Hot-Takebuster Part Two: Myles Turner’s Rebounding & Defense

Myles Turner has scored at least 15 points in each of his last four games while averaging just 11.8 shots per game. He continues to be efficient in his at times limited opportunities on offense. But with high expectations coming into this season, grumbling about Turner has reached an all-time high.

This is the second part of a column taking on the hot takes of Myles Turner. If you missed the first part, you can read about his offensive game here.

“Myles Turner is not a true big man” is quickly becoming this team’s “George Hill is not a true point guard.” Both claims pointless, perplexing and frustrating to see about players that add tremendous value to their team while playing their position in perhaps a non-traditional way. 

After compiling a bunch of complaints on Turner, his critics tend to fall into one of these two hot-take categories:

  1. Myles Turner is a one-trick pony. He can’t create his own shot and has no post moves. He’s a role player that can’t finish inside and has zero ways to score outside of the pick and pop.
  2. Myles Turner is a bad defender that can’t rebound and gets outplayed by opposing big men every night.

Having already tackled the first claim, we’ll look at Turner’s rebounding and defense today.

How is Myles Turner as a rebounder?

Turner came into the league as a skinny 19-year-old kid playing a position filled with large, strong, grown men. He was pushed around in the paint often in the first two years of his career. While Turner still has plenty of strength to add to his body, this is happening less and less to Turner as he’s gotten older and stronger. That’s not to say it’s doesn’t happen every once in awhile.

The most glaring events were against DeMarcus Cousins at the end of the game against the New Orleans Pelicans where Turner and the Pacers were unable to block out Cousins and Anthony Davis on consecutive missed free throw attempts with the game still in reach. Those two plays were unavailable for video, but here’s another missed free throw rebound by Cousins against Turner.

Bojan Bogdanovic doesn’t do Turner any favors here with limited help in keeping Cousins away from the ball, but it’s plays like this where Turner clearly still has a lot of strength left to add to his body. He actually played and rebounded well in this game overall (21 points, 12 rebounds), but giving up offensive rebounds on free throw attempts is something that shouldn’t happen.

Turner is slowly gaining strength in his lower body to hold off opposing rebounders consistently. He’s only 21 years old and came into the league very thin. While he still gets moved out of position on rebounds every so often, he’s made a lot of progress. When the shot goes up and Turner is already in good position to simply turn and block out, bigs have rarely been able to push him all the way under the rim like they have in the past. In this clip, Turner blocks out Jonas Valanciunas, who he had problems with in his rookie season in the playoffs at times, without issue.

Andre Drummond, one of the league’s best rebounders, has grabbed 36 rebounds over the two games against the Indiana Pacers, a little over his 15 rebounds per game average overall. If you only look at that large total, you’d think Turner probably got killed on the boards against him repeatedly. But after watching every Drummond rebound from those games, this is the only rebound I saw where it felt like Turner could have potentially done more to prevent him from getting the offensive rebound.

Turner doesn’t start the play in good position due to a switch that happened before the video begins, so Drummond is already to the restricted area by the time Turner gets there and the shot by Reggie Jackson goes up. This is where it’s still a challenge for Turner at times on the defensive glass. If he’s not in rebounding position when the shot goes up, then it’s hard for him to move players back at this stage in his career.

With the way the Pacers play the pick and roll, Turner is stuck in a tough position on rebounds often as he’s between the ball handler and the man rolling to the basket. Turner does a great job here fighting for position to grab a one-handed rebound over Bismack Biyombo, who looked to be in great position to get the rebound when the shot went up. But many times when an opposing big is able to get an offensive rebound, it’s because Turner is unable to get back to his man in time to box out after a pick and roll action.

All that being said, the numbers for Turner are encouraging and you can see him grabbing more tough rebounds in traffic like the one above far more often than previously in his first two seasons.

Turner has an estimated defensive rebound percentage of 24.6% in his third year (all rebounding numbers according to Basketball Reference). The last two seasons he finished at 21.6% and 19.6%. This doesn’t put him among the league leaders, but it’s a respectable number (33rd among centers that have played at least 15 games) and one that is showing improvement.

For comparison sake, Roy Hibbert, often criticized as a rebounder while with the Pacers, only grabbed 15% of available defensive rebounds in his 2013-14 season. His best season in this stat was 21.9% in his final year with Indiana. Rik Smits averaged only a 18.2% defensive rebound percentage in his career. Dale Davis had a career high DRB% of 24% in his All-Star 1999-2000 season and averaged just over 20% for his career.

