It’s obvious that Evan Turner hasn’t seamlessly integrated with the Portland Trail Blazers. The forced shots, the passes thrown into the stands as teammates cut the other way -- they all point to discomfort. What’s also obvious is that this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Training camp is incredibly valuable but it’s certainly not enough time to get acclimated in a new system. If it were, then the chemistry and continuity we keep hearing about wouldn’t really matter. Turner is in a difficult situation and no one should rush to judgement after just three games in the season. That would be a blatant overreaction.
However, the company line from Turner, the other players, and the coaching staff has been to downplay this as a nothing-to-see-here shooting slump. Here’s what Turner said after the Clippers game:
I can't really say much besides I'm getting to my spots, I'm getting the shots I like. It would be one thing if it was a flat-out air-ball. But the (stuff) is going in and out. So at the end of the day, it's almost a joke. I'm not really too much concerned with that.
That’s a bit of an underreaction if you ask me. As much as we need to be tempered with our expectations and have patience, we also need to see things for what they are. Turner’s early struggles go beyond whether his shots go in or not. He looks out of sorts, forcing shots, and trying to score in isolation. All of this is reflected in his early stats.
I can hear the groans already.
Stats? He’s talking about stats after three games? What poppycock!
But just hear me out.
What I’m not doing is using stats from eight games (pre and regular season) to describe who Turner is as a player or how he will play in a Blazers uniform. That would, indeed, be groan-worthy.
What I am doing is using stats to describe what has happened the first eight games in Turner’s Portland tenure. Small sample sizes aren’t generalizable but they still describe the sample from which they’re taken. In other words, Turner’s stats tell us nothing about how he will play this season but they do tell us something about how he has played these past eight games. And I want to compare the stats with what everyone is saying to see if they match up.
If Turner were truly just in a shooting slump, we would expect his shot distribution from the last eight games to be similar to last season. That would imply he’s getting to his same spots at the same frequency, but the ball just hasn’t been going in. Here’s Turner’s shot distribution last season and this season:
Again, these stats tell us nothing about what will happen in the future. They only tell us what has happened in the past eight games. But their message is pretty clear. Turner has gotten to the rim a lot less than last year.
He’s also taking way more pull-up jumpers. Over 70 percent of his shots so far have been pull-ups compared to about 45 percent last year. He might be getting shots he likes but there is a lot more going on here than some unlucky bounces.
This fact doesn’t solely implicate Turner. The rest of the team has just as much of a responsibility to adjust to Turner as he has a responsibility to adjust to them. Many of those passes that went into the stands would have been good passes had Turner’s teammates made the right read. All parties involved will have to make a continued, concerted effort to integrate Turner into the offense. This will not take care of itself.
To drive that point home, Turner would be shooting 41.8 percent if he took the same shots over the last eight games but made them at the same percentages as last year. In other words, I calculated what Turner’s overall field goal percentage would be using this year’s shot distribution and last year’s shooting percentages from each “Shot Area.” That 41.8 percent is a lot higher than the 33 percent he’s currently putting up, so it’s true he’s in a shooting slump, but the problem is bigger than that.
Blazers fans might see that number and go “Well, that's not a big deal. Damian Lillard shot about that percentage last year and we did just fine.” The difference is that Lillard takes a lot of 3-pointers. His Effective Field Goal Percentage (EFG%), which takes into account the added value of a 3-pointer, is always significantly higher than his traditional field goal percentage. Turner doesn’t shoot many threes, so his EFG% is usually about the same as his FG%. As a result, if Turner is shooting less than 42 percent by the end of the year, the Blazers will be in trouble.
Turner can’t just improve his shooting. He has to improve his shooting and his shot distribution. One without the other won’t do. The shooting part will probably work itself out. The shot distribution part is more fundamental. It involves the entire team and the coaching staff to get him more comfortable, adjust to him as he adjusts to them, and to bring out the best in his game.
I think they can do it. Coach Terry Stotts has a superb history when it comes to maximizing his players’ offensive gifts. By all accounts, Turner has the right mindset and work ethic and his teammates seem equally dedicated to the cause. Given all that, being patient is the right approach but don’t be fooled into thinking this isn’t an issue to begin with. This is much more than a shooting slump.