Ponytail Myles: The confident, surprisingly vulgar Pacers two-way monster

Myles Turner is having the best stretch of his career with Indiana Pacers and the timing aligns precisely with a new hairstyle.

Coincidence?

“That’s what everybody is gassing up,” Turner said after he scored 23 points against the Bucks, “Everybody’s saying it’s the ponytail, so I guess I gotta keep it now, right? … I just wanted to try something different and then my teammates … said it looks good, go for it.”

In the four games since Turner first broke out the pony, he’s averaged 20.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 1.5 assists while shooting 52.4% from the field on 15.8 attempts per game and 60% from 3-point range on 3.8 attempts, which earned him a nomination for the Eastern Conference Player of the Week that his teammate Thad Young was awarded.

“Ponytail Myles!” Cory Joseph, who claimed to be the inspiration for it, joked during Turner’s post-game media session after the win against Milwaukee. “He got the dreads out of his hair. He can finally see the rim now!”

His teammates have had some fun joking about the hairstyle change, but it’s his huge contributions to this 7-game winning streak that’s been the focus.

“It’s the hair … no, I’m just playing,” Victor Oladipo said of Turner’s play of late. “It’s been good. We need him to play at that high level.”

Ponytail Myles has no chill

Ponytail Myles isn’t just playing well. He’s also playing with a new attitude. In the first game of this era, Turner and Bradley Beal got into it a bit after Beal flopped and Turner called him a motherf***er.

Both players ended up being called for a technical foul after the exchange.

In his only down game with his hair up as he dealt with foul trouble all night against Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers, playing only 16 minutes and netting just eight points and five rebounds (making his overall averages in the four games more impressive), Turner gave the notorious Philly faithful the middle finger after picking up his third foul in the second quarter.

Turner was fined $15,000 for the flipping the bird the next day.

Both of these instances are simply not something we’ve seen from Turner often, if at all.

After Oladipo returned against Milwaukee and the Pacers controlled the game from start to finish, Turner came on screen during Oladipo’s post-game interview and made a quick statement, “I tell you one thing, the East is in trouble now.”

Confidence is oozing out of Turner.

As the Pacers have continued to climb the standings in the East, he looks more and more correct. Indiana is sit just a half game back of the Bucks for second in the conference and they’ve done this with more than a third of their games without their star in Oladipo.

Before going up against the Knicks, Turner upgraded the hair even further to full Samurai mode.

The swords of this samurai are the arms he uses to block the shots of his opponents. His rim protection in the fourth quarter changed the mindset of the team from letting New York hang around to we’re done messing around. This sequence alone should get Turner some All-Defensive team chatter.

Turner is letting it fly

The biggest change with his play in these recent games with Turner seems to be a complete lack of hesitation. If he has an open look, he’s taking it with confidence. The 15.8 shot attempts he’s averaging with the ponytail is 5.2 more shots per game than his overall season average of 10.6.

“Everybody looked at me and was like, ‘Man, you got to shoot it when you’re that wide open,’” Turner said after taking a career-high 22 shots against the Bucks. “I didn’t realize I shot that many shots. My teammates encouraged me to shoot those shots so it’s not like I was just out there forcing and jacking. I took what was given to me.”

It’s not all just his confidence though; it’s the confidence that his teammates are showing in him by consistently involving him in the offense and finding him for scoring opportunities.

For awhile, it’s felt like Turner disappears from the offense for long stretches during games whether he’s shooting it well that night or not, but that hasn’t been the case lately.

“I felt like he was open a lot today as far back as the big was in the pick-and-roll,” Oladipo said after Turner made four of his six 3-pointers against Milwaukee. “Throwing it back to him was key for us and it was big time that he was hitting his shots. It opened up the floor for everybody else. A big game from him tonight.”

The first Bucks game was a perfect example of a type of play that the Pacers had missed or ignored a wide open Turner in the past, but where they’ve started to look for him more recently.

