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Player Review: Myles Turner needs to understand spacing as well as he creates it

Indiana’s starting center’s season was defined by advancements being met with setbacks.

Original photo by Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

A lot has to be unpacked with regard to Myles Turner. From entering the concussion protocol after only one game and being limited to eating and sleeping for two weeks thereafter to observing his supposed understudy blossom in his stead and later spraining a ligament in his elbow, the 22-year-old shot-blocker with the feathery mid-range jump shot was never consistently put in the position to develop as the focal point of the offense that many expected him to readily become following the trade of Paul George.

Instead, his touches per game (48.8) were roughly the same as last season (47.9), and his numbers dipped without demonstrating many signs of season-over-season growth outside of a few rapid bursts of supposed change (oh, hello, go-ahead basket in Boston).

In February, he basically got rendered nonexistent by Joel Embiid, picking up two fouls in the first three minutes and 10 seconds of the game and finishing with zero points in 15 minutes of action. A little over a month later, he made nine of his 12 shots, including going 5-of-5 inside the paint, while pulling Philly’s unicorn away from the rim. Fast forward another month to the end of the regular season and he was fading into the background again, picking up four fouls to go with zero points in six minutes in Charlotte before going 1-of-8 from the field to conclude the team’s 82-game slate.

It was like looking at a pulse rate monitor, with the peaks too often being tied to whether his shot was falling.

Of course, another issue was that the team’s implicit reliance upon his ability to knockdown shots out of the pick-and-pop to generate high quality threes contributed to him being somewhat pigeonholed as a floor spacer, as did the relative lack of diversity in his scoring arsenal.

Still, doing less with the same could’ve packed more punch if his understanding of space had matched his ability to create it.

How did Myles Turner impress?

He popped on 70 percent of his possessions as the roll-man (see: pigeonholed), but he sank nearly 45 percent of those opportunities, a mark which ranked fourth in the league among the 18 players with at least 80 possessions.

By effective field goal percentage (51 percent), he ranked seventh on the same list because he didn’t set his feet behind the 3-point line at the same rate as some of his fellow big men. Nevertheless, his ratio of mid-range attempts to 3-point attempts (1.5) did taper off in comparison to last season (2.9), and the degree to which he was a credible threat from his sweet spot did enable him to serve up open threes for others.

Granted, his passing was at times awkward.

Here, for instance, after receiving the left-handed pocket pass from Oladipo — and with Calderon stunting toward him away from Darren Collison — he had two solid options: Throw the nearest pass to the league’s most accurate 3-point shooter (minimum three attempts per game), or take a few dribbles toward the basket so that Jae Crowder would commit and then proceed to dish the ball to Thaddeus Young crashing from the baseline or Bojan Bogdanovic in the corner, depending upon which of them LeBron left open.

But, he got in a hurry.

Rather than forcing LeBron to make a tough decision, he pivoted and pushed a high-arcing pass to the weak side corner like a volleyball setter would when setting up an outsider hitter.

That hasty decision afforded LeBron the opportunity to close and forced Bogdanovic to put the ball on the floor; thereby, bailing out the defense and leaving the Pacers to regroup.

That being said, given that he never recorded a single assist when he was a rookie at the Orlando Pro Summer League, just being able to scan the floor to make these as well as other types of passes (i.e. high-low, bounce pass for rim run, etc.), as opposed to flinging up rushed shots, was a step in the right direction.

As was his recognition of space when he was on the floor with Domantas Sabonis, which slowly progressed from standing obstructively in the paint on post-ups to positioning himself at the proper angle to act as a floor spacer.

Because only one big was in the paint at a time, check out Cory Joseph’s options when he floated this pass up to Sabonis.

The improved strategic arrangement — although, let’s be honest, they could still be doing more to move in tandem — of Indiana’s pair of 22-and-under building blocks is an important development, given that opponents launched 43.9 threes per 100 possessions (more than the league-leading Houston Rockets) and shot only a shade below 40 percent on those attempts when the twin towers were on the floor together this season.

How did Myles Turner disappoint?

Beyond his proclivity for settling for turnaround jump shots when guards were defending him in the low post, his recognition of floor spacing and decisiveness establishing position — whether flashing middle or burying his man on the block — was touch-and-go against switches.

For example, with Collison defended by Love and Calderon checking Turner, this should’ve been an easy basket.

If Indiana’s starting center had darted to the rim without hesitation, Collison could’ve threaded the needle and Crowder would’ve been forced to commit with Thad lurking in his usual spot along the baseline as a secondary option.

Instead, Turner just sort of meandered in the paint — congesting Collison’s driving lane without sealing or posting.

The Pacers green-lit taking early two-pointers when open. However, with less than five seconds remaining on the shot clock and Love in position to contest, this wasn’t an example of Collison taking advantage of what the defense was giving him as much as it was him trying to salvage that which the offense left him.

Defensively, meanwhile, Turner’s block percentage (5.7 percent) ranked second in the league among players with at least 1800 minutes played, but his overall paint deterrence and defensive impact experienced a drop-off compared to last season.

*per 100 possessions

In particular, his preoccupation with preventing the ball from getting to the rim routinely made him susceptible to staying a count too long with the ball-handler at the expense of the roller.

Per Synergy, he surrendered 1.294 points per possession when defending the roll-man, a mark which ranked dead last among the 35 players with at least 60 such possessions.

Some of this was the product of Darren Collison’s rearview pursuit as well as botched rotations, but consider what happened on this empty side roll against the Miami Heat.

Because no tag is coming from the weak side corner, it’s Turner’s responsibility to stay attached to the screener and take Bam Adebayo out of the play.

Instead, even though there were three strong side defenders available to crowd Wade’s path to the basket, Turner focused on containing the ball; thereby, leaving Adebayo completely unoccupied for the wide alley-oop.

Like this right-side dribble hand-off set, Indiana’s starting center has to be more cognizant of the fact that these type of actions are designed for the screener and adjust accordingly.

In addition to getting picked on by rollers, he also continued to struggle to defend in space.

Here, when the Cavaliers ran floppy for Kyle Korver in the playoffs with Turner’s man setting the initial screen, the 22-year-old big man ended up incidentally forcing Oladipo to have to fight through a secondary friendly fire pick.

All of which is to say that even if he adds much-needed strength and broadens his offensive repertoire over the offseason, his shot-blocking and shot-making won’t be elevated to the degree that it could be until he matures in his understanding of where he is on the floor in relation to his teammates.

What’s next for Myles Turner?

Turner didn’t make the leap amid heightened expectations, but hitting the panic button seems premature as long as he looks the part of a modern stretch-five — especially when he wasn’t given the chance to do more with more.

Nevertheless, in the event that he plateaus as a floor-spacer with impeccable timing redirecting the flight of the ball, the Pacers might want to chance letting the restricted free agent market set his price next summer as opposed to potentially overpaying this Fall for what could-be.

More Player Reviews:

Victor Oladipo found his sound

Trevor Booker provided utility

Ike Anigbogu is going to take time

Alex Poythress epitomized how the Pacers managed minutes in blowouts

Bojan Bogdanovic impacted with and was influenced by movement

Cory Joseph catalyzed chain reactions on defense

Joe Young had his moments

T.J. Leaf’s offense was ahead of his defense

Darren Collison’s efficiency wasn’t profligate

Thaddeus Young filled the gaps

Glenn Robinson III is still in search of his steady chance

Al Jefferson answered the bell with intangibles

Domantas Sabonis connected the dots