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Evan Turner’s Impact on the Trail Blazers Second Unit

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Turner was a near-celebrity, resurrecting Portland’s bench at the beginning of the season. What’s changed since?

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday we ran a Mailbag on Portland Trail Blazers reserves Rodney Hood and Enes Kanter, formatted in “true/false” style. We asked for other true/false queries and you responded with several in the comment section and via email. We’ll work through them in the next week. Today we’re going to take up one of the more interesting submissions, regarding Evan Turner and his captaincy of the Trail Blazers second unit.

True or False:

The second unit runs better with ET handling the ball.

LeftCoaster25

Better, in the aggregate, but there’s a footnote here. Turner was fantastic managing Portland’s second unit at the beginning of the year. His shooting percentage was good; his assist rate was great. He scored and players scored around him.

Unfortunately, Turner went down with a knee injury at the end of February. He’s only been active in 5 of Portland’s last 12 games. The injury coincided almost exactly with Enes Kanter suiting up for the Blazers.

We don’t have a ton of data on the two of them playing together, but common sense says Kanter will impact Turner negatively. The Turner System worked because Evan got to handle the ball mid-range and in, setting up the threat of a close shot attempt against a single defender, then looking for the bevy of three-point shooters surrounding him. Kanter operates right in Turner’s territory. Even if they use different sides of the floor, two defenders live in the middle when Kanter and Turner play together, not just one. Turner’s scoring threat becomes less believable, his targets for passes fewer. When Kanter has the ball, Turner becomes one of the perimeter threats. That’s not good.

Turner’s post-Kanter numbers are polluted by injury and small sample size, but the early outlook isn’t positive. In the Kanter era:

  • Turner’s minutes have dropped from 23.3 per game to 13.3
  • His field goal attempts are down from 6.8 to 2.0
  • His field goal percentage has dropped from .460 to .200
  • His True Shooting Percentage has dropped from .498 to .255
  • His rebounding and assists per minute remain relatively level. His assist percentage (percentage of team assists he recorded) is down.
  • His Usage Rate (percentage of possessions taken) is down from 16.5% to 11.1%

Granted, this speaks more about how Turner is playing than how the second unit is playing with him, but Turner’s second-unit captaincy works not because he’s a natural point guard, but because he’s both a hub and a threat on offense. Neither one of those things has been true since Kanter arrived and—even admitting the possibility of good nights—I don’t look for them to rebound soon.

One more reminder: injury, small sample size, and Kanter won’t remain with the team past the post-season unless something drastic happens. The last three weeks are not the gospel truth on Turner’s tenure, past or future. I’m just not sure he finds that early-season magic with a big guy who likes to handle the ball lumbering around in the lane alongside him.

Keep those Mailbag questions coming, true/false or otherwise, to blazersub@gmail.com!

—Dave / @davedeckard / @blazersedge / blazersub@gmail.com