The Bucks bigs drop so far back in the pick and roll to try and entice the opposing ball handler to take long mid-range shots while the other defender is in rear-view pursuit to force an already inefficient shot into a tougher look. The Pacers allowed the defense to get exactly what they wanted as they settled into that shot repeatedly when the teams met at the beginning of the season. All while Turner was left wide open at the top of the arc.

This was a common occurrence during Pacers games for awhile to start the year. Players would settle for a mid-range attempt or drive recklessly into traffic instead of throwing it back out to Turner, whom the defense often ignored in these situations.

The first clip here is almost identical to the one above except Oladipo makes the pass instead taking a shot in the mid-range.

He’s more than doubled his attempts per game from long distance and he’s made as many threes in these last four games (9) as he had made in the first 25 games of the season.

Against the Knicks, he missed his first three shots. In the past, he might have started to shy away from open looks and never allowed himself to get back into a rhythm after that but not Ponytail Myles. He hit his next four attempts and finished the game 10 of 19 from the floor.

The green light he has right now is what fans have been clamoring to see for a long time.

This embrace of Turner’s floor-spacing abilities has already paid dividends to the Pacers offense that can use the extra space when Turner is on the floor with either Domas Sabonis or Thad Young, who aren’t going to shoot it outside often.

The pick-and-roll actions for both of those other bigs have a lot more room to operate with Turner spacing the floor and if they leave him open, he’s been knocking down the shot lately. Earlier in the season, he was more likely to be hanging around the baseline, which mostly just seemed to limit the room the play had to operate.

Those three corner 3-point attempts from the last four games in the clips above are all but one of the attempts he’s taken from the corners all season. He’s also taken a few with his feet on the line, but still, this is not something that was happening in the team’s first 25 games. Turner’s spacing the floor more often and making opponents pay for leaving him open.

Turner’s killer stretch dates pre-Samurai

Darren Collison, who has been bouncing back from his own early-season struggles lately, and Turner had a film session together earlier this month and figured some things out with how they were running the pick and pop. This has done wonders for both players as Collison’s assists have skyrocketed and Turner’s consistently getting the ball in position to score.

And this film session happened before the breakout Samurai man-bun. Truth be told, Turner has been on a hot streak much longer than just this week. In the month of December, he’s averaged 16.5 points, 9 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 3 blocks per game, arguably the best month of his career to this point.

“When you look at Myles and the type of player he can be, it’s almost scary,” Collison said after the game against the Wizards. “He’s long, he can roll to the basket, he can pop from mid-range, he can pop for a 3-pointer. And he can play defense. Most bigs can just play offense or just play defense, or just roll to the basket. Myles has every tool a big in this league needs at some point in every game. It’s just about him putting it together.”

Collison has noticed that Turner is being more vocal on the court and sees him being more of a leader as well.

“He’s actually talking during the games more,” Collison told Mark Montieth of Pacers.com. “He’s actually being more vocal. When I first got here, he never talked that much. That’s a sign of him improving and being confident. Now you’re seeing his whole package.”

Lately, you can see Turner communicating with the ballhandler that he’s setting the pick for via hand signals and gestures. Telling the player to speed it up or exactly where he wants him to go. As he’s grown more comfortable, it’s shown in his confidence for what he knows needs to happen on a particular play.

His defense has been phenomenal all season just as the team hoped when they signed him to the big extension as the season began. He’s defending the paint with ferocity while leading the league in blocked shots, showing improved ability to handle perimeter players in a pinch on the outside.

“The organization came to me and said ‘Your offense is gonna come, but we need you to be the best defensive player in the NBA’ and I really took that to heart,” Turner told Jeremiah Johnson in the post-game interview against Washington.

Whether or not the ponytail sticks around, the Pacers center looks poised to continue his superb play either way.

“I don’t know about that Ponytail Myles,” said Collison after the Bucks game. “I think he’s good either way.”

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