How Evan Turner Trade Impacts Indiana Pacers' Standing Among NBA's Elite

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How Evan Turner Trade Impacts Indiana Pacers' Standing Among NBA's Elite
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Evan Turner stands out as something of a savior when compared to the largely lackluster names moved at the 2014 NBA trade deadline.

Of course, his new employer, the Indiana Pacers, couldn't need a savior any less. That's worlds above and beyond the role they have picked out for the former No. 2 overall pick.

With title hopes and a nearly complete set of championship pieces, the Pacers aren't in the business of miracle-hoping. They're making calculated, low-risk additions to their roster, a group that now sits somewhere between overstocked and an embarrassment of riches.

Former All-Star center Andrew Bynum took his talents—and hulking 7'0", 285-pound frame—to the Circle City earlier this month. Turner joined the fold Thursday in a last-minute deadline deal first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

USA Today's Sam Amick called the deal a "masterstroke" by the Pacers' brain trust. CBS Sports' Ken Berger dubbed it "a smart, forward-thinking move that will help them now and give them a chance to spin more success forward from here."

Even rival executives were pouring praise on the Pacers, according to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst:

Indiana doesn't need Turner or Lavoy Allen. Not while it's holding the Eastern Conference's highest winning percentage (.759) and the NBA's best net rating (plus-8.1 points per 100 possessions).

The Pacers do, however, have some weaknesses Turner can help strengthen and a cheap insurance policy now with Allen.

Coach Frank Vogel has found a winning formula built around hard-nosed defense and just enough offense to get by. His team owns the No. 1 spots in defensive efficiency (93.9 points allowed per 100 possessions), points allowed (90.7 per game) and field-goal percentage against (41.3).

Indiana leads all three categories by significant margins.

“If you want to see a team that works harder on the defensive end than any team you've ever seen, come see us play," Vogel said earlier this season, via Pacers.com's Scott Agness.

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Indiana plays championship-caliber defense, but contrary to the cliche, defense alone does not decide championships.

There are elite standards that need to be met at both ends of the floor.

Since the league put a higher emphasis on "hand-checking" enforcement before the 2004-05 season, there have been nine NBA champions. Eight of those teams had a top-10 offense, while the ninth sat in the category's No. 11 spot.

The Pacers are currently ranked 20th, carrying a barely passable 102.0 offensive rating to the floor every night.

Behind Paul George's superstar ascent and Lance Stephenson's emergence as a key contributor, the starting lineup has been an offensive machine. The group has notched 106.4 points per 100 possessions in their 980 minutes together, the same offensive rating as the eighth-ranked Phoenix Suns.

Once Vogel starts pulling those starters off the floor, though, the Pacers start running into problems. Indiana's bench ranks 26th in scoring (25.9 points per game) and 25th in field-goal percentage (42.0), via HoopsStats.com.

Turner, a career 11.5-point-per-game scorer, has a deeper bag of offensive tricks than anyone on this second team. A 6'7" athletic playmaker, he'll bring a burst to this bench both for his own scoring prowess and his ability to create for others.

The Pacers employ something of a point guard by committee to run their offense.

Stephenson, George, George Hill and David West all average between 5.1 and 2.9 assists. Not surprisingly, Indiana sits tied at an underwhelming 23rd in assist percentage (55.7).

Turner isn't quite a point-forward, but his 17.3 career assist percentage is a better mark than any Pacers regulars have managed this season besides Stephenson (24.1) and Hill (18.0). Vogel's reserve point guard, C.J. Watson, is a floor spacer (career 37.4 three-point percentage), not a setup man (career 2.4 assists per game).

The Pacers, unlike the Philadelphia 76ers, don't need to get a superstar's effort out of Turner. They invested an expiring contract of a declining player and a future second-round pick for him—not the second overall selection.

Matt Rourke/Associated Press

It's sort of the opposite for Turner, but hopefully in a good way.

