Let's clear up some misconceptions about Evan Turner, selected with the #2 overall pick by the Sixers this past summer. The sky is not falling. He is not a bust or even a mistake. He is the same player he was three months ago, a talented, "NBA" ready 22-year-old stud wing who dominated last year and almost single-handedly led Ohio State to a 29-8 record and 2nd seed in the NCAA Tournament.
So people ask why is he not penciled in as the starting SG and the offensive focal point of the Sixers this season? Mix in his Summer League struggles, and all of the sudden we have the police on high alert at area bridges and ER's full of fans with sprained ankles from jumping off the bandwagon just as it was leaving the station. But this is beyond premature. It all comes down to who Evan Turner is now, what this Sixer team needs in the backcourt and the long term future. And all of the answers are good - if we can be a bit patient.
Evan Turner is an NBA ready guard. Based on his skill-set and college performance, he could step in tomorrow and average 16/5/5 and go up from there. Those numbers would be not far from what Tyreke Evans averaged last season on his way to winning Rookie of the Year honors. But that would mean putting the ball in Turner's hands to initiate the offense on most possession and allowing him to essentially play a role similar to guys like Wade and Kobe (or rookies like Tyreke Evans or Wall.)
But the Sixers, despite their flaws, are loaded when it comes to guards that can initiate offense. Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday are both starting and give more than enough on-the-ball skills. Jrue seems poised for a breakout season at the point, and the team is not about to take the ball out of his hands. While Lou Williams is one of the league's best at getting past his man off the dribble. So it is extremely unlikely that the Sixers will start Turner and let him dominate the ball. It's not about lack of ability; it's about what is best for the team.
So why did the Sixers "waste" the #2 overall pick on an area of strength? The answer is they took the best player available and did not let their current roster cloud the decision. This year's team might need a shooter with off the ball skills like Wes Johnson or an interior force like Favors or Cousins - but Turner was the consensus #2 pick. In an informal GM poll, ESPN confirmed that 28 of 30 GM's had Turner as #2 on their board (Cousins and Favors each received 1 vote.) And the Sixers needed a guard to slot between Iguodala and Holiday, just one that can make an impact off the ball.
So long term this leaves 2 possibilities - neither of which are bad for the Sixers, but it might not be so pretty this season:
1. Evan Turner, Jrue and Iguodala learn to adapt their games to where they evolve into a dominant backcourt. The talent is there, but it would require Turner and Iguodala to both learn to play more off the ball. All three would have to improve their shooting and learn to play off each others strengths. This is clearly the best case, but if it works you are talking an elite PG/SG/SF combo that can score, defend and run with anyone... are young and costs <20M/yr against the cap over the next 4 years. That puts the team in position to spend the other 40M on the front court- allowing for a major upgrade.
2. Turner and Iguodala never complement each other. Meaning Turner never masters how to be an impact player without controlling the ball and/or Iguodala's lack of a jumper limits his effectiveness as he gives up touches in the offense. This is worst case IMO, but it would be easily rectified by trading away Iguodala for a front court asset. That would leave you with a talented PG/SG combo on the cheap (Jrue and Turner make <7M combined) and they could plug in Thaddeus Young or acquire a SF who can defend and hit an open shot- which is not a pricey commodity in the NBA (looking at players like Travis Outlaw, who signed for 7M/yr this past summer.)
Either scenario positions the Sixers to have a top back court of Jrue and Turner for the next 4+ years. Winning the battle most nights at PG and SG for <7M in payroll is great for rebuilding. You can direct almost all of your assets towards acquiring elite big men. And with a strong back court and an elite big you are now ready to win consistently.
But many fans and even some media are jumping to a 3rd possibility- that Turner is a bust. Although this is not inconceivable given the recent struggles of #2 overall picks like Beasley and Thabeet, Turner does not have the risk that was inherent in those picks. Turner was neither a raw athlete with untapped potential in the Thabeet, or Olowokandi mold, nor does he come with the character red flags of a Beasley. In fact looking back over 25 years of guards drafted in the top 5, injury the only factor that limits players from being, at the very least, productive NBA starters. Again, if Turner is not at least a good starter he will be the first guard picked in the top 5 in 30 years to fall short (barring injury.)
So try and take the long view when judging Evan Turner and this year's Sixers team. Turner will be a very good player for the Sixers. It's too early to know if we are talking just good versus great - but the likelihood of being a bust is minimal. And the team has cleaned up its mess in terms of leadership. Collins/Thorn bring stability to a team that had been one and done with coaches for nearly a decade. While the roster is full of players who are not only young and talented - but ready to have make or break seasons.
It might take a full season to see Jrue/Turner/Iguodala emerge as the team's future impact core. Or we may learn that Iguodala and Turner are both talented but can't complement each other's strengths. But either way, the team has an abundance of talent at PG, SG and SF and worst case we have a GM in Thorn with a track record of flipping a team's talent for superstars.
So enjoy the coming season - not for the wins as much as the promise of a brighter future. And don't let the word "bust" even enter your mind.
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