Evan Turner still has to learn how to play with the best
The No. 2 pick of the NBA draft has always been an interesting one. Save Kevin Durant, most No. 2 picks turned out to be what I call a “sandwich bust.” When they are sandwiched in the draft by players who are better than them.
The most notorious example of a sandwich bust occurred in the now well-known 1984 NBA draft—Sam Bowie was drafted right below Hakeem Olajuwon and right above Michael Jordan.
The contrast between Bowie’s career and the two greats that sandwich him could not be starker. He was the John and Jeremy Ryan crashing the Chang family wedding. He will always be the Jason Biggs of basketball; known not for basketball or acting skill, but for being that one awkward guy stuck between two of the greatest players of all time, or the awkward white guy or being, well, the awkward white guy in every movie he appears in (I apologize in advance for two consecutive references, but the contrast between Bowie's career and that of Jordan and Olajuwon cannot be fully justified with just one reference).
Just for fun, Charles Barkley and John Stockton were just some of the names drafted under Mr. Bowie. As a side note, just the fact that Olajuwon does not get the negative backlash of being No. 1 in this draft—imagine if Olajuwon was actually Greg Oden or Kwame Brown—says enough about how much The Dream has achieved.
It would be unfair for me to hate on Sam Bowie. The man did nothing wrong; it wasn’t his fault that his body betrayed him. But there will always be the “what ifs” questions, much like, “What if Kevin Durant played alongside Brandon Roy?”
Here is the it-does-not-really-matter-but-it’s-interesting-once-you-hear-it stat of the day: Jerome Kersey, selected second from last in the 1984 NBA draft, would end up challenging Michael Jordan in the Slam Dunk Contest back when the dunks were actually good and would retire with over 10,000 points and 6,000 rebounds, putting him on the top five of multiple statistical categories of the—what other team could it be—Portland Trail Blazers (to those who say the Blazers can’t draft. HA! They drafted Kersey with the 46th pick! Best second-rounder ever!)
This is one of those facts you can throw around to impress some buddies, much like realizing that Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant have an obscene number of combined rings, 16, but Jackson has only been Coach of the Year once and Kobe has only been MVP once. That’s the second fact of the day.
But that’s enough sidetracking. Back to 2010: Sixers take the second overall pick with just a six percent chance of getting it. The weeks leading up to the draft, Sixers fans were anxious. Who would Philly draft? Would they waste the pick on a weak class? Or would the second-pick curse simply screw us over anyways?
Undeniable on the charge of a weak draft class, which is probably one of the reasons why I actually like the pick of Evan Turner, and if I were in charge, I would probably select Evan Turner again.
The Sixers front office suffered perhaps unreasonable criticism of drafting for talent over need in the past few years; they were like the White House, whatever they did, it wasn’t good enough for some people. There are two levels of analysis for the drafting of Evan Turner; the first is to evaluate what his peers. Who was in his draft class, and what could the Sixers have done differently?
I. Was anyone better than him in his draft class?
Who else could have been taken in the 2010 draft? John Wall was definitely off the table as soon as the Wizards got the top pick; it didn’t even matter that it was the NBA equivalent of saying to Gilbert Arenas, “Screw you.” Wall was easily the most talented player and the most ready to make an impact. So the draft played out like this:
- John Wall
- Evan Turner
- Derrick Favors
- Wesley Johnson
- DeMarcus Cousins
Much of the criticism of the front office came with passing up Favors and Cousins. Iguodala and Thaddeus Young meant that Wesley Johnson, while a talented three, was not needed. The Sixers desperately needed power forward or a center that could bang down low, create his own shot and rebound.
Even the surprise resurgence of Elton Brand couldn’t help the Sixers thin frontcourt; many Sixers fans drooled when they saw Cousins rack up 20-10 games quicker than Spencer Hawes gets subbed out of a game. The quick PRA averages plus PER of Turner, Favors and Cousins are listed:
E. Turner: 7.2 ppg, 2.0 apg, 3.9 rpg, 10.87 PER
D. Favors: 6.8 ppg, 0.5 apg, 5.3 rpg, 13.90 PER
D. Cousins: 14.1 ppg, 2.5 apg, 8.6 rpg, 14.62 PER
Favors did not turn out to be the great forward that would jumpstart the lackluster Nets franchise along with Brook Lopez; he was traded midseason when the Nets went after Deron Williams for immediate success instead. Favors was a big question mark coming into the NBA, with him going second to all the way in the teens in many different mock drafts.
Drafting the 6’10", 246-pound power forward would also be the Sixers way of telling Elton Brand, “You’re done,” and GM Ed Stefanski of telling Sixers fans, “I screwed up and wasted $80 million.” Brand had a surprising season this year and was actually healthy, being the veteran anchor to the young guys and being the good soldier Collins could count on, banging down low with taller 4’s and 5’s.
