All the talk has centered around Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis and Karl-Anthony Towns, but Indiana Pacers big man Myles Turner is lurking just behind them.
This season has seen the renaissance of the big man. Even among the historic three-point shooting of teams like the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets, a few young 7-footers are showing they can adapt to the modern game and still be as dominant as centers in the past. One of them has been the Indiana Pacers‘ second-year center, Myles Turner.
Thanks to their shooting touch, defensive abilities and varied all-around game for players their size, their futures are almost limitless. They even have fans of their long-suffering franchises excited in the midst of underwhelming seasons.
But, Myles Turner has quietly had a strong second year in the NBA not far behind his peers. He has had about as discreet a season a 20-year-old averaging 15.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks can have. Maybe it’s due to him being in Indiana on a mediocre Eastern Conference team.
Or it could be the constant stream of triple-doubles, 50-point games and other daring feats by his peers every night. Regardless, Turner is under the radar.
Myles Turner first began to draw attention playing high school ball in Texas. Many recruiting sites evaluated him as the second-best big man prospect, behind only Okafor. He stayed close to home, committing to the University of Texas.
His numbers there (10.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks) were good enough to win Big 12 Freshman of the Year. Still, he didn’t exactly look like the athletic, shooting big everyone expected to blow through the conference.
It didn’t help that his only year in Austin was also head coach Rick Barnes’ last. The Longhorns dragged themselves into the NCAA Tournament before losing in the first round.
Still, it was clear that Barnes, a stellar recruiter who never could turn all of his talented players into a contender, was on his way out. Maybe Turner was negatively impacted by Barnes, much like others before who became legit NBA starters after moderately underwhelming Texas careers.
Whatever the case, Turner entered the draft, opting not to see what new coach Shaka Smart would bring.
So far, that decision has been a success. Although Turner could’ve eviscerated the Big 12 in his sophomore season, he’s steadily improved since being drafted 11th overall by the Pacers. That 2015 NBA draft could go down in history for some of its big men.
Towns went No. 1, Jahlil Okafor at No. 3, Porzingis at No. 4 and Willie Cauley-Stein at No. 6. Even Frank Kaminsky was drafted two spots ahead of Turner. Now, with passing time, Turner is looking to be even better of a pick in the late lottery.
Turner’s rookie season was typical for a teenage big man in the NBA. His averages of 10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in a little over 22 minutes per game were inspiring. They could’ve been a bit higher if not for a slow start to the season.
An injury also cost him most of November and December.
He contributed in the playoffs, too. The Pacers faced the Toronto Raptors in a difficult, seven-game series. Turner started four games, increased his blocks to 3.3 and showed the team he was ready to start in the coming season.
Not bad for someone who only turned 20 in the latter months of the season.
Still, even with his play noticeably improving, Towns and Porzingis continued to overshadow him. Turner got an All-Rookie second team nod, while four—YES, FOUR—big men got first team honors: Towns, Porzingis, Okafor and the Denver Nuggets‘ Nikola Jokic.
In the previous two seasons, a big man got a first team nod just twice. Turner’s clearly come into the league with some serious competition at his position.
This season, as Towns, Porzingis and Embiid have enthralled the league, Turner has developed and become a viable starter for a Pacers team currently in the playoffs, something the others can’t say.
Although there’s a good chunk left, Turner could continue to widen one of the few advantages he has over his peers: playoff experience. It’s a little easy to understate it, but playing high-pressure basketball in those situations should help Turner improve mentally and diversify his overall game.
Turner’s second-year numbers are impressive as well, with averages of 15.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. He sports a 19.37 PER, way behind Towns, Embiid and Jokic, but actually ahead of Porzingis. He’s also a good foul shooter, hitting better than 79 percent from the stripe.
The blocks are most impressive and currently place Turner third in the NBA, only behind defensive stalwarts Rudy Gobert and Anthony Davis. According to basketball-reference.com, he’s second in the league in block percentage (6.0), behind Gobert.
At the bare minimum, the Pacers have found a player sure to be one of the best defensive big men in the ensuing decade. He’s long and athletic, but still has good size. As he plays more and more, there’s no telling what kind of ceiling he has on the defensive end.
The defense is right on track. But, for Turner to really craft himself into a franchise cornerstone, he needs to continue to vary his offensive game. He’s taking and making more threes than he did last year (0.6 per game on 36.8 percent shooting).
If he can bump his attempts up just a few more times a game while maintaining that efficiency, Turner becomes that much more of a threat. He’s already shooting a solid 52.1 percent from the field.
Unsurprisingly, the Pacers’ best stretch of the season came in January, coinciding with Turner’s best month as a pro. The team went 9-4, as he averaged 17.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks on 54.7 percent shooting. Those are potential young NBA stud numbers.
He quickly cooled off the in the ensuing month and hasn’t yet shown a consistent ability to rebound. It’s way too early to definitively say Turner’s a Brook Lopez kind of rebounder for his size. It isn’t that bad, but he needs to start making strides in that area.
This summer will be a big one for Turner. The Pacers will surely entertain numerous trade offers for Paul George. George has been “the guy” in Indiana for a while now. He’s seen the team screw up its best chance at title contention and now might be time for a rebuild.
If George does leave, then this becomes Turner’s team, along with whatever young guys the Pacers are able to get in return. Would Turner be ready to take on such a load in only his third year?
It remains to be seen. Unfortunately for Turner, he might be coming into the league at an intimidating time. Big men around him are quickly responding to the league’s changes and beginning to revolutionize the game in their own way.
Just a few seasons ago, it appeared like small ball was speeding by big men.
Now? There’s an influx of impressive big men, and not just ones who can defend, rebound and dunk, but players who completely alter a game with stretch shooting, multi-positional defending and high basketball IQ.
The Pacers have a pretty sure thing in Turner, but it’s hard not to look around at all the other shiny, new toys.
What this season has at least established is that the Pacers have found themselves a legitimate future defensive star. And he does have the athleticism, size and innate talent to become something so much more.