Should Myles Turner be considered in the NBA’s group of future frontcourt stars along with Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid?
If the Indiana Pacers want to find out, they’re going to need to give Myles Turner the ball. With a lot more consistency and frequency.
Opportunities for the player widely seen as the future of the franchise and one Larry Bird has said “could be the greatest Pacer ever” have been sporadic so far this season as he’s often seemed to be an afterthought in the Pacers offense. This after a stretch last year that Turner called “frustrating” because of a mid-year change in his offensive responsibilities.
“I’ve always been a scorer,” said Turner, last season to the Indy Star. “It’s what I like to do. But if the offense doesn’t call for me to do that, then I can’t complain.”
Turner not only had a usage rate last season that dropped from 21.2% before the All-Star break to just 16.5% after, but he seemed to lose confidence in his shot and offensive game as Nate McMillan urged Turner to look more for his teammates and not take every shot that was available to him.
“I’m distributing the ball a lot more,” said Turner at the time last season. “It’s what the offense has called for — feeding the hot hands.”
While this improved Turner’s passing and vision last year, his offensive game overall suffered as he often hesitated with the ball unsure of when it was okay for him to shoot and when he was supposed to “distribute.” While the offense called for “feeding the hot hands,” Turner was rarely given the opportunity to get hot himself.
This unfortunate trend hasn’t been much better so far this season. Turner missed seven games with a concussion, but in the five games that he’s played since returning he’s taken only eight shots twice.
Is there any scenario where any of Porzingis, Towns, or Embiid ever take just eight shots twice in a 5-game span?
The fewest amount of shot attempts Porzingis has put up this season is 14, in only three of his team’s 10 games has he attempted fewer than 20 shots. Turner has matched or exceeded 14 shot attempts twice with a high of 16.
In total, Porzingis, Embiid and Towns have combined for just one game with fewer than 11 shot attempts (Towns took only seven shots in 22 minutes against the Pelicans). Myles Turner, meanwhile, averages just a little more than their minimum attempts at 11.7 field goal attempts per game.
Turner’s usage rate has gone slighty up to 22.1%, but that’s a far cry from his young peers. Porzingis has a massive usage rate on the New York Knicks of 35.7%; Embiid’s is 33.7%; Towns is at 25.2%.
One of the frustrating aspects of Turner’s continued underuse is that he’s improved on some things over the offseason. We just don’t get the chance to see it very often. This post-move from Myles is not something he could have completed last season as he goes the baseline route and scoops a layup in after beating DeMarcus Cousins in the post.
Turner’s only averaging 1.8 post-up possessions per game. He’s shooting 50% on these chances and ranks in a reasonable 57th percentile for points per possession in this play type at 0.91. It’s not ultra-efficient number but it’s a small sample size and something that could be explored more often than just twice per game. (For comparison, Domas Sabonis, who’s been terrific so far for the Pacers, averages 1.5 post possessions per game but averages just 0.76 points per possession [36th percentile] on his post-up opportunities.)
Against the Detroit Pistons, Turner returned to the game in the second quarter with Andre Drummond guarding him with two fouls. The Pacers immediately went to Turner in the post on his first possession back in. It went well.
Drummond clearly didn’t want to pick up his third foul and neither contested the shot attempt or put up a ton of resistance. And yet, after that first possession, the Pacers never went back to this look and Turner didn’t take another shot attempt in the quarter (3 for 3 total in the first half).
Meanwhile, on the defensive end, Drummond eventually drew two fouls on Turner and Myles picked up his third on another play later in the quarter, sending him to the bench with foul trouble.
In the post and near the basket, Turner can still have a maddening tendency to fade away from contact when it isn’t necessary and awkwardly contort his body or double clutch when going into contact in a way that isn’t conducive to getting foul calls and allows opponents to more easily reach the ball to either block a shot or strip it away.
But even despite these things, he’s still effective and can improve with more reps in these situations.
The Pacers primary way of getting Turner the ball is via the pick and roll/pick and pop. So much so, that the Pacers duo of Turner and Sabonis are #1 and #2 in points per game as a roll man.
Turner scores about half of his 14.5 points per game as a roll man with 7.0 points per game with most of those opportunities being jump shots in the 16-20 feet range. (This stat combines both rolling to the basket and popping for the jumper.)
We’ve seen this countless times when both defenders on the pick go after the ball handler and leave Turner open between the free-throw line and the top of the key.
The fact that so much of Turner’s offensive output comes from this type of play would seem to boil down to a lack of creativity in the offense.
Turner’s frequency for this type of play is 38.9% (5th-highest in the league), while his star peers of Porzingis, Embiid, and Towns range from 10% to 20%.
If a defense defends the pick and roll without leaving Turner, instead daring the ball handler to beat them, then suddenly nearly half of his offense is taken away. Myles has 5.8 possessions per game as a roll man and 6.8 total in these five other types of plays (1.8 possessions in post up, 1.5 in spot up, 1.5 in putback, 1.2 possessions as a cutter and 0.8 in isolation).
Often the Pacers will start the game and the second half with a play designed for Turner. Many of the plays end with Turner in that same 16-20 feet range but sometimes show more action that a simple pick and pop. In this case, Collison comes to set a screen on Drummond and Turner runs to the elbow.
However, too often after an initial play to start the game or half, Turner, who is averaging a career high in rebounds at 9.0 per game, becomes nearly invisible on the offensive end as teammates don’t look his way and his number isn’t called. Rarely is this type of action above ever attempted after the first play of the game.
In the Pacers game against the Bulls last night, Turner made 4 of his 7 shots in the third quarter and looked in rhythm and confident in his shot, but in the other three quarters he took just four shots total and finished with only 11 points.
To Turner’s credit, he’s never once complained about his role in the offense, this year or last, and he has been confident when his opportunity is available and has been ready to shoot, especially at the 3-point line, much more often this season compared to last year.
Despite shooting over 38% from long range so far this season, Turner still attempts only 2.2 3-pointers per game. Kristaps Porzingis, for comparison, took 3.4 per game in his rookie season (at 33.3%) and now takes 5.0 per game (at 38%).
In one of the games where Turner took just eight shots, he had the least amount of shots among the starters but was also the only starter to shoot at least 50%. That simply cannot happen if the Pacers want to be successful.
If Turner is going to take the next step in his evolution, he has to be asked to do more for the offense. We’ve seen glimpses of Turner making moves that players his size don’t typically make outside of the unicorn club, but he’s never had the freedom to try and create his own offense, so we don’t know how good he can be in this area yet.
Eventually, if the Pacers want to have a star in Turner, they have to give him star responsibilities and a lot more opportunities. Right now, they’re treating him like a role player.