DeMarcus Cousins had the best statistical contributions and the highest statistical chance of choking a coach or teammate before All-Star weekend. Cousins has the uncanny ability to make Latrell Sprewell looking like a solid teammate and a coachable guy.
Ignore the fact that Cousins could bring a much needed 14-8 game to Philly or that he played well enough so that Westphal couldn’t bench him for more than a few games due to the inability of Dalembert or Thompson to successfully score. Cousins often had an attitude because he knew he was the best big man on the team.
Not the attitude Philly needs. Collins runs a disciplined team, a defensive team that holds everyone accountable. DMC does not want to play defense, and he will not be held accountable. It’s like having Allen Iverson back with three times as much trouble and about five percent of the talent that the Answer had.
And even though there were other solid rookies in Greg Monroe, Landry Fields or Paul George, it was a huge risk to draft those guys; Turner was supposed to be a sure thing. No one would forgive Stefanski, EVER, if he skipped out on Turner and Turner ended up being decent. I believe Turner will end up being more than just decent.
II. What is the future for Turner on the Sixers?
Bright. I’m going to put it out there. Turner has a bright future ahead of him. Few people realize the struggles that Turner has had to go through this season—nothing was easy. As a 6’7" swingman used to being the first option, he could not have been thrown into a rougher situation. Consider the key players of this years team:
Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday, Louis Williams, Thaddeus Young
All four of them do something that Turner does: handle the ball, score, play the 2 or 3 and to make matters worse, even Jodie Meeks had a smooth shot that got him into the starting lineup.
Turner could be a starter one day and get a DNP the next. He struggled with being the third or fourth option, he had to get used to playing off the ball and being a catch-and-shooter, and he didn’t even know if he was going to play point guard, shooting guard, or small forward. For a guy trying to get used to the NBA, not knowing which three of the five possible positions you are playing or whether you will be playing at all, is tough.
Turner has already given signs of a breakout sophomore year. He knows what he needs to improve on; acquiring a solid jump shot. Turner knows he won’t be the starting point guard; that position belongs to Holiday for the foreseeable future, and he needs to thrive on either being a mid-range jump shooter like Rip Hamilton was for the Pistons, or be an athletic small forward slasher.
As of now, Turner should assume he will be competing for the 2-guard spot against Jodie Meeks as if Iguodala returns, he is locked into the starting lineup. Turner still needs to add strength to post up smaller guys as a small forward, but either way, needs to develop a reliable jumper to be a legitimate offensive threat.
Turner cannot match Iguodala’s defensive prowess, as he lacks the strength and athleticism, and definitely needs to hit the weights room in order to be able to check guys like LeBron James if Iguodala does indeed end up being traded.
We’ve seen Rajon Rondo and other guards blow by Turner throughout the season, and it is more viable for Turner to pack some weight and try to defend on the low post than guard point guards (although to Turner’s credit, Holiday could not stay in front of Rondo and Iguodala was needed to guard Pierce).
We’ve seen Lou Williams add a decent three-pointer to his arsenal and immediately became the most important offensive weapon the Sixers had. The Sixers lack outside scoring, and Turner’s shot is actually not bad. Most importantly, he has shown that he can battle through adversity. From being the best college player in the world to sitting on the bench with a DNP-CD next to his name, Turner has definitely learned the difference between college ball and the pros.
The Sixers front office knows that Turner has the most potential. Aside from maybe Jrue Holiday, Turner is second on the untouchable list. Iguodala has become expendable, and if a trade indeed works out that send AI 2.0 for a decent big man, look for Turner to be in the running for the Most Improved award.
III. Bonus section: The 2nd pick curse
Multiple newspapers did a run through the second pick, and most agreed that many have been busts. But without going back 15 or 20 years, I just took a quick look at the past two drafts.
Take a look at the 2009 NBA Draft:
1. Blake Griffin
2. Hasheem Thabeet
3. James Harden
4. Tyreke Evans
5. Ricky Rubio (He hasn’t played in a single NBA game yet his trade value is probably higher than that of Thabeet. Enough said.)
Other notables: Steph Curry, Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday, and probably anyone could be considered ‘notable’ when compared to Thabeet
And the 2008 NBA Draft:
1. Derrick Rose
2. Michael Beasley
3. O. J. Mayo
4. Russell Westbrook
5. Kevin Love
Other notables: Danilo Gallnari, Eric Gordon, JaVale McGee
To be fair, Beasley has had a solid season, but being between Derrick Rose and Mayo, Westbrook, and the rebounding monster Love, it’s hard to not give Beasley the sandwich bust label.
Given his reputation and the fact that he was kicked out of rookie orientation for drug use, and suddenly you start to wonder how the Heat would be with Westbrook running the show instead of Mike Bibby.
And Thabeet between Griffin and 2009 Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans and other solid PG’s? Unforgivable, Memphis. The man didn’t learn how to play basketball till about six months before the NBA draft. How could he ever succeed?