When George Hill shocked the world by dying his hair blonde prior to the start of the 2015-16 season, it didn’t take long for his bold, platinum-coiffed alter-ego to start drawing on-court comparisons to his natural look. After all, Paul George was returning from injury, opening a vacuum for a competing source of intrigue to act as a welcome respite. Gregg Popovich was bringing the funny, admiring his former player’s bleached locks from afar. And, most importantly, the 6-foot-3 guard was flat-out balling, averaging 12.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.3 steals while drilling a career-best 44.3 percent of his threes in the 39 games he played as a blonde.
All of the ingredients for the emergence of a distinct and separate basketball identity were there, and the same can be said for Myles Turner, who endured a broken nose and swapped in his team’s jersey for the red, white, and blue all while evolving his personal style with his game.
With so many versions of himself competing for attention in a single season, we quite clearly had no choice but to look back and rank them all with an eye for what’s next.
Before we get started, know that while this is obviously a subjective list, sample size and signs of growth weighed heavily in our assessment — with one major exception (you’ll see why). Also, be mindful that two separate cases of overlap were treated differently. Because Myles opted to tie his hair back in all of the games in which he also wore a mask, those games are included in the averages for “Ponytail Myles.” Conversely, we ultimately decided to consider “Playoff Myles” as a separate avatar regardless of hairstyle, which means those games didn’t factor into the rankings for “Ponytail Myles” or “Regular Myles.”
Alright, let’s do this (in descending order):
1. Ponytail Myles
By the numbers: 14.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks in 39 games while shooting 48 percent overall and 39 percent from three
When Myles Turner dared to tie his hair back against the Washington Wizards on December 10, he didn’t just shake up the image of him we had imprinted on our collective consciousness, he proceeded to play some of the very best basketball of his career.
For the next 11 games, he averaged 16.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks while shooting 55 percent from the floor in 29.2 minutes per game. He made more threes in that span than he had over the first 25 games of season, and he kept himself actively involved, averaging 53.8 touches per game — a mark which would’ve been a career-high if it had held for the full season.
I mean, need we say more?
It was more than just the numbers. He was confident. And, for that brief stint, it was like things had finally started to click for him.
Just consider that debut game against the Wizards. Even if he hadn’t poured in 26 points on 68 percent shooting and blocked every shot in sight, moments like this made it seem like he could be the key cog in the offense that fans desperately want him to be.
Rather than waiting too long to dart to the rim when his man jumped out above the level of the screen, Turner slipped into space, put the ball on the floor, and finished gracefully through contact. It was the sort of thing that would make a difference when teams trap and hedge against Oladipo, and it was the sort of thing that would allow him to mix up his game as an almost-always popper — if, he had kept it up.
Alas, like his commitment to his up-do, his feel for what to do to avoid these types of traffic jams and tie ups came and went over the latter half of the season.
But, for what he was in the early going, Ponytail Myles has no current rival.
2. Birthday Myles
By the numbers: 17 points, 11 rebounds, and two blocks in one game while shooting 46 percent overall, 0-of-1 from three
When the NBA’s schedule-makers deign to bless the Pacers with a game on March 24, magic happens. Manifesting the destiny of his birthright (seriously, his parents wrote the words “Future First Round Draft Pick” on his birth announcement), Myles has yet to finish a game on that particular day without a strong performance. As a rookie, he scored 24 points on 17 shots to go with 16 rebounds. A year later, he added 20 points and four blocks against Denver. And, this season, he recorded a 17 and 11 double-double.
He just seems to have extra pep in his step on his born day, even to the point of bringing the ball up the full-length of the floor for a grab-and-go dunk versus a road-weary Nuggets team:
It’s a teeny, tiny sample size, but that’s sort of the point with this one. Like a leap-day birthday, Birthday Myles games are rare and special and should be protected at all costs. Plus, due to their scarcity (*gasp* there won’t even be one this year), it’s easy to avoid a comparative letdown.
3. Masked Myles
By the numbers: 14.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.5 blocks in 17 games while shooting 51 percent overall and 44 percent from three
As strange as it may sound, Myles breaking his nose and requiring a protective mask was in some ways a (wait for it)...blessing in disguise. Although he later admitted that he never really got comfortable wearing the nuisance, he sure did shoot the heck out of the ball while being inconvenienced, draining 44 percent of his threes over his 17 games as a masked man.
