NBA point guard.
Very few NBA point guards have ever put up Holiday’s statistics at the age of 20. In January, his PER was 16.1 (it has since dropped to 15.2); only four points have topped that at his age — Magic Johnson, Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Stephon Marbury. While he was under-the-radar after playing off the ball next to Darren Collison in his one year at UCLA, Holiday was the #2 player in his high school class for a reason, and guys with his pedigree often out-perform their college contributions in the NBA.
The play of their three young guards is one of the main reasons why the 76ers are on one of the hottest teams in basketball, going 11-5 since the All-Star break. But despite their youth, Philadelphia’s future still has a firm ceiling.
They have one of the least imposing interior defenses in the NBA, led by Elton Brand, an undersized and unathletic 6’8 250 power forward. Both of their two young centers, Spencer Hawes and Marreese Speights, block less than a shot a game.
And that’s where the Evan Turner selection really hurts. Without an elite big man, the Sixers have been on the mediocrity treadmill for over a decade, not good enough to win a playoff series and not bad enough to get a high pick.
With Derrick Favors, Greg Monroe and DeMarcus Cousins on the board, the #2 pick was a chance to change that:
The #2 selection in this draft is their chance to break out of this cycle. Elite NBA teams tend to have elite players at the 4 and 5 positions over 6’10.
Philly would be a promising young team, especially on the wings, with Holiday, Turner, Iguodala and Thad Young. Inside, they would be depending on the decrepit Elton Brand at the 4 and the soft Spencer Hawes at the 5. It’d be an improved version of the 76ers team that was summarily booted out of the playoffs in the first round two of the last three seasons.
As Philly knows from experience, the chance to draft #2 (and get an elite big man) only comes around once in a decade. They need someone who can command a double team from the post and grab rebounds to start a fast break for their younger players.
Nine months later, Evan Turner couldn’t fetch any of the Draft’s top three big men in a trade.
This current Sixers team is a fun and exciting group to watch, but they aren’t much of a threat to any of the top four teams in the East — Chicago, Miami, Boston and Orlando — all of whom have All-Star caliber players in their front-court.
Long-term, the team they most resemble is the one directly above them in the East — the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks whiffed on the #2 pick in the 2005 draft (Marvin Williams), and despite a nice core of young talent — led by Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford — they’ve been swept both times they got out of the first round of the playoffs.
None of this is Turner’s fault; he was just a poor “fit” in Philadelphia. If the Sixers want to maximize their draft pick, they are going to have to get the ball in his hands more; his usage rating is a paltry 17.0. His per-36 numbers (11/6/3) are still respectable, and if he can improve his three-point shooting (only 27.5% this season), he could be still be a borderline All-Star at 6’7.
With Turner’s trade value so low, Holiday probably untouchable, no salary cap room to speak off and little chance to get back into the top of the lottery, Philadelphia has only one way to try to acquire an athletic and skilled big man — Andre Iguodala. And even he may not be enough.
The last ten years have been a “lost decade” for the 76ers, who haven’t been out of the first round since 2003. It will take some creative wheeling and dealing to avoid the same fate in the next ten.