With the news Friday afternoon that the Portland Trail Blazers and GM Neil Olshey have agreed in principle on a deal with free agent forward Evan Turner, we should probably take a look at his game a bit.
For those not familiar with the 27-year-old swingman out of Ohio State, I highlighted him earlier this week as a player the Blazers could target if they missed out on the big-name free agents. In that piece here's what I had to say about him:
Turner ranked as one of the best pick-and-roll defenders in league. Coupled with Avery Bradley they formed what may have been the best two-man unit in the league at absolutely blowing up opposing pick-and-rolls. Turner is also extremely effective defensively off-ball. Where Portland wings may have fallen asleep at time [sic] last season away from the ball in the spot-up (seventh worst in the league) Turner was fantastic at denying good looks regularly (fourth best in the league).
Coming out of college, Turner was an effective scorer. However, his perimeter game was and still is pretty limited. A career 30-percent 3-point shooter, he's not exactly the consistent perimeter weapon that has excelled in the "Stottsfense." Last season Turner put up a rather paltry 24.1 percent on one attempt per game from distance. This past year he shot 11-for-65 on 3-point attempts not from the left corner.
He has, however, shown that he can hit the 3-pointer; During the 2012-13 season on 159 attempts he was able to shoot a more acceptable 36.5 percent, which is on par with what Al-Farouq Aminu did this past year in Portland.
Now let's talk about where Turner is effective offensively... At 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds, Turner can play the two-guard or small forward on both sides of the ball. Last year with the Celtics Turner put up 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game as he found his niche as a secondary playmaker and slasher playing primarily off of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Jae Crowder.
He uses his larger-than-average size at the off-guard and quicker-than-typical speed at the small forward position to take advantage of mismatches. When attacking off the dribble, Turner can score off either hand with a couple different moves, getting to the rim where he finishes at over 60 percent.
Turner knows where his bread is buttered, as he attacks the rim often both off the dribble and in the post. Shots within five feet of the hoop accounted for 30 percent of his total shots last year. As a post option, he was second for the Boston Celtics in post-up opportunities at 105. What he did with those opportunities was quite impressive, as he sports a .99 points per possession rating, falling right behind LaMarcus Aldridge and ahead of DeMarcus Cousins.
Much like Aldridge in his time here, Turner's go-to move on the block is the turnaround fadeaway. Although there more than a couple differences, the main one is that Turner is equally capable on both blocks and over both shoulders:
While Turner doesn't give Portland anything resembling the perimeter shooting talent Blazers fans are used to, he does give them the best post-up player they've had since Aldridge left. While some may argue that the NBA is evolving away from post-up and ISO heavy offenses, the team that just won the NBA title made a killing on both of those plays simply because they had the personnel with which to execute that style of play. Turner is one of those guys who can take advantage of a size mismatch regularly.
The other facet of Turner's game is his playmaking ability. Among forwards in the NBA, Turner ranked No. 4 in the league in assist percentage, trailing only LeBron James, Draymond Green, and former Trail Blazer Nic Batum. Turner gives the Blazers another facilitator and primary ball handler who doesn't induce blood-curdling screams every time he puts the ball on the floor (see: Aminu, Al-Farouq). He doesn't just dribble to create a shot for himself, he's a consummate play maker:
If Blazers coach Terry Stotts is looking to push Lillard and/or McCollum off the ball a bit more and allow someone else to run the show, Turner can certainly fill that role.
Defensively, Turner gives you quite a bit. As we mentioned, he's 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds, meaning he's got the size and strength necessary to cover positions 1-3, and even some stretch fours. His defensive versatility is certainly a tangible and very valuable asset in today's NBA. He can switch on the fly and cover out on the perimeter, blow up pick-and-rolls, bang down in the post, and close out on shooters. He's solid in 1-on-1 coverage, so he manages to tick all the boxes in that respect.
What he doesn't do defensively is fill the box score. Turner's not a guy who's going to generate a lot of steals for you. But, he will get out and either create or finish at the rim on the break once a turnover is forced. On the same note, he's not someone like Batum or James, where he'll track down opposing players and pin their shot to the board on the defensive end. That's not the kind of player he is. He's a fine athlete, but doesn't measure up to the likes of Kawhi Leonard, James, or Batum.
When properly utilized, Turner can most certainly be an impact player. He's not someone you need to hide defensively; In fact he excels on that end. Offensively he can create for himself and others. While he leaves a lot to be desired from the perimeter, he does finish at an above-average rate inside five feet and he has a very solid post game.
All in all, Evan Turner has a lot to offer the Blazers and Portland most certainly needs a tertiary playmaker and creator, a hole that hasn't been filled since the departure of Batum. It's probably best to temper expectations for him and treat him much like Aminu when he was signed last season: Allow him to work into his role and see how well he meshes with the Blazers' backcourt, and hope that he can show the growth on his perimeter game that Aminu did this past campaign.