Managing Expectations: Is this the year it all comes together for Myles Turner?

Myles Turner put in work this summer to be ready for this upcoming season with the Indiana Pacers.

Whether he was doing yoga with Domantas Sabonis, working on his strength in the weight room, boxing on a gym floor, playing 1-on-1 after team USA practice with Kevin Durant, Paul George, Devin Booker and Victor Oladipo or showing off some impressive skills in pick-up games with Monta Ellis, that much has been clear; he’s been productive this offseason.

Now, it’s almost time to see how his labors will translate to the court as training camp quickly approaches.

Last year at this time, it was widely expected that Turner would be set for a much bigger role offensively, but Oladipo became a superstar while Turner’s statistical output per game went down in almost all categories as he struggled to find a rhythm through a series of small injuries while playing less minutes per game than in his second season.

While some have said Turner “regressed” in his third year as a pro, that seems unfair as his per-36 minute numbers were basically identical from the prior year. His field goal percentage dropped as he took nearly twice as many 3-pointers, but his eFG% only went down slightly from 53% to 52%. It would be more accurate to say his development seemed to stagnate as he adjusted to a new role.

This summer has been one of change for Turner with his body, diet and workouts primary examples. The effect has been noticeable.

“I know I feel different,” he told ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk. “Just my movements on the floor … I feel more, I don’t think ‘majestic’ is the word for it, but I feel better, not as wobbly. I feel a lot stronger overall.”

Following the footsteps of Oladipo, Turner cut out Popeyes Chicken from his diet as well as other fast food places.

“I took a look at myself in the mirror last season, and I was pudgy,” Turner told ESPN. “I was getting tired a lot faster, and a lot of that had to do with eating fast food, eating pizza the nights before games.”

No one will be calling Turner “pudgy” this season.

“He is moving a lot quicker and seems a lot more confident on the floor,” said Pistons Andre Drummond at the USA camp. “He already has been a skilled player. Just him losing weight and being more conditioned is going to bring out his game more and more.”

With restricted free agency looming on the horizon, this is the most important year of Turner’s career for himself and for the Pacers.

“We know he’s part of our future and it’s important for him to grow this year,” Kevin Pritchard told Mark Montieth of Pacers.com. “I thought he played well last year in spurts. He’s got to put it together, but we need to see a jump from him.”

Pritchard appears to believe that the jump needs to happen on the defensive end.

“We need him to score some,” Pritchard told Montieth, “but we need him to be the defensive anchor to totally disrupt the game on that side of the ball. He really can block shots. He can be the intimidator inside with his length and his athletic ability at the rim. I still think that’s one of the most valuable tools in this league.”

While Turner’s rim protection alone makes him one of the Pacers most valuable defenders, he’s still got plenty of room to improve on that end. ESPN’s Zach Lowe included Turner and Sabonis on his list of most intriguing players for the upcoming season and offered a non-flattering assessment of Turner’s defense:

“His footwork has been unsteady,” Lowe wrote. “He calls out screens late and gets caught leaning the wrong way. He has trouble keeping the action in front of him. Behemoths push him around on the glass.”

We know he’s been working on adding strength this offseason and as Lowe adds immediately after the last paragraph “mastering the nuances takes time.” Big men rarely develop into those game-altering defensive gems quickly, things like footwork and keeping your body constantly in the right position aren’t overnight fixes. How much Turner improves in those areas will go a long way in improving the Pacers defense.

Turner has been building his skills on that end this offseason in part by practicing against the Dallas Mavericks pair of young guards Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic to drill defending a switch in a pick-and-roll as well as to “hone dexterity” according to Lowe.

It seems unlikely that Turner’s offensive role will change much this season based on Pritchard’s comments and Nate McMillan telling Lowe in regards to whether Turner would be satisfied with a secondary offensive role while playing alongside Sabonis, “Whether he’s happy or not, you have to play the game.”

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“I want him to have that mentality that I’m going to be elite on that side of the ball,” Pritchard told Montieth. “If he does that, everything will take care of itself.”

Because getting Turner more involved in the offense doesn’t sound like a priority at this time for the Pacers, his per-game scoring taking a tremendous leap in year four doesn’t appear likely unless that changes.

Turner was tied as Indiana’s second-leading scorer in the 7-game playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers despite taking the seventh-most shot attempts. It’s always seemed like he’s capable of doing more offensively but he’s never been a focal point or consistently involved.

Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving seemed to have similar thoughts when asked about Turner by ESPN’s Youngmisuk at the Team USA minicamp.

“I mean, he’s a talent,” Irving said of Turner. “Honestly, he is an underrated big in our league right now in terms of what he is capable of doing. He had a lot of talent on a perimeter-oriented team, so he is not getting as many touches as I would like to see, personally.”

Oladipo exploded onto the scene last year after completely changing his body the summer before like Turner is trying to do now, but when asked after a 47-point night against the Denver Nuggets what the difference was in Indiana compared to Oklahoma City and Orlando, Oladipo said one word before also listing his teammates as reasons:

“Opportunity.”

All that to say, players can only do so much without being asked to do more by their team. Turner’s improvements may not show up much on the boxscore without more opportunities to put up shots.

Turner’s only had one month in his career (where he played more than three games) of at least 12 shot attempts per game when he averaged 17.4 points and 8.3 rebounds over 13 games in January 2017. The Pacers went 9-4. Those are career-best numbers in both points and rebounds in a month.

If he doesn’t get more shot attempts, then efficiency will be key in improving his basic per-game statistics. Two areas that he could improve: he slumped at finishing at the rim early last season after his concussion and he told Lowe he’s focusing on trying to hit 40% of his 3-pointers rather than upping his overall attempts from distance.

However, Turner has been praised by teammates this offseason for being more aggressive and stronger in the team workouts in Miami and by new teammate Kyle O’Quinn, who played some pickup games with him in Las Vegas.

“Myles looks more fluid and explosive,” O’Quinn told ESPN. “He is primed for a big year. If he lets the offense come to him, he can get 20 a night and be an All-Star.”

Maybe that aggressiveness will naturally lead to more offensive output and a larger role for the Pacers center.

“The way I look at it, I have to be that presence for us to take that next step and be that team out of the East,” Turner told ESPN. “… I am going to do everything in my power to work hard and give the Pacers what they drafted.”

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