The Indiana Pacers selected Myles Turner at No. 11 overall in the 2015 NBA draft, a preliminary step in remaking their frontcourt for the future. He was supposed to be something of a project, yet he has looked like anything but in a series of dominating performances at the Orlando Summer League.
The perception of him as a project depressed his draft value, but many analysts were high on the Pacers' selection:
The 7'0" center entered the University of Texas as one of the most highly regarded players in his class. But an underwhelming freshman season that saw him average just 10.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game seemed to underscore how much of Turner's appeal was about future potential instead of present performance. There were also concerns about his running style that impacted how he was viewed.
His DraftExpress profile by Derek Bodner finishes with this perspective:
If a team thinks they can hone in his shot selection, and not see him lose too much effectiveness against big men who are more athletic than him, Turner's skill set and raw defensive ability could be tough to pass up for teams in need of a big man, even if the precise extent of his long-term upside is yet to be determined.
That doesn't exactly scream "instant contributor."
However, in his three appearances at the Orlando Summer League, Turner was one of the most impressive players on the floor and made the case that he could be a big part of the Pacers' immediate plans. He finished with an extremely impressive stat line, hinting at the ability to help out offensively and defensively.
Beyond the numbers, members of Indiana's organization were raving about his performance. After Turner's first Summer League game—a 20-point, eight-rebound performance—assistant coach Popeye Jones shared his excitement with the Indianapolis Star's Candace Buckner:
Very excited. Obviously, his shot went in but more impressive (was) his length, his defense at the rim, the three blocks, the rebounding. I think our front office, Larry (Bird) and all those guys, knew he could shoot the ball and his shot went in.
Head coach Frank Vogel also raved about his new when he joined the NBATV broadcast team during halftime of one of Turner's games (h/t Manny Randhawa of the Indianapolis Star):
It's early still, and obviously he's off to a great start in the summer league. ... He's got such a unique combination of skills with the ability to shoot with range, but also you've seen him dominate the game on the defensive end with his shot-blocking. ... We're really high on him.
Summer League is a small sample, but clearly Turner's two-way play has made an impression on his coaches.
After riding their grind-it-out defensive style as far as it could take them, Indiana's front office has talked about a change in style for next season. The idea is to focus on playing more uptempo offense, with smaller and more versatile lineups. The roster has already been changed dramatically, particularly in the frontcourt.
The three big men who played the most minutes for the Pacers last season—Roy Hibbert, David West and Luis Scola—will all be playing elsewhere next year. Hibbert was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, West left more than $12 million on the table to chase a ring with the San Antonio Spurs and Scola signed with the Toronto Raptors in free agency. The team was looking for something different on offense from the bigs, and Turner may be able to help provide it.
Hibbert was primarily a post-up player, and not a very efficient one at that. Scola and West worked mostly as pick-and-pop threats around the elbows. The problem for the Pacers was there was no versatility among the group of bigs. All three overlapped considerably, collapsing the team's spacing, and none were dynamic enough to really attack a defense in different ways.
Turner may be the answer to some of those problems. A big part of his appeal as a draft prospect was the range on his jump shot. He can't quite hit the three-pointer yet, but it looks like a shot he could reasonably develop. What was really exciting at Summer League was watching him hit jump shots out of different actions.
In college, most of Turner's jumpers were either turnarounds from the post or mid-range spot-ups. Sam Vecenie of CBSSports talked about the revelation of watching Turner find jumpers in the pick-and-roll:
First and foremost, Turner has shown potential as a pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop big man that he rarely showed at Texas. According to Synergy, the big man only took 18 shot attempts as a roller last season. Given what we've seen this week, he was egregiously under-utilized in that regard with the Longhorns, as he's knocked down shots from all over the floor -- including a pair of 3s from beyond the NBA line. And while that will be very important for his development given the Pacers' desire to go uptempo, it's actually his mid-post/mid-range game that has been most exciting offensively.
This is primarily the role Scola and West played in Indiana's offense, but if Turner can really extend his range out to the three-point line, it would open up a world of possibilities for the Pacers' pick-and-roll game. In addition, he looked much more mobile than Scola or West, which means he can provide more balance between popping to the elbows or rolling to the basket.
Turner also showed off a dynamic post-up game in Orlando. He finished through contact, utilizing his size and strength. Showing he was more than just brute force, he also flashed some fancy footwork beating his man after facing up and finishing with a soft touch.
The highlights below, from his game against the Detroit Pistons, show off a considerable portion of his offensive arsenal.
There is still plenty for him to work on. He didn't record a single assist in his three games. Turnovers may be a problem as he continues to adjust to the speed of the NBA. And, of course, it's never prudent to get too excited about Summer League stars.
Still, the offensive versatility Turner displayed—essentially rolling the contributions of Hibbert, West and Scola up into one skill set—bodes extremely well for the Pacers. If they want to play an uptempo, versatile style, he looks ready to man the center position with the ability to slot into several different roles depending on the matchup.
Transitioning to defensive life without Hibbert is going to be a challenge for Indiana. He was shipped out to the Lakers in a salary dump, a casualty of the team's new focus on offense and pace, and leaves an enormous hole in the middle.
The Pacers have spent the last few seasons as an elite defensive team, a product of players and scheme. Great wing defenders like Paul George and George Hill funneled penetration to Hibbert, confident that he could protect that basket. That confidence also allowed them to stay a step or two closer to the perimeter to close out on shooters.
Turner has a lot to prove defensively, but the scheme he's stepping into (assuming the Pacers don't change things substantially) is a good fit for him.
The first piece is that it's not a complicated set of responsibilities. His job will be to drop back on pick-and-rolls, cede mid-range jumpers and protect the basket at all costs. Turner will certainly have a lot to learn about timing, angles, positioning and footwork. But there aren't really any complicated switches or matchup-specific coverages to learn.
This should allow him to hang back and contest shots, a pursuit he was already well versed in before arriving in Indy. Turner blocked 12.3 percent of his opponents' shots while he was on the floor last season at Texas, the ninth-best mark in the country. It was above the block rates of Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein and Jahlil Okafor. He did not slow down at all in Orlando, blocking 13 shots in three games.
If the Pacers intend on making the playoffs this season, they'll need someone to (at least partially) fill Hibbert's shoes. Turner looks like he may be just the man for the job.
As a draft prospect, Turner was appealing to the Pacers on several levels and had the defensive chops to step right into their system. Although he was raw on the offensive end of the floor, his ceiling looked to be much more dynamic and versatile than any of the big men they already had on the roster. Again, one always has to be careful about getting too excited about Summer League results, but it has been a surprise to see how ready Turner looks.
Research by Nathan Walker at Nylon Calculus, has shown that almost all rookies end up struggling out of the gate, even those who end up as great players.
Turner's inaugural campaign will likely not be nearly as bright as his Summer League performance. Still, he appears to be much further along than draft analysts projected, which is great news for the Indiana Pacers and their next era.