Offensive rebounding for Turner has been fairly non-existent this season, Turner is more likely to simply run and get back on defense than fight for many offensive boards. This is somewhere where you’d like to see him fight for a few more of these per game, but this also avoids Turner getting unnecessary fouls. His ORB% is down to just 3.9% from 6.2% last season. As he plays on the perimeter more and more, his opportunities for offensive rebounds dwindle which may explain the drop some.

Verdict: While Turner still has a long way to go and may never be as good of a rebounder as Domantas Sabonis (25.9% DRB% 13th among centers with at least 15 games played, top-20 in total rebound percentage in the league), he’s slowly getting stronger and better at it year by year. While it’d be great if Turner could have added all the strength he’ll ever need in a single off-season, it’s simply going to take more time than that. Patience would be prudent as he’ll still look his age occasionally, but he’s getting out-muscled less and less as time goes on.

Is Myles Turner a bad defender?

There’s simply no statistic that backs up a take that Turner is somehow bad at defense.

Multiple statistics mark Turner as the Pacers best defender and by a wide margin in some cases:

  1. NBA Math’s DPS (Defensive Points Saved) puts Turner at the top of the Pacers list with 15.44 DPS. Thaddeus Young is second on the team at 11.04 DPS. This is even more impressive when considering that Turner missed multiple games with a concussion and this statistic is a cumulative one that adds up the totals from every game played.
  2. Turner also has the team’s top defensive rating per NBA.com at 103.6. With Turner off the court, the Pacers defensive rating jumps up to 108.6.

Turner is the Pacers best rim protector not by his highlight-reel of blocks and ever growing Myles High Club alone, but also by SportVU tracking data which has opponents shooting 59.6% of shots at the rim against Turner, which also leads the team. This is actually much worse than the past couple of seasons for Turner (49.4% last season) as the team has struggled as a whole to defend the paint. It’ll be interesting to see if Turner can prevent more makes at the rim in the future like he has in his first two seasons.

Turner leads the league in field goals defended at the rim this season (7.1 FGA) after being second last year (9.6 FGA) per NBA.com.

Turner’s best ability on the defensive end remains that league-leading shot blocking at 2.4 blocks per game. He blocks potential dunks and layups on the regular including a game-saving block late against Memphis Grizzlies. He had a streak of five straight games with at least three blocks earlier this season.

He doesn’t just block shots off of help situations but also smothers shots in the post as well.

Much like Turner’s rebounding, he’s improved at holding his defensive position in the post and not letting opponents get deep position on him. Even against players that are challenging to defend for anyone in the post like Cousins, Turner stays with it even when it looks like he’s been beat.

As noted previously, Cousins gave Turner and the Pacers plenty of problems in this game, but few of his points were gained from made shots in the post. More often than not, Turner forces opponents into tough, challenged fadeaways in the post like this one.

Joel Embiid didn’t have much luck facing up against Turner after posting up for the ball on this play either.

Verdict: No, Myles Turner is not a bad defender. In fact, he’s easily the Pacers best defender on a team that doesn’t have many that are adept on that end of the court. Defense is more than what the box score says the guy playing your position ended up with at the end of the game which has so many factors that one player by themselves cannot control. All the numbers say the Pacers are a much better defensive team with Turner on the court than with him on the bench.

Overall: Is Myles Turner perfect? No, but he’s getting better. He’s not a master of positioning like peak Hibbert on defense, but Hibbert was older and also had a lot better defenders around him on the perimeter. Turner still looks like the guy that can anchor a good defensive team down the line with his rim protection, and he challenges as well as can be expected on switches, which seems to be more and more important in the always evolving NBA. With his strength, it’s just going to take more time, but you can already see improvements in his rebounding and post defense as he grows stronger. With his sometimes forgotten presence in the Pacers offense, he’ll have some bad games and off nights. But he’ll also sometimes score 20 points in a single half on 90% shooting.

The most important thing with Myles Turner is to let him be his own player, because who he is right now is already pretty good. He doesn’t need to be a traditional center as those type of players become more and more obsolete. He leads the league in shot-blocking and in shooting percentage from the midrange. Not many players have ever had his skill set and he’s still only 21 years old. Enjoy the ride, embrace the new kind of player he is and relax on his perceived weaknesses. He’s only getting started.

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