Through 49 games, the Portland Trail Blazers have had a disappointing season, an up-and down affair with limited ups and seemingly bottomless downs. Signed by the team in the offseason, and expected to fill the role of third ball handler, Evan Turner’s inconsistency has mirrored Portland’s. But Turner has quietly found his groove, and is now a key cog in Portland’s scheme.
Initially this season, Turner deferred heavily to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, the team’s main scorers and ballhandlers, while trying to pick and choose his moments. He seemed mostly tentative, peppered with moments of poor shot selection, seeming to decide in advance that he would shoot on certain possessions, regardless of shot quality. Turner, and the amount of money that the Blazers shelled out to get him, were a punchline among NBA fans.
Through his first 20 contests, Turner was putting up a pedestrian nine points per game, to go along wth four rebounds and just under three assists. He notoriously had one of the worst plus/minus ratings in the NBA, averaging -8.6 per game. But again, it wasn’t purely the numbers, it was how he looked getting them. Deferring to an All-Star-caliber back court is one thing; playing hesitant next to Allen Crabbe is another.
Blazer’s Edge contributor Dane Carbaugh put together an excellent video breakdown of Turner’s struggles in mid-December, summing up all of the cause for frustration on the part of Blazer fans. Since then, however, Turner has finally started to look more like a contributor and is helping the team play better basketball. Over the last 14 games, Turner is putting up 10 points and more than four assists a night, while shooting 46 percent from the floor. After his terrible start, he’s managed to eek out a positive plus/minus during this run.
The numbers say a lot, but they don’t tell the whole story, which is that Turner simply looks much more comfortable being part of the offense. He can still tend to get a little caught up in looking for his shot, but by being more aggressive in just being the player that he is, he’s getting more of his looks within the flow of the game. Where early in the season he would dribble the ball for five or six seconds before making a move into the paint, E.T. is making quicker decisions and, as such, not allowing the rest of the defense to get reset around him.
Speaking of defense, he’s starting to make more of an impact on that end as well. With Lillard and McCollum’s well-documented defensive struggles, coach Terry Stotts has started relying on Turner to match up with opposing point guards in late-game situations. This has a dual effect. First, it makes sense to hide a poor defender and swap him out with a defender with length. Secondly, this allows Lillard and McCollum to rest their legs a bit on the defensive end, ideally helping maximize their offensive effectiveness during those clutch fourth quarter moments.
Not only has Turner been playing clutch fourth quarter moments, he’s moved into the starting lineup after the team looked lifeless against the Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards, and Charlotte Hornets in three consecutive “efforts.” Though the move to swap Turner and Noah Vonleh in place of Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless was made with the bench defense in mind, Turner has excelled in the starting lineup. In fact, according to nba.com, the current starting lineup of Turner, Vonleh, Mason Plumlee, Lillard, and McCollum is averaging a plus 12.2 per 100 posessions, while going 3-2 since the lineup change. Not the results many were looking for before this season started, but a step in the right direction.
Getting more of Turner’s playmaking in the starting lineup was a necessary move for Stotts to make, at this point in the season. Essentially, teams had figured out that the Blazers had little around Lillard and McCollum to beat them with, and were keying in on those two. By allowing Turner to facilitate with McLillard off the ball, this forces opponents to pick their poison a bit more. As a starter, Turner is putting up a fine 5.2 assists against 1.4 turnovers, exactly hitting a 3 to 1 ratio; excellent numbers for a small forward.
While Turner has taken a lot of heat for his play, most of it deserved, he is settling in to a nice role in Portland. Things still aren’t perfect; Turner is who he is and he can’t hit 3-pointers even when he’s wide-open and doesn’t get to the foul line often (not to mention that contract). But Turner’s deal is a sunk cost. It’s done, and there’s little point in lamenting it, and at least the Blazers are starting to see some real dividends from Turner in this disappointing season.
Blazer’s Edge Kids Night 2017
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