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Trail Blazers’ Evan Turner Flourishing Apart from Lillard, McCollum

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Turner’s new role this season appears to suit his playing style. A couple statistics show why.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Miami Heat Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers wing Evan Turner has been one of the biggest surprises with his play so far this season. When the Blazers signed Turner in the Summer of 2016, fans were expecting another ball handler and play maker to go along with leaders Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Up until this year they got less than they expected. In 2018-19, they may be getting more.

In 2015-16, Turner was a part of the Boston Celtics squad that made a surprise run to the playoffs despite their youth. Turner was the leader of the second unit. His play on the court led the Blazers to sign him to a four-year $70 million dollar deal.

It’s not as if Turner has played badly with the Blazers since, but this season he seems to be playing a lot more efficiently. The Blazers bench, which had been a negative in the past, is now one of the better reserve units in the NBA. Are Turner and the Blazers doing something different or is it just a small sample size of Turner playing well?

Turner is averaging about 10 points per game, over 4 assists, and shooting over 50%. You can tell he is playing better. But why? I looked at some stats for Turner from his time in Portland and his final year in Boston, and I found some very interesting numbers.

The first factor is where Turner is getting his shots from. Portland believes that they can coach anyone to become a solid three point shooter. Turner was not during his first two years in Portland. This year they appear to have given up on that experiment and are allowing him to play to his strengths.

Evan Turner 3 Point Field Goals

Year FG Attempted 3 Point FG Attempted % of shots
Year FG Attempted 3 Point FG Attempted % of shots
2015-16 with Boston 838 97 11.58%
2016-17 with Portland 584 132 22.60%
2017-18 with Portland 610 139 22.79%
2018-19 with Portland 81 11 13.58%

Evan Turner Shots at Rim

Year Fg Attempted Shots at Rim % of shots
Year Fg Attempted Shots at Rim % of shots
2015-16 with Boston 838 225 26.85%
2016-17 with Portland 584 115 19.69%
2017-18 with Portland 610 86 14.10%
2018-19 with Portland 81 27 33.33%

The Blazers coaching staff is committed to getting Turner closer to the basket, taking shots that he is more comfortable with. Unsurprisingly, his shooting percentage is up this season. This is making a huge difference in his impact.

That’s not the only big difference. Look at the change in Turner’s minutes playing alongside Damian Lillard and/or CJ McCollum from his first two years with Portland versus this season so far.

Evan Turner Minutes without Lillard or McCollum

Year Total # of Minutes Total # of Minutes without Lillard or McCollum % of minutes without Lillard or McCollum
Year Total # of Minutes Total # of Minutes without Lillard or McCollum % of minutes without Lillard or McCollum
2016-17 with Portland 1658 137 8.26%
2017-18 with Portland 2034 56 2.75%
2018-19 with Portland 243 124 51.03%

Turner played 8.26% of the time without Lillard or McCollum on the floor in 2016-17, and an astounding 2.75% of the time without either of the two stars in 2017-18. In two seasons he totaled 193 minutes without Lillard or McCollum present. In 10 games this season he has already played 124 minutes without them.

It seems to me that the coaching staff wants to make sure that when Turner is in the game he has the ball in his hands. Lillard or McCollum will always handle the ball more then Turner, forcing Turner off the ball and likely into spot up three-point shots. That’s not his strong suit. In order to maximize Turner’s abilities (and to give Lillard and McCollum a little rest) the coaching staff is putting more trust in Turner’s play-making ability.

The Blazers have only played 10 games this season; the sample size is small. As the season progresses and the games get more intense, Lillard and McCollum may play more minutes. Even so, with the success the bench has had, the Blazers must see the value in putting Turner in spots to be successful.