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Myles Turner is Feeling the Game

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On Myles Turner’s Offensive Developments

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Golden State Warriors John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

“The idea of Myles Turner is better than the reality of Myles Turner.”

If you’ve been on Twitter or had a conversation about the Indiana Pacers with someone over the past few years, you’ve inevitably encountered this in the ether.

I’ve never been a proponent of this line of thinking and found it dismissive of Myles’ impact. Myles was burdened with unfair expectations in the wake of Paul George’s exit, coupled with his unique style of play. However, that narrative has no footing in 2021.

Through the first month of play, Turner has established himself as a front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year (Tony East wrote a great article on his defense over at Forbes that you should read). While his defense has been titanic to start the year, Atlas holding up the Pacers defense if you will, I’ve been most impressed with the strides he’s made as an offensive player.

When perusing through Turner’s offensive stats, nothing particularly jumps off the page; He has nearly identical true shooting, assist to turnover, rebounding, and free-throw rates while logging the lowest usage percentage of his career (14.7% per Cleaning the Glass.)

So what’s been different?

Feel

“...in more concrete terms, I’d describe it as the sum of a player’s pattern recognition, visual processing (especially spatial recognition), and processing speed.” - Evan Zaucha

First and foremost, Zaucha wrote a groundbreaking article on describing and understanding what “feel” is and it’s relation to basketball. He has a background in neuroscience on top of in-depth scouting knowledge and basketball knowledge all around.

In working on this article and chronicling what I was seeing from Myles on-court the past month, I came across Evan’s work and immediately realized that this applied directly to Myles’ growth. To break it down and put into layman’s terms, Myles is seeing the game faster and making quicker decisions with less second guessing or record scratching on shots.

Shot Diet & Spacing

One of the first things to note in Myles Turner’s offense has been where it’s coming from. 84% of Turner’s shots are coming within four feet of the rim or beyond the arc; the shots that generally generate the highest points per possession. He was at 70% last year and 55% of such shots in 2019.

While the shooting profile itself is impressive, the way he’s achieved it is what I want to point out.

Throughout Myles Turner’s career, when utilized as the screener in pick and roll situations, he often would roll to just about the free throw line

or pop to just below the arc.

To his credit, Myles is an above average mid-range shooter for his career, but it’s all about spacing and the ability to attack space, while creating space for others in the process.

For instance, Myles hits this shot. Thad Young (We miss you), hard hedges on the ball screen and recovers to Myles. If he were to pop out to the arc, it would stretch the floor, causing Thad a much more difficult recovery and Shaq Harrison would also be unlikely to impact the play.

This is from this season against the Celtics. By popping to three against an aggressive drop scheme, Myles gets the wide open three and is able to stretch Boston’s defense.

Against the Knicks earlier this season here, Myles flashes the difference he makes through attacking the rim. Last year, he probably takes that shot when he first touches the ball and has 2-3 defenders right on him depending on how the defense reacts and helps. Instead, Myles is able to attack Nerlens Noel and get a much easier shot, and the defenders remain at home on their man.

Myles pops to just below the arc here, but, rather than taking that 20-footer, Myles immediately drives into the open space and attacks the rim, getting the much easier lay in.

For reference, Turner shot 45% on mid-range shots last year and 64% at the rim (same as this year). Even though Myles is a GOOD mid-range shooter (78th %ile per Cleaning the Glass), that shot is worth 0.9 point per possession. He’s in the 39th %ile as a rim finisher among bigs, but even then, shooting 64% at the rim is worth 1.28 ppp. By cutting out his pretty good, but not great shots, and opting for more efficient shots, Myles puts more pressure on the rim which in turn forces rotation in the defense and creates space.

Refined Ballhandling

You may very well have picked up on this in some of the clips; Myles has improved tremendously as a ballhandler!

Due to Myles consistently not passing out of open threes, his gravity has become more actualized.