For instance, never forget that Turner made this go-ahead three in overtime versus the Bulls: 1) cold, 2) with his shoulder bothering him, and 3) after having not attempted a field goal since under the 3:00 minute mark of the first-freaking-quarter.
Even more interesting during that stretch, however, was his shot distribution. Never before in his career has Turner finished a season with more three-point attempts than shots from mid-range; and yet, while wearing the mask, he took the highest percentage of his shots as threes, coming in at 31 percent as opposed to 25 percent overall.
Maybe, given that his rebounding numbers took a slight hit, he was just actively trying to avoid taking shots to the face? Either way, it was noticeable that he was making more of an effort to space himself to three.
Check out this possession against the Hornets. Rather than stashing himself in the dunker’s spot, or giving into his temptation to drag his man into the paint as the play develops, notice how Turner forces his defender to make a choice between helping on the roll and staying home on the perimeter.
That sort of “one big in the paint at a time” rule of thumb could be a difference-maker for Indiana’s double-center frontcourt moving forward. On the season, Turner only attempted 16 corner threes, and less than 10 of those attempts came with Sabonis on the floor.
4. FIBA Myles
By the numbers: 7.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in eight games while shooting 47 percent overall and 30.8 percent from three
Tasked predominantly with rebounding, running, and screening in a defense-first role, FIBA Myles, who by the way debuted yet another new hairstyle, was used differently with Team USA than he most likely will be with the Pacers. But, again, that’s sort of the point. Playing alongside multiple scorers who are better served playing downhill than east-west, he was forced into doing some things he isn’t normally comfortable with — and he adapted, sort of.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever seen Myles fluidly roll into a spin move and finish with a lefty jump hook.
This is art, and he did it while still demonstrating the same degree of improved mobility in terms of ground coverage on defense.
Brazil's coach got ejected after this, but contact or no contact, can we talk about how much ground Turner covered to get back to this off the hedge.— Caitlin Cooper (@C2_Cooper) September 9, 2019
He couldn't have done this two years ago. Do yoga, kids. pic.twitter.com/RWN6GvlZvZ
Once the Pacers figure out a way for him to be consistently guarded by opposing rim protectors, he’ll still be best used as stretch-five, but it was nonetheless a breath of fresh air to see him diversify his scoring arsenal a bit with the National Team in a way that could theoretically allow him to counter for when teams play him to pop.
Granted, he didn’t exactly show any signs of development with regard to punishing mismatches on the block; however, if he can maintain the drive he displayed in spurts while in China to come up with contested rebounds, maybe that doesn’t matter so much. After all, with more scorers on the roster, wouldn’t the Pacers be better served by attempting to have him crush those switches on the offensive glass rather than having him hunt them on the low-block?
For those reasons, FIBA Myles almost jumped up this list in spite of some of the deficiencies he continued to exhibit as a decision-maker in 4-on-3 situations, but we can’t just ignore his notgreatbob.gif performance against Rudy Gobert, right?
Sounds like tomorrow's quarterfinal meeting with France is going to carry some extra meaning for Turner.— Caitlin Cooper (@C2_Cooper) September 10, 2019
From yesterday's USA v Brazil presser, when asked about matching up w/ Gobert: "He's the Defensive Player of the Year, according to some..." pic.twitter.com/WnhiS5J1mZ
Let’s get one thing straight, here: Myles wasn’t the reason Team USA lost to France and failed to make it to the medal rounds. However, that doesn’t change the fact that some of his familiar short-comings once again cropped up against a more imposing big man.
Shaken by flipped screens, hard rolls, and foul trouble, it was almost like he was an odd mixture of being too tentative and too hyped all at once. On one possession, he got the ball poked free rushing to attack Gobert while keeping his dribble far too high, and on several others, he didn’t even look at the rim when he was open. Like clockwork, he came out of halftime and responded with a made shot from the perimeter, but then he got scored on by Gobert with a deep post-up and immediately responded with an offensive foul going the other way. In the end, he was basically rendered non-existent in limited minutes, finishing with more fouls and turnovers (5) than points and rebounds (3).
Even if Gregg Popovich still ultimately decided to counter with small-ball, those types of no-shows can’t continue to happen, especially not on the biggest stages.
