Though the Portland Trail Blazers are stocked with talented, occasionally frustrating players, atop the heap sits the biggest lightning rod of all for Blazers fans: Evan Turner. His massive free agent deal in the Summer of 2016 evoked immediate questions regarding not only the dollar amount, but his fit on Portland’s roster in general.
Turner has certainly experienced his share of struggles over the last year and a half, trying to find a way to integrate himself into Portland’s offense without dragging it to a halt. But those have eased momentarily as he has figured out how to play within the Blazers system since the turn of the year. In the 15 games since January 1, Turner is averaging 10 points per game on 51 percent shooting. No month-long performance can come close to justifying the size of his contract, but Turner is quietly defining a role by doing a few things well and sticking to them.
Here are three ways in which Evan Turner contributed positively to the Trail Blazers in the month of January.
Generating Offense Out of the Post
While Turner has always been a solid post player, he has taken his game up a notch down low. He ranks in the 81st percentile league-wide in the post this season, averaging 1.013 points per possession, predominately via his turnaround jumper. While this is actually slightly down from his post performance last season, he’s handling the ball in this play type nearly twice as often: 15.7 percent of all plays, versus just over 9 percent of the time last season. He’s getting more shots in areas from which he excels, limiting situations in which he struggles.
Turner is nearly equally effective on both sides of the block. When his passing out of the post is taken into account, his ranking jumps to the 86th percentile. Turner is doing a great job finding cutters and spot up shooters when he’s not getting his own look. Obviously CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard parked at the 3-point line are the main beneficiaries here. But Turner has also had luck finding Jusuf Nurkic rolling to the rim when defenders’ heads are turned.
Running the Pick and Roll
Turner’s efficiency as the “point-forward” ball handler in the pick and roll has jumped this season. He was rated as an average ball-handler last season, ranking in the 58th percentile. This season, he has jumped to the 73rd percentile. He looks more effective when he works his defender directly into the pick, as opposed to allowing the defender to get over or under the screen.
The data backs this assumption up, as Turner scores nearly 1.3 points per possession when his defender is effectively screened. Last year, that number was 0.8. With his ability to work his way in to the paint, Turner also excels when defenders jump the pick and roll. Unsurprisingly, he still struggles when defenders move under the screen, considering his sub-par career three-point shooting percentage.
Hold on, though...
Sticking the Long Ball (For Now)
Since the new year, Turner is shooting 43 percent from the 3-point arc. While this percentage isn’t likely to last, hitting anywhere around 35 percent makes Turner a completely different asset within head coach Terry Stotts’ offense. While he’s still taking fewer than two long attempts per game since January 1, his hot run of distance shooting has opened up everything else in Turners’ game.
It remains to be seen how much of Turner’s run is sustainable, especially the long-range shooting. His stiff-arm shooting form looks similar previous seasons; that hasn’t turned out well. For now, though, Turner has quietly increased his overall effectiveness. Observers will still dog Turner for his contract and his occasional habit of pounding the air out of the ball (both valid concerns), but his cerebral approach may be mitigating those concerns for now. It took more than a year, but maybe E.T. has finally found his role on this team.