Evan Turner, With No Pressure of Being the No. 2 Pick and No. 1 Option, Will Thrive in Indiana

By Jason McIntyre

Evan Turner, the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft, is headed from one of the worst teams in the league, Philadelphia, to one of the best, Indiana. The 76ers dealt Turner – a restricted free agent they had no interest in retaining – and forward Lavoy Allen to Indiana for free agent-to-be Danny Granger. I think it’s a fantastic deal for both teams. The 76ers will let Granger walk after the season, freeing up more cap room for Daryl Morey disciple Sam Hinkie. Also, the 76ers will have two lottery picks (barring craziness in New Orleans) and anywhere from 7-10 second round picks.

Why do I love Turner for the Pacers? For starters, he’s a substantial upgrade at both ends over Granger, who five years ago was one of the best scoring forwards in the league (25.8 ppg in 2008-2009), but now is 30-years old and really struggling coming off the injury (35 percent FGs, 33 percent three-pointers in 29 games). It used to be his team, and now it belongs to Paul George and Roy Hibbert. Granger will probably sign with a contender next season.

This deal’s all about Turner, 25, who has become a polarizing player in this his 4th year in the league. Turner was an incredible talent at Ohio State for his final two seasons, and as a junior, was the best player in the country, basically winning every major National award. But he never lived up to the hype of being the No. 2 pick in Philly, which is part of the reason so many people seem to hate this trade. It didn’t help that the 76ers drafted a small forward … when their best player (Andre Iguodala) played the same position. The Philadelphia media relentlessly hammered Turner throughout his tenure, and apparently, he let it get to him.

In 2011, Iguodala delivered a forearm shiver to Turner and afterward told the media, Turner should “play his game and stop listening to everybody’s criticisms.” In 2011-2012, Turner was a valuable reserve off the bench and the 76ers got lucky in the playoffs, beating the Bulls after Derrick Rose suffered an injury, and then pushed the Celtics to seven games in the second round.

Perhaps the biggest knock on Turner is that he never developed a reliable 3-point shot. Here’s his shot chart from this season, via Kirk Goldsberry:

Nice mid-range game (he’s very good from 10-14 feet), terrible from deep. But here’s why I put no stock in this year’s stats – his 17.4 ppg or his below-average 13.3 PER: He was playing on a rebuilding, last-place team with a rookie point guard, spare parts everywhere, and the sword of Damocles over his head for the first 50 games. He knew he was going to get traded. Inevitably, on a bad team, somebody had to score.

The good news is that in Indiana, there will be no pressure on Turner. He’ll come off the bench. He won’t be a 1st, 2nd or 3rd option at the offensive end. What he’ll do is back-up Paul George at SF. Or he’ll back-up Lance Stephenson at SG. If pressed, he probably could give the Pacers some minutes at point guard. I think his focus will be at the defensive end, where he gives the 76ers another body to throw at LeBron in the Eastern Conference Finals, keeping Paul George fresh for the 4th quarter.

I think this is an excellent move for Indiana. I’ve seen Turner’s “inflated” stats this year, and am aware of the unimpressive PER. Between unquantifiable things such as “pressure’s off” and going from #1 option to role player, plus Larry Bird’s recent excellent history of moves – drafting George, Hibbert and Stephenson; trading for George Hill; signing David West – I’d say the Pacers are in about as good shape as possible to dethrone the Heat in the East. The NBA hasn’t seen anywhere near the best of Evan Turner.