5. Regular Myles
By the numbers: 12.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks in 35 games while shooting 48.5 percent overall and 36 percent from three
When Ponytail Myles exploded onto the scene in December, Myles received some good-natured ribbing from his teammates that his improved play was because of his hair.
Now, we’re not suggesting that anything in the biblical sense of Samson was going on here, but there is some evidence in the game logs that points to Turner being at least somewhat superstitious.
Take a look at this timeline from the second-half of the season:
- After battling early foul trouble versus Karl Anthony-Towns and finishing with three points and one rebound in 23 minutes on February 28, Myles took down his hair for a one-game reset against Orlando for the first time in 31 games.
- Six games later, on March 14, he once again let his locks bounce freely in the wind for one game — and one game only — immediately following a two-game shooting slump versus the Sixers and Knicks in which he had shot a combined 7-of-22 from the field.
- Then, after returning home from an 0-4 west coast road trip that ended with a thud in Golden State, he ditched the ponytail for good for the remainder of the regular season until Game 1 of the playoffs.
Hmm. Suspicious, right?
All jokes aside, one thing that Regular Myles quite clearly had going for him both before he tied his hair back as well as after he decided to take it down was his defense.
Even when his shooting was rocky to start the season, connecting on just 9 of his first 37 threes, he didn’t allow the outcome of his shot to impact his effort on the other end of the floor, as he registered at least three blocks in 11 of Indiana’s first 21 games.
Shouts to his game-clinching block versus the Bulls, which required him to venture 19-feet away from the basket, and hat tip to when he vaporized Marvin Williams at the rim, but this was his best block of the season.
Transcending his ponytail in a late-season game versus the Pistons, Turner showcased his recovery speed when he dominated this possession defending 2-on-1; first, corralling the ball-handler and then stifling Drummond as the roller without need, or access to, a tag. These empty-corner actions are typically intended for the roll-man, and because of that, they’ve had a tendency to give Turner fits, as he routinely gives too much to the ball without realizing that help isn’t on its way behind him.
This block may not have been flashy, but it speaks to his growth, and it’s that degree of recognition and composure that he still needs to demonstrate on offense to take his game to the next level — with or without his ponytail.
6. Playoff Myles
By the numbers: 9.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in four games while shooting 40 percent overall and 21 percent from three
Myles has gotten less productive in the playoffs as he’s gotten older. In his fourth season, he shot 40 percent from the floor on only 8.8 attempts per game, compared to 46.7 percent on an average volume of 10.8 shots as a rookie. Both of those most recent marks are career-lows.
That said, there are a number of mitigating factors to be considered here. For one, the Turner-Sabonis minutes were by-and-large a disaster, and Nate McMillan was resistant to downsizing. For another, Boston was taking extra steps off of Thad to crowd middle, which resulted in a higher volume of shots for Turner’s elder teammate than for himself. Without Oladipo, and with Collison draining precious seconds of the shot-clock attempting to breakdown his man off the dribble, it also didn’t help that Boston was pre-rotating to Turner’s popping spot, a problem which cropped up in the second friendly versus Australia earlier this summer.
Overall, he should expect to be more of a factor in the scouting reports of opposing team’s in Year-5 than he was in Year-1, and he has to come prepared for their preparation. It can’t take until Game 4 for stuff like this to happen:
To that point, the Pacers could certainly be doing more to actualize him as a stretch-five in terms of lineup combinations and their prioritization of the three-point line, but his limited role in the offense wasn’t always about limited touches. Sometimes, it was about what he did with those touches as well as his own limitations.
On the season, his average volume of shots off two or more dribbles (1.3) increased only slightly in comparison to a year ago (0.8), and he slipped less than 5 percent of the possessions when used as the roll-man for a second-consecutive season. He also had a tendency to occasionally second-guess the green light given to him by the defense, which oftentimes led to one of two things: The defense would adjust, and neither he nor the Pacers would have a viable counter for the counter (i.e. switches, cross-matches, pre-rotations, etc.), or he would make them pay individually, but they wouldn’t get anything else out of those plays (see: shooting 4-of-11 from three versus the Bucks).
The best Myles will be the Myles who figures out how to combine all of the best parts of himself in the post-season, playing every game like it’s his birthday while meshing the unbothered defensive consistency of Regular Myles with the floor spacing of Masked Myles and the diversified scoring of Ponytail Myles and FIBA Myles.