Portland Trail Blazers wing Evan Turner stands at the center of a raging debate in NBA media circles, whether his presence is a net plus or minus for his team given his production and contract. The whirlwind has swept up salary cap figures, advanced stats, and arguments about team chemistry. At the eye of the storm stand two articles, published on consecutive days, debating Turner’s worth.
The first salvo came from Turner himself, in a piece from Jason Quick of NBCSports Northwest. In an extensive write-up, Quick allowed Turner to vent his frustration with “hecklers and naysayers” who lament his four-year contract at $17.5 million per.
“First off, let me say one thing: Everything I have done, I have earned,’’ Turner said. “My contract – that’s my bread, and I earned my bread. So, kiss my ass. Dead serious. Write that. I earned that (expletive) money.’’
Quick went on to quote Turner’s teammates, including Maurice Harkless...
“He doesn’t get enough credit, but we know what he does, and that’s all that matters,’’ Maurice Harkless said motioning around the locker room.
...and Shabazz Napier:
“I can talk all day about him. Not a lot of people understand the value he has for this team. And they don’t understand because he is not a conventional player,’’ Napier said. “But he is our best post-offense player. Defensively he is able to guard Kevin Durant, then switch and guard Steph Curry or Klay Thompson. But it’s also his leadership skills, and his charisma, his camaraderie – the things people don’t see. They are the things that make up ET. And it’s those things that make him a great player to us.’’
Quick himself pointed out the high points of Turner’s season.
His defense was instrumental late in Friday’s win over Golden State, when got up-close-and-personal while forcing misses from Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Earlier in the week, against Oklahoma City, he had 17 points – which included three three-pointers – to fuel the season-series clinching win. And in an important victory against Minnesota, he had a team-high six assists and zero turnovers.
Against that backdrop, in direct response to Quick’s article, came a piece from Matt Moore of The Action Network, taking a contrarian view. While Moore was quick to acknowledge that every player is entitled to the best contract they can negotiate and should not be questioned or faulted for signing same, he offered a measured approach to Turner’s value.
Last season, Turner had one of the worst raw plus-minus stats in the entire league. The Blazers were outscored by 180 points with Turner on the floor in 2016-17. Plus-minus is a tricky stat that often doesn’t reflect a player’s performance, but it does honestly reveal the team’s performance when that player is on the floor.
And the Blazer’s performance with Turner on the court last year was garbage.
Nor was the criticism simply historical.
Turner has been better this year. The eye test backs that up. And yet, still, the Blazers, despite being currently the 3-seed and 14 games over .500, have been outscored with Turner on the floor by 13 points this season...
And in that regard, it’s notable that while the Blazers’ net rating with Lillard-McCollum-Turner is in the black, at +2.3, they are even better when Turner is not on the floor at +4.9 per 100 possessions.
After illustrating how the trends have held even during Portland’s impressive win streak, Moore went all-in:
It’s also hard to pinpoint areas of strength with him. That playmaking factor the Blazers like to cite? The Blazers’ assist percentage goes up by 3 percentage points with Turner on the bench.
The offense gets better statistically, the defense gets better statistically, the shooting gets better statistically. Points in the paint allowed and created, points off turnovers allowed and created, fastbreak points allowed and created — all of these metrics improve without Turner.
Though Portland analysts have debated this issue since the Blazers signed Turner in 2016, this is the first time it’s overflowed into national prominence...ironically aided by the recent success of the team as a whole. The different approaches—patriotic versus numeric, exclusive insiders versus inquisitive observers—add interest to the proceedings.
So what say you? Do you deem Evan Turner’s signing and tenure a success or not, based on the evidence and progress so far? If you could go back to the Summer of ‘16, would you give a thumbs up to the deal or would you be crying out in Cassandra-like fashion, urging the Blazers to take another route? Solve the conundrum in the comments.