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Myles Turner and the Subtle Art of Salmon-Fishing

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On the small shift leading to a major defensive impact

NBA: Utah Jazz at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Myles Turner has dazzled on both ends for the Indiana Pacers this season, putting together a career year without necessarily changing his statistical profile. I highlighted what’s changed for him offensively this year and his improved feel early on, but what’s changed defensively?

Myles finished in the Top 5 of Defensive Player of the Year voting in 2018-19. He’s long been a top-notch rim protector and all-around defensive force; he’s finished ranked in the Top 4 in blocks per game in the league every year since 2016-17.

One of the few stats that jumps off the screen when diving into Myles’ advanced numbers is his steal percentage. He’s avergaing a career high 1.7% steal rate, and while this only scratches the surface of what’s been different for Myles, it’s a great launching point.

While I was watching Myles defend a pick and roll last week, it really clicked for me on what was different in his game; his hands. I’d noticed his more refined hand-eye coordination and activity with his hands throughout the season, but in diving back into prior games, it’s remarkable how consistently Myles is blowing up plays, altering drivers, and making life difficult for opposing ballhandlers.

So I ask you, have you ever watched a Grizzly bear hunt for salmon?

After School Cable & Bears

If you grew up in the early 2000’s like I did, you undoubtedly spent your late afternoons watching cable as you put off doing your multiplication tables.

Drake & Josh was great.

Jimmy Neutron and Spongebob were fantastic.

Nickelodeon and Animal Planet reigned supreme in my post-school programming. If you didn’t ask your parents about ordering Zoobooks at least once a week, you’re lying, because of course you did. They were easily the coolest gift you never got.

When I saw Myles jab out his hand, I recognized where I’d seen that before.

If you’ve never watched a Grizzly bear fish for salmon, now’s the time! When you think of a bear, you probably don’t think about their movement patterns and tendencies, rather how you have no interest in being near one. Luckily for you, I take the former over the latter. Grizzlies are of course hulking and powerful, but also remarkbly nimble and quick. They’re calculated in their movements, waiting til the precise moment to bat at and grasp a salmon coming upstream.

Whenever I watch Myles backpedaling towards the paint, jabbing out his arms, I picture the above scene. Myles is huge, incredibly imposing, and one of the most feared rim-protectors in basketball, often foiling the best drawn plays before they can even begin.

When a ballhandler probes inside, they are rarely prepared for the quickness and ferocity Myles displays attacking the ball. A lot of great rim protectors create a no-fly zone around the rim; Myles is making it so hard to even penetrate the paint, let alone the rim.

Look at the way Myles quickly darts his hands out to deter a floater from Trae Young. It hapens so quickly that it’s not easy to notice on first watch. If he doesn’t do that, Trae has just a little bit more room to operate, allowing himself an extra half second to gather. While the play still results in a lob for Capela, the Pacers doubled Trae Young on almost every ballscreen against the Hawks, putting Myles in a 2 on 1 situation; a precarious peninsula.

Here’s another great example against Donovan Mitchell.

Rather than a traditional drop in which Myles sinks all the way back to the rim (Re: Milwaukee Bucks), Myles is quite aggressive. He doesn’t often play all the way to the level of the ball screen, but will play centerfield rather than fully drop. He forces Mitchell to dribble back out of the paint, and slightly overplays himself out, but gets in a great contest without fouling and Justin Holiday of course makes the perfect help rotation.

When Myles does play closer to the level of the screen, he’s adept at pinpointing the ball and jutting it free before the ballhandler even enters the paint.

His timing is absolutely perfect on this strip. This somehow didn’t get registered as a steal for Myles, which is oddly the case for many of these strips/pokes/jab outs.

Myles is 6’11 and not the most fluid athlete. He can switch on the perimeter a bit and is solid at sliding his feet for his size, but he’s become exceptional at using his ability to quickly flip his hips to utilize his length and knock balls loose if he gets beat at the point of attack on the perimeter.

Watch as he Monstar saps the soul out of Damian Lillard’s dribble as he turns the corner to the rim.

While a more traditional rim protector or scheme would allow for some East-West leeway, Myles Turner has a way of dictating the action rather than reacting; He demagnetizes the compass of a ballhandler time and time again.

Not every jab is going to lead to a steal or turnover. However, just like in shot blocking, the threat and idea of it can be nearly as impactful as the block or steal itself. You have to pump the jab more than once, not every shot will have the same intent.

Again, this is so subtle, and it doesn’t directly impact this play. But, Brandon Ingram is thinking the rest of the game about how if he drives inside, Myles Turner will not only be there, he’ll be actively probing with his 7’4 wingspan.

And you see similarly here.

Grant comes off this screen with the read to either shoot the free-throw line jumper, or pass out. If you slow it down, you notice that Myles nearly makes contact with the ball when Grant pumps the shot.... from almost three feet away. The reach and reaction speed are so difficult for an offensive player to deal with. Reaction speed is maybe the wrong term here even, as Myles is lashing out at nearly the precise time Grant starts to rise out of his handle. Just an impressive display of Myles’ basketball wits and ability.

The Pacers’ defense is slightly above league average; nothing earth shaking. However, that is more a credit to Myles Turner, as the defense absolutely falls apart with him off-court; The Pacers allow 6.7 pp/100 fewer with Myles on the court, and a porous 114.2 pp/100 in the time he’s off the court.

Myles Turner is a deserving candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year award one third of the way through the season, and in line for an All-Defensive Team selection. While I sincerely doubt that Turner spent time in the off-season watching Grizzly bears stand in a river darting after salmon, opposing teams may want to brush up on the Alaskan behemoths for a better idea of what they’re running into off a ball screen.