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Fun With Synergy: Turner's Iso Game

The sale is imminent, the lockout is churning on and thankfully, Rich can't be distracted. He's still got his mind on basketball and today he's going to take us on a journey into Evan Turner's offensive game, particularly his play in isolation situations. Enjoy.

We have no idea when or even if the 2011-12 NBA season is going to start. Still, that should be no reason to forget on-court matters and specifically what 76ers players can do to get better. Thanks to My Synergy Sports, we can take a look at many aspects of the game through a statistical and on-court perspective. The first (and definitely most pressing in my opinion) player we are going to look at is Evan Turner, and more specifically his offensive game. I am probably going to do this in multiple posts so different aspects can be highlighted. First, we start with his isolation game. 

I am a well-known optimist when it comes to all matters Evan Turner, although I do agree with Brian that Turner's rookie season was definitely a disappointment. Still, I remain optimistic that he will become a productive player in this league (What that means exactly, I don't know, but a guy we want as a starter in the future).  There are two things that I'd like to say about Turner going forward as well: 1. I think he's a two guard, best suited to play with Jrue and a tall three who can defend and shoot spot-up threes (Dorrell Wright of Golden State is my prototype). This is because I believe getting a long and versatile defensive backcourt is a fine way to try and build a team and adding a catch and shoot guy would be all they needed on offense. For those who are wondering, Iguodala fits with Jrue and Turner on the defensive end very well going forward, but poorly on the offensive end. 2. The other Turner point is that I am very confident he will be an average to plus rebounder (Already is), playmaker, and defender at his position. For him to reach his full potential though, he's going to need to score efficiently. This doesn't have to be 20 points per game, but it needs to be at a point where the team can expect around 15 points every night at much higher efficiency than we saw last year. Those are my biases though; the rest will just be analysis.

Coming out of Ohio State, Turner was the do-it-all point forward for the Buckeyes. From what he showed in college with the offense spread around him at the top of the key, it seemed reasonable from the naked eye to expect that Turner would be able to create in isolation situations. That is not really what happened though. When looking at Draft Express' scouting reportlast year, the numbers said that he was below average in isolation. He only averaged .7 PPP (Points per play) in those spots, but made up for it with great numbers in transition and in the pick and roll.

So Turner did not have a great pedigree in isolation coming into the NBA, but that is a spot that the Sixers could surely use. The idea that the team needs a closer because there has to be an isolation play for one guy down the stretch of games is definitely overblown. Still, it would definitely help to have a guy who can create consistent offense by himself when a play breaks down. Many (including me) would point out that Jrue Holiday is more than capable of this (and they would be correct), having a wing player who can do that as well is very appealing. This is not the main ingredient needed for an offense to run smoothly, but it is nice to have a few players that have the ability to bail the team out of a stagnant offensive set. Can Evan Turner be one of those guys?

In his first year in the pros, Turner was surprisingly much better scoring in iso sets than he was in college. He scored .91 PPP in isolation sets, good for 56th among all of the players Synergy had ranked (I have no idea what the criteria was for being eligible). He did this on 75 field goal attempts, which probably is too small of a sample size. Compared to some other NBA players he fares pretty well when just looking at PPP, but there obviously needs to be the context of the players' roles in their respective offenses. If a player is the focus of a team's offense and has way more isolation attempts, then his PPP needs to be given more leeway. As far as how analyzing how a guy with crazy amount of isolation attempts can affect a team (positively or negatively), that's a whole other story.

I tried to find how Turner compared last season to other accomplished wing players. For the sake of time, the stats on this list are relatively crude. I'm just giving the PPP and the amount of field goal attempts.


What I glean from those stats (Well, after my mandatory jab at Monta Ellis) is that Turner did a good job with the isolation attempts (He can get his shot off against anyone!) that were given to him. Should he be placed in the same class as Durant just because he averaged more points per possession? No way, and that's why I showed how many attempts each player took. One thing that the Sixers might want to do is give Turner a few more chances to isolate his man next season. Let's see how Turner reacts to more attempts and see if Turner's early success in this department is misleading or accurate.