Even though he misses the three, he draws out Mitchell Robinson from the paint. This consistent spacing is huge. He would routinely hesitate or “record-scratch,” on three point attempts as last season, either leading to a pass out and clunky possession, or a shot that’s better defended. Also of note, while Myles is currently shooting 28.3% from three, if you scrap the first three games in which he went 1/12, he’s shooting 34.1% on just under 5 attempts per game. Ideally, that percentage is a little higher, but the ability to take threes without hesitation is huge for Myles.

Myles misses both threes; I don’t care! The threat of shooting/spacing is just as important as hitting shots. Seth Partnow, Ben Taylor, and many others who are much smarter than I have written on the importance of shot gravity and how shooting percentages are not exactly indicative of shooting ability.

With his newfound gravitational pull, Myles draws defenders out routinely and forces closeouts, allowing him to flash that aforementioned ballhandling.

This was not a well-placed pass by Brogdon, so Myles has to recover. JaVale McGee closes out to Myles, and Myles immediately attacks the closeout rather than forcing up a three.

This is one of his very best sequences all year. Myles used to really struggle in situations like this last season, often having to pick up his dribble or even turning the ball over. The fluidity in getting to his spots with his handle is impressive, all while shielding the ball and feeling Wannamaker on his hip.

Cutting & Aggression

In tandem with driving to the rim, Myles has been incredibly aggressive in finding open seams to cut to the rim and finding putback opportunities.

The instant that Domas is doubled, Myles reads the court and glides right past a ball-watching Mitchell Robinson for the easy basket. Cutting in general is partially a product of Nate Bjorkgren’s offense, but this is just an intuitive cut from Myles.

Again here, you can see Gafford ball watching a bit. As soon as Myles notices that he loads up and cuts, giving himself the extra step he needs on Gafford to get to the rim with ease. Last year, Myles is catching that ball at the three-point line, THEN making a decision. Myles is making that decision before he even catches the ball routinely, which is what’s leading to these easier and more flowing looks.

(Also, see Lauri Markkanen for the matador help defense.)

Myles put that on full display yet again later in the same game as Draymond Green helped off of him onto Domas in the post.

Here, Myles trails the drive by Brogdon to the rim. Robinson fully commits to Malcolm, rather than staying out at the tree point line where he wasn’t going to be guarded, he followed up Brogdon’s drive to clean up on the put back.

This clip is here for my own enjoyment.

Myles is reading the game so much quicker than he ever used to. This leads to quicker decisions. I’ve mentioned this multiple times on the Indy Cornrows podcast, it is better to make a decision full-speed and be wrong than to be caught between two decisions, contemplating which one is right. That’s where Myles has really cleaned up his game.

Comfortability & Decision-Making

This one shot may be the most telling of Myles’ offensive performance this season. He doesn’t hesitate, he doesn’t contemplate, he doesn’t look to pass, he just shoots.

When Myles releases an above the break three from that far out, I imagine the defenders feels much like knights in the Middle Ages, watching trebuchets rain down onto the keep behind them.

(Other than Keldon Johnson, I don’t think anyone has as high-arcing a shot as Myles.)

However, part of Myles’ quicker decision-making has been shown in his passing!

This doesn’t lead to a basket, but it leads to a foul! Success!

I say this with full sincerity, Myles might be the best post-entry passer on the team. He’s developed this really cool synergy with Domas where he routinely is able to find him in the post when he has the opportunity, and Domas in turn finds him on his cuts to the basket as we saw earlier.

The small improvements Myles has made in awareness and his feel on the court has led to the most impressive season of his career.

No, Myles Turner isn’t Jermaine O’Neal, Rik Smits, Brad Miller, Roy Hibbert, or any other former Pacer big. He’s Myles Turner. That’s exactly who he needs to be, and exactly who this iteration of the Pacers needs him to be.

While his box score and shooting splits are roughly the same, I cannot elucidate any better how different Myles is this season.