How Evan Turner Can Save His NBA Career with Boston Celtics

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How Evan Turner Can Save His NBA Career with Boston Celtics
Ned Dishman/Getty Images

There's a common link between swingman Evan Turner and his new team, the Boston Celtics. It might even be what brought the two together in free agency, although it's something both sides probably wish didn't exist.

Both are in dire need of repair, although the stakes are far higher for Turner than the Celtics.

For Boston, this is nothing more than a low-risk, medium-reward investment. If it works, the Celtics will have either a starting wing or a productive second-teamer for the future. If not, they'll continue the rebuilding efforts that certainly won't stop with Turner's arrival either way. 

For Turner, this may well be nothing short of a basketball life preserver. His career averages (11.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists) don't depict someone playing for a job, but his reputation certainly paints him in that corner.

USA TODAY Sports

"Unfortunately in the NBA, we tend to be very trendy," Turner's agent David Falk told Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald. "When you're up, you're really up. When you're down, you're really down. Sometimes people don't modulate in the middle."

Especially not people drafted at the No. 2 slot. If Turner wasn't the second name called by former commissioner David Stern on June 24, 2010, there's a chance his basketball story changes dramatically.

Second overall picks are supposed to be cornerstones with stat sheets and accolades befitting that status. Even while garnering several National Player of the Year awards during his junior season at Ohio State, he was never really that kind of player.

Turner did a lot of things well. Matt Kamalsky of DraftExpress.com called him "arguably the most versatile prospect" in the 2010 class. His collegiate stat sheet highlighted his jack-of-all-trades skill set.

Evan Turner: The Buckeye Years
Season PPG FG% 3P% RPG APG SPG BPG
07-08 8.5 47.0 .333 4.4 2.6 1.3 0.5
08-09 17.3 50.3 .440 7.1 4.0 1.8 0.8
09-10 20.4 51.9 .364 9.2 6.0 1.7 .09

Sports-Reference.com

No matter the need, Turner had the tools to fill it.

Fast forward to today, and that description still almost fits. He could still bring relief to clubs looking for a complementary scorer, a secondary ball-handler, a rebounder from the wing or a crafty defender with length.

His biggest problem has been that his strengths don't stand out the way people want them to, and his weaknesses look worse in this era than they would have in any other. With the league fully embracing the advanced-statistics movement, the warts in his game are becoming harder to ignore.

This NBA wants efficiency, and that's never been a strong suit for Turner.

He has never had a consistent deep ball in his arsenal. He has attempted 408 triples in his career and misfired on all but 133 (32.6 percent). He makes plays off the dribble but not the ones that result in trips to the charity stripe. He attempted a career-high .257 free throws per field-goal attempt last season, via Basketball-Reference.com, a worse rate than gunner Jordan Crawford had during his 39 games with the Celtics (.277).

Turner's 12.0 career player efficiency rating is well below the league's average mark of 15.0. In fact, he's never had a season with even a 13.0 PER.

He has skills, but he still doesn't even have a defined position. "He has the ability to play three positions, but he hasn’t particularly flourished at any of them," noted Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe.

Gary Dineen/Getty Images

Turner has the handles to run point, but his court vision leaves something to be desired. He has great size for a shooting guard (6'7", 220 lbs), but he's a mid-range shooter, not a perimeter threat. Swiss Army knives have most often been employed at the 3, but he doesn't move well without the ball nor defend with the physicality needed to slow the scoring machines at that position.

"If the ball isn't in his hands, he's not nearly as big a threat as he gets stuck watching the ball, while his poor perimeter shooting encourages defenders to help off him on the weak side," wrote ESPN Insider Amin Elhassan (subscription required). "In short, to get the most out of Turner, you have to continue to get him touches."

Not only that, but you need to give him the right kind of touches. The ones where his strengths (basketball IQ, creating his own shot, pulling up off the dribble) can be maximized.

He needs a system that caters to his skills and, as Bleacher Report's Howard Beck noted, a setting that gives him a shot at success:

The NBA is filled with players whose images suffer based on context: the wrong team, the wrong coach, the wrong system, the wrong role, the wrong surrounding cast, or simply the wrong expectations.

Pau Gasol was a disappointment in Memphis, but a two-time champion as Kobe Bryant’s co-star in Los Angeles. Jeremy Lin was a twice-discarded fringe prospect before finding fame in New York. Boris Diaw was a nobody in Atlanta, a star in Phoenix, an overweight punch line in Charlotte and now a key reserve in San Antonio.

Turner first tried his hand as a savior for the Philadelphia 76ers. That partnership was doomed from the start. That franchise was never completely sold on Andre Iguodala' well-rounded game, and he was a better slasher, scorer and defender than Turner even projected to be.

Turner was then asked to be the missing piece of an Indiana Pacers team that shipped out a valuable locker room presence (Danny Granger) to bring him in. Indiana's chemistry collapsed, and Turner was out of the rotation by the postseason (he played less than four minutes in the entire 2014 Eastern Conference Finals).

In Boston, Turner arrives free of any expectations. With the Celtics still plugging away on their reclamation project, they don't need him to play a major role right away.

Their backcourt is crowded. Incumbent starters Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley are returning along with reserve Phil Pressey. Newcomers Marcus Thornton, Marcus Smart and James Young will all be vying for minutes.

Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Where and how Turner fits among them remains unclear. The key for him is that the Celtics want to figure those parts out.

He needs the support of his franchise but not the type that comes with the weight of the world attached. He needs patience, a team that recognizes he's worth a carefully managed investment.

He might have found all of the above with the Celtics, along with a potential miracle-worker in head coach Brad Stevens.

"Brad Stevens was able to figure out the best way to maximize Jordan Crawford's talent last season before the team dealt him away while acquiring future assets in January," wrote ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg. "It's fair to wonder if the Celtics can do the same with Turner."

According to Falk, via Washburn, Stevens was one of the biggest draws getting Turner to Boston.

I think Brad [Stevens] had an opportunity to take a player with a high skill set and a very strong desire to prove what happened in Indiana was a mistake. I think that Brad has a chance to put him in the right sets and have a great bargain in free agency. That’s why we put this thing together. We were looking for a coach that felt like Evan could be an important contributor to the team.

Stevens has something to work with in Turner, which is't always the case for the coach of a rebuilding team. It will be his job to maximize Turner's far-reaching talents, building a system in which the swingman can thrive.

For Turner, the challenge is simple: staying true to himself. He doesn't have to be whatever fans in Philly and Indianapolis thought that he should be. He doesn't need to take on a scoring load he isn't equipped to handle or chase the stat sheets of a "typical" No. 2 draft pick.

This isn't about starting over; rather, it's about finally getting started. It's showing that a player with his tools can not only survive but thrive with an NBA team.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Could he use a more consistent perimeter shot? Absolutely. Does he need to defend with more physicality? Certainly. Is there an excuse for ball-watching when he doesn't have the rock? Of course not.

He needs to develop his game, a fate shared by every other 25-year-old in the league. But the important thing is for him to remember what punched his NBA ticket, what garnered him that lofty draft position.

Versatility is a gift, not a curse. Turner's basketball calling hasn't changed. He just has to keep expanding his arsenal and fine-tuning the weapons he currently has: hitting the glass harder, putting more pop on his passes, punishing defenders that struggle with his dribble drives.

To put it simply, he needs to let his intelligence take over. Turner is smart enough to figure this out and talented enough to revive a career that looks so much better when overhyped expectations aren't attached.

 

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

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