Turner’s career-best rebounding percentage came in his rookie year, as he pulled down just 13.3 percent of the available rebounds coming off the boards. Those are small forward numbers.
And his continued decline in that stat risked turning him into the worst kind of defensive center, the guy who gambles for the block and if he doesn’t get it, he gets scored on when the other team’s guy either makes the shot or gets an easy putback after an offensive rebound.
Turner’s not a good enough positional defender to take away the paint and force field goal percentages at the rim down the way Hibbert, who was never much of a shot blocker, forced the ball back outside, often into the midrange. Nor does he have the offensive touch that Smits always had as the inside end of the inside-out game the Pacers ran with Smits and Reggie Miller back in the 1990s.
So what Indiana was left with was a one-dimensional shotblocker until such time as Turner either learned to shoot threes and become a stretch 4 or stretch 5 (depending on whether he’d be sharing minutes with Domantas Sabonis) or a guy who simply isn’t as good as his reputation.
Then Ponytail Myles happened.
Turner grew one, and somehow it affected his whole attitude on the boards.
Turner, as Christmas break comes and goes, is working on a streak of four straight double-doubles, and since Thanksgiving, Turner has eight double-doubles (and nine double-figure rebounding games) in a 15-game stretch (Turner missed the loss to San Antonio on Black Friday.)
And in those 15 games, the Pacers are 11-4, with three of those losses coming by a combined five points and every single one of the wins by five points or more.
Indiana’s overall point differential since November 26? Almost nine points a game to the good. Over an 82-game season, a team with the Pacers’ +8.93 differential would be expected to win 65 games.
Turner’s overall rebounding percentage for the season, even as he didn’t have his first double-digit rebound game until November 17, is up to 14.6 and 22.5 on the defensive end.
Those still aren’t great center numbers (Sabonis is at 21.7/31.0 total/defensive rebounding and Kyle O’Quinn is putting up a 20.4/27.3), but Turner is no longer one of the worst rebounders for his size in the league.
It’s having serious follow-on effects for Turner’s other advanced stats too. He’s the same offensive player he’s always been (he’s almost bang-on his career averages in offensive counting and advanced stats), but he’s third in the league in Defensive Rating, fourth in Defensive Win Shares, and second in Defensive Box Plus-Minus, a no-doubt-about-it All-Defense selection and a solid choice for Defensive Player of the Year as anchor of the best defense in the entire league.
Oh, and he’s blocking 9.24 percent of shots attempted against him, which is absolutely insane and is the eighth-highest single-season mark in that stat (and fourth by anyone not named Manute Bol) in the history of the league, so it’s not like he’s forgotten how to protect the rim via the most direct means possible.
Turner just pulled down 17 rebounds in a game against