That's it for the quick statistical look from Synergy but now let's look at how Turner is attacking offensively. I watched all 75 of his isolation attempts on Synergy. One thing to keep in mind is that Turner rarely had plays run for him to go one on one compared to guys like Thad and Lou. Most of these came organically in the offense.
Also, I think Turner's major problem was his passivity and his unwillingness to attack defenders for long stretches of the season. With a more aggressive approach, Turner could have probably come close to doubling his isolation attempts. Synergy only has the ones that he shoots, so I couldn't find the plays where he didn't attack. Here are some observations:

His handle and change of direction moves are excellent: They better be too, because this is the main way he scores. Turner has mastered the behind the back, crossover, between the legs, and spin dribbles to the point where he can do any of them at whatever speed he wants. This may not sound like much for an NBA player, but you'd be hard-pressed to find many players his size that can dribble the basketball any way he wants in tight quarters. Thaddeus Young is an example of a player who could be a much better ball-handler (and a better player because of it, which is saying something). This is one reason for his low turnover total.  Turner's main way to shake free is to change directions and speeds twice with his dribble, whatever moves they may be.

On this play, he shakes completely free of Al Farouq Aminu with a nice in and out dribble and then crosses over back to his left. Turner has to realize that if someone isn't low in a defensive stance and ready to move their feet, he will have success against them. He misses the shot here as it rims in and out but he creates a wide-open six-foot fadeaway. Is this shot one he can master, especially from close? Debatable. Only time will tell.

Watch video

At the same time, he works hard for his points. This includes not getting to the rim very well: On Inside the NBA, Charles Barkley has a pretty good point when he always says that Carmelo Anthony scores his points the easiest in the NBA. This means that he can make moves without really working hard. Turner is on the flip side of this equation because he has to work hard to score his points. It was funny watching the highlights because on many of his makes the opposing announcers would say "What a nice move by Evan Turner," which is great but there is often a high degree of difficulty making the moves. Sometimes you want things to be simple. There are no straight line drives to the rim or quick threes. My unofficial count was that there were sixteen shots at the rim out of the isolation plays, a couple of which that were blocked. We know that he is not an elite athlete off his feet, nor does he have a great first step. For those optimists out there, he was much more aggressive later in the year, with more success.

That being said, he gets his jumper off pretty easily: I guess that's my way of saying that he has the ability to make these moves time after time. Even though it's a lot of work to crossover and go behind his back, he gets open shots off the dribble with his size serving as a great asset. He has the ability to easily shoot over anyone less than 6'4 or so, which is why I like him more as a two. He simply has to get better at making the shots. There were a few times watching the plays where I thought, "Man, that's a great move and he has to make that shot."

Here is an example. A guy like Anthony Carter should never be able to defend Turner. On this shot Turner has Carter on his hip as he drives down the right side of the lane. Turner stops on a dime and goes behind his back for a foul like extended jumper, which he nails. Even if Carter can stay with him, He's not affecting Turner's shot on this play.

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I think he can shoot over many twos, but he may struggle with size: I remember Turner somewhat struggling against long and physical defender Damion James in his first summer league game. A long and athletic guy who can move his feet might be Turner's kryptonite.

On this play, Derrick Brown does a nice job on Turner, who tries to go all the way to the rim and gets blocked. I think he'd be better served trying to get Brown moving his feet and shaking him side to side. A straight line drive against a guy who is taller will be difficult for him to finish. He's very much the opposite of Andre Miller, who was a straight-line driver.

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Defenses laying off him are a problem, but he has the quickness to go by people who crowd him: On a little less than half of the isolations, Turner was played with what I would characterize as tight defense.  Many of the layups that he took came from being played tightly by a defender, so he is able to get to the rim when people crowd him. The problem is that he isn't played tightly enough due to lack of respect for and his hesitancy to shoot his jumper.

The three-ball would be a huge weapon, but he doesn't have it: Watch this play. When a guy is playing off him as far as Barnes is, it would really help if you could make the guy pay for playing that far off you. He only shot 4 of 9 in isolation three attempts. It would be fair to say that there were more chances throughout the season if he wanted them.

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At the end of the day, my conclusion is the same as what I thought before watching his videos: Offensively, Evan Turner will go as far as his jump shot takes him in the NBA. Don't be frightened by that proposition either. When I watch his offensive moves and how assertively he can lose defenders for jumpers, it seems apparent that he can't be a bust. It's hard to find a good amount of people in the league that are able to make these moves (Not to mention anyone outside of it), but he has to get better at knocking down the looks he creates for himself. His ability to draw fouls and get to the rim all starts outside in with a reliable jumper that defenders will respect. I sure hope he's working on doing so in Columbus right now.

by Rich on Jul 8 2011
Tags: Basketball | Evan Turner | Rich | Sixers |