Evan Turner has become a whipping boy among NBA pundits, particularly those who put a large focus on advanced metrics and analytics. A big part of the razzing is undeniably linked to the fact that he is a former second overall draft pick that never quite lived up to expectations.
In 2010, the Philadelphia 76ers picked Turner over the likes of Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Greg Monroe, Gordon Hayward, and Lance Stephenson - all budding NBA stars, making or within reach of making eight-figure yearly salaries. Meanwhile, Turner is reportedly in the midst of agreeing to a short-term deal with the Boston Celtics for nothing more than a portion of the mid-level exception.
How did we get here? How did Turner go from winning the 2010 Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year Award in his third and final year at Ohio State for averaging 20.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game and shooting 51.9% from the floor, to being a cheap reclamation project for the Celts and the butt of so many jokes?
To the blind eye, Turner’s stat line seemed to have improved in each of his four seasons as a Sixer.
Note: 2013-14 numbers in the table below were accumulated prior to a trade-deadline deal that sent him to the Indiana Pacers.
That seems perfectly normal, right? A player struggles to find more playing time during his first two seasons with a playoff-bound squad, then eventually takes over as a starter and puts up better numbers with more minutes and a higher usage rate when the team's previous core of players disperse. Heck, the minimum 14-point, 6-rebound, 3.7-assist club that Turner seemed destined to join pre-trade was only occupied by Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, and Turner’s former teammate Michael Carter-Williams by season’s end. That’s four All-NBAers and the reigning Rookie of the Year.
Not bad, right?
Well, that version simply didn’t show up in Indiana after a Pacers team with title aspirations traded Danny Granger to get Turner to serve as backup to Paul George and Lance Stephenson (reminder: drafted 10th and 40th overall respectively in the same draft as Turner was picked 2nd).
In the same season, Turner put up career-best numbers in Philly and career-worst numbers in Indy. The drop off was shocking to some, but advanced metrics saw this coming from a mile away.
The truth of the matter is that Turner’s inflated Sixer stats can be almost entirely attributed to the fact that he played on such a terrible team. Let’s not mince words: the Sixers were tanking last year. Our nERD score for individual players is an efficiency-based metric that estimates how many wins above or below .500 a team would finish a season if a given player was one of its starters. The Sixers had all five of their top minute getters from last season finish in the bottom-21 of every single player in the association in nERD - Tony Wroten (-9.9), Michael Carter-Williams (-8.1), Evan Turner (-7.8), James Anderson (-6.1), and Thaddeus Young (-4.7).
What happens when you play inefficient players heavy minutes all season long? They get inflated stats and you finish with a 19-63 record and by far the worst team nERD in the league at 17.9. In other words, Turner’s “accomplishments” with the Sixers last year were worth practically nothing, beyond his brief stint as a useful fantasy basketball player.
The painful thing was, he’s been detrimental to his team his entire career, according to the majority of advanced metrics.
|Season||Team||eFG%||TS%||PER||WS / 48||nERD||+/-
|2013-14||PHI / IND||45.0%||49.8%||12.4||0.027||-7.8||-378|
While the counting stats increased little by little from year one to year four, the more advanced ones ranged from stagnating to jumping off a proverbial cliff. His effective field goal percentage (eFG% - weighted twos and threes) and true shooting percentage (TS% - weighted twos threes, and free throws) went up incrementally, but remained horrible due to paltry shooting percentages of 42.5% from the floor and 32.1% from deep.
For a visual representation of that, just take a look at his shot chart from last season. Keep in mind that he only took 60 of his 1021 total attempts for the year (5.9%) from the lone green zones (representing a shooting percentage above league average). The other 961 (94.1%) of his shots were taken from areas where he shot either at (yellow) or below (red) league average.
Brrr, that’s cold.
Otherwise, his player efficiency rating (PER) seems trapped at around 12 (league average is 15.0) and his win shares per 48 minutes (WS/48), nERD, and plus-minus ratings have all plummeted. At 25 years of age and in his supposed prime, here’s where Turner ranked among the 69 players that played a minimum of 2400 minutes last season in the aforementioned categories.
|Season||eFG%||TS%||PER||WS / 48||nERD||+/-
The one positive to take away from this signing is that maybe a change of scenery will be good for Turner. As part of a rebuilding Boston franchise, he’ll no longer have the pressure of carrying a team like he did in Philly, nor to play an important role for a contender like he did in Indy. Considering the fact that he's joining a crowded wing rotation that already includes promising youngsters like Avery Bradley (also selected after Turner in the 2010 draft), Marcus Smart, and James Young and vets Jeff Green and Marcus Thornton, whatever the Celtics get out of him will likely be a bonus.
With the pressure ostensibly off, maybe Turner can magically emerge and come closer to living up to the hype that once surrounded him. At the very least, he'll have another shot at shaking the “bust” title and being a punch line a little less often.