He gets transported from the back end of the standings to the top. His team was weighing lottery odds to start the week, now it's sprinting through a crowded championship chase.

There's a different type of pressure to perform in Indy, and the results could have a major impact on his findings once he hits the restricted free-agent market this offseason. He doesn't need to prove himself worthy of his draft spot, but this test could produce a real-world grade in dollars and cents.

The Pacers don't have those same pressures. They can simply take advantage of Turner's gifts, and the swingman has plenty of them to offer.

"There’s no question that Turner can handle the ball smoothly and set up his teammates to score—a combination that puts him in select company among wing players," writes SI.com's Rob Mahoney.

He'll help Vogel maximize the talents of his point guards—Hill's length and athleticism and Watson's scoring—without seeing the offense go stagnant.

Turner's traditional stat line (17.4 points, 3.7 assists) is both situation- and pace-inflated, but looking beyond those numbers, via Synergy Sports (subscription required), shows where he can really have value.

There's a creativity largely lacking in Indiana's offense. The Pacers are getting just 0.79 points per possession (14th overall) on 40 percent shooting out of their pick-and-roll ball-handlers. On dribble handoffs, Indiana's generating 0.84 points (19th overall) on 38.2 percent shooting.

Simply put, Vogel's asking players to rely on skills they don't possess.

Turner's a top-60 scorer running pick-and-rolls (0.84 on 46 percent shooting, 52nd) and a top-50 finisher on dribble handoffs (0.84 on 40.5 percent, 44th). He can't carry an offense for prolonged stretches, but if he needs to make a play, he has that ability.

His efficiency leaves plenty to be desired (career 42.8 field-goal percentage, 12.2 player efficiency rating), but this will be by far the best supporting cast he's had in his four-year career.

He should be looking at a steep increase in the quality of his chances, even if he stands to lose quite a bit in the quantity department.

Just as the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy is not awarded for one-way dominance, though, playing time is not handed out by Vogel for offensive ability alone. Just ask offseason import Chris Copeland (5.5 minutes per game).

Turner's light shines far brighter at the offensive end, but he's not completely a sieve. He is holding opposing off-screen shooters to just 0.85 points per possession on 40 percent shooting (50th overall), per Synergy Sports, a task that could be high on his priority list with George and Stephenson still handling the toughest defensive assignments.

It may take a little time for Turner and Vogel to carve out his niche, but there's enough talent to think that it will work. Even LeBron James signed off on the move, via Bleacher Report's Ethan J. Skolnick:

Allen could be more than an afterthought, too. Bynum's far from a guaranteed contributor, and the Pacers need a big body behind Luis Scola and Ian Mahinmi on the second unit. If Bynum's health, or his head, prevents him from filling that role, Allen's in place to plug that void.

If Turner indeed makes the Pacers better—considering how far Danny Granger has fallen (8.3 points on 35.9 percent shooting), it's hard to imagine he wouldn't—just how much better can they be?

That may come down to just how quickly he adapts to his new role.

He's going from being the man in Philly to being a fourth, fifth or sixth option in Indy. Even if he's been bracing for a change, that's still a dramatic shift to navigate.

Assuming he makes it through this transition unscathed, it's scary to think how good this team can be. TNT analyst Charles Barkley has already handed the Pacers the Eastern Conference crown, via Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

I wouldn't go quite that far, but Indy's mountain of assets in this arms race is quite impressive.

Have the Pacers pushed themselves to the top of the totem pole?

That's hard to say.

The two-time defending champion Miami Heat seem to be hitting their stride, evidenced again during Thursday's 103-81 road dismantling of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Thunder still have the league's top winning percentage (.768) and just returned three-time All-NBA selection Russell Westbrook to the mix. The San Antonio Spurs have quietly rattled off three consecutive wins.

The championship field is thick, but a savvy swap like this only further solidifies the Pacers among the league's elite.

It's tough to predict a championship ending in February, but a June parade through the streets of Naptown would surprise no one.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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