The Indiana Pacers are relying on sophomore center Myles Turner to carry the team into the upper echelon in the Eastern Conference, a task he is prepared for heading into the start of the regular season.
For the first time in the preseason, the Indiana Pacers trotted out their entire starting lineup and the most impressive performance came from Myles Turner.
Indiana has completely revamped the team that finished seventh in the Eastern Conference last season, bringing Thaddeus Young and Jeff Teague into the starting lineup, adding Al Jefferson as a backup center and appointing assistant Nate McMillan as head coach.
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For the Pacers to carry out the mandate from the front office to play with a more up-tempo offense, the success of the team ultimately hinges on the development of Turner, the 11th overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft who is expected to start at center after spending a majority of his rookie season at power forward.
The switch to the center position is going to be a challenge for Turner, but the organization believes he is ready for the task.
“He will be in the starting five, really battling defensively, really guarding the paint like a five is what he needs to do,” McMillan said prior to Friday night’s game in Orlando. “What that really takes is to be more physical, growing into his body and being able to take that pounding. He has to go through that.”
The 20-year-old missed the first two games of the preseason after entering the league’s concussion protocol for an injury sustained in training camp.
Turner was forced to spend several days trying to sleep off the symptoms from the injury, resulting in the loss of valuable practice time with his new teammates.
As he enters his second season in the league, Turner is well aware of the assignment he has received from the team, anchoring the paint and continually polishing his game.
“I have high expectations for myself. I know I’m not a rookie anymore, so I need to come in here with the attitude that every day, I’m going to improve,” Turner said. “I can really help this team going forward, I’m going to do whatever I have to do to make that possible.”
In his third appearance of the preseason, Turner lived up to the lofty goals he set for himself during a 114-106 loss to the Magic.
Turner finished the night with a team-high 17 points on 7-for-15 shooting from the field, including a three-pointer.
Along with his impressive scoring performance, Turner posted six rebounds, three blocks, a steal, an assist and the play of the night, as he threw down a vicious jam on Magic center Bismack Biyombo.
“It’s funny because that was his matchup last postseason, so he got a little revenge on that dunk. It’s a big boy play,” George said. “He’s growing up, he’s getting stronger, there’s going to be a lot more of that for us this year.”
In his first playoff series against Toronto, Turner rejected 23 shots in seven games, with his 3.3 blocks a night leading all postseason performers. Indiana is expecting Turner to help anchor the paint, after ranking 20th in the league in blocks per game at 1.4 a night.
The team is well aware that Turner needs to anchor the paint on both ends of the floor for the team to be successful.
“Now with him at the five, with as much as he wants to be on the perimeter, he has to be down on the block as well, that is the biggest difference we need from him now,” George said. “He has to be playing around the basket.”
One more preseason game remains for the Pacers, as the team travels to Milwaukee to face the Bucks on Wednesday evening.
Turner is hoping to use the contest as an opportunity to continue to jell with his new teammates.
“We’ve got a lot of guys on this team that can make plays and the starting unit can make plays, we just have to trust each other,” Turner said. “Today was our first time playing together, we are trying to establish and trust and establish that chemistry. I think we are going to be fine, this is a very talented group.”