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What’s wrong with Evan Turner on offense?

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Portland’s big free-agent signing has been disappointing, even in displaying the skills he was coveted for.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Golden State Warriors Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Evan Turner is the $70 million man, and despite the team’s best hopes and some glimmers of promise, he has largely struggled during his time as a Portland Trail Blazer. Turner was brought in to be a ball handler, but he has had issues finding his pace on offense, hampering Portland.

To the surprise of the folks in the Blazers front office, Turner hasn’t even been a particularly meaningful passer, something they were keen on during his contract press conference. In fact, his assist percentage — the portion of team field goals assisted by a player — has dropped by about 30 percent over the last two seasons in Boston.

Likewise, when it comes to Portland’s main rotation players (400+ min) he ranks 7th out of 8 players when it comes to his offensive rating. The same goes for the rate in which he draws free throws, and in fact he’s been so inert that NBA.com/stats suggests he drives to the bucket about as much as power forward Al-Farouq Aminu — and half as much as fellow guard CJ McCollum.

So he’s not drawing fouls, he’s not passing as well as the Blazers hoped, and he’s not creating a lot of space by going to the rack.

That said, let’s talk turkey in this week’s video breakdown:

Shooting

Turner is shooting just 42.3 percent from the field this season, but the biggest disappointment has been his 3-point shooting, particularly when he’s wide open.

Turner has been marked as open or wide open by NBA.com on all 50 of his 3-point attempts this season, but is shooting a combined 30 percent from beyond the arc.

Let’s repeat that: every single one of Evan Turner’s 3-point attempt have been on an open basket, and he’s shooting 30 percent.

CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard create so much space, and Turner has wasted a ridiculous amount of 3-point shots created by their movement.

Passing

Turner was brought to Portland by President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey to be the backup ball handler, but it hasn’t worked as they projected. Despite lineup data from 82games.com confirming that he has almost always been on the floor with either Lillard, McCollum, or both, most of his assists have gone to Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless, Meyers Leonard, and Mason Plumlee.

That said, Turner does pass to Lillard and McCollum the most, and the most frequent passers to Turner himself are those two players. But the passes aren’t creating direct assists between them, an indicator of the overall dip in Turner’s production and fit with the team so far.

In his last two seasons in Boston, Turner’s assist percentage hovered around 27 percent, and Olshey hoped he would slot into a great offensive team in Portland that would provide opportunities for his passing.

But Boston has been a better passing team than the Blazers these past few years, even if Portland has been a better offensive team generally. This season, Turner’s assist percentage sits at just 17.8 percent.

Turner makes a lot of smart passes, and he has excellent court vision and long enough arms to make things work. But he also forces it, and his creation has not been the strongest part of his play offensively.

So where has he succeeded the most?

Inside the Arc

Evan Turner’s stats as of 12.19.19
NBA.com/Stats

Evan Turner has been effective in the restricted area, and shows patience on powerful drives where he does well to hide the ball from defenders until the last moment.

From 5-to-9 feet has been a good place for Turner, where he can operate from the deep post with success from the right side.

If he gets close in, he can overpower smaller guards or raise up and fadeaway from his contemporaries.

From 15-to-19 feet, Turner has found jump shots again from the right side, mostly from the elbow.

He utilizes two-dribble jumpers off picks when teams give him space on the ICE pick-and-roll coverage.

Where Turner has been a disaster is in the 10-to-14 foot range. He’s hitting just 35.8 percent of his shots there, a serious issue given it is where he’s taken the largest portion of his field-goal attempts along with shots inside of five feet.

Turner struggles in this area for two main reasons: inconsistent aggression and poor decision-making.

Opponents have been able to push Turner out of his spots by playing him tough, stopping him from getting to the elbow or that deep right wing.

Just a little footwork pushes Turner from either of those places to mid-post, a shot he’s not used to.

Here against the Bucks, the defender gives him the baseline with another defender waiting in the middle of the paint. There’s a third defender ready to dig from the top of the key, and Turner should go left. Instead, he tries to go for the lane and ends up in no man’s land — not on the right elbow, nor deep enough for a high-percentage shot.

Making this particular example worse is the time left on the shot clock when Turner panics, a full 17 seconds that could have gone back into the offense.

So, what do the Blazers do now?

My first suggestion is to post Turner up more. He already gets to the post on 10 percent of his possessions, which is more than any Blazer from last season.

Wesley Matthews told me a couple years ago that Portland wanted to make a concerted effort to get him into the post more often, and they did. Terry Stotts is doing the same thing with Turner, but he doesn’t have the luxury of shooting a 3-pointer every time he’s not down low like Matthews did. He should cash in even harder with Turner in the post.

That’s where Turner has been the most efficient, even if it goes against why Olshey brought him in. As much as Turner is supposed to be handling the ball, his best offensive asset thus far has been without it, acting as a recipient.

Second — and I have already seen this in the past few weeks — Turner could play that high-post screen role that LaMarcus Aldridge played for Portland.

It’s weird, and Turner isn’t a power forward, but on little pick-and-rolls and stagger screens he could easily be the screen man that pops for an elbow jumper.

He could also do more passing out of that high post, too, but at this point I’m spitballing for a team that has a lot of issues that are going to be hard to solve without a significant boost in play on both sides of the ball, or a significant trade that makes the Blazers much better in the near future.

That’s it for me this week. I am taking inquiries for play breakdowns you would like to see. Thanks to sammymohawk, solid_soup, conspirator5, and blacknoiseNW among others for getting me going on this one. Drop me a line in the comment section or hit me up on on Twitter or on Facebook to make a suggestion for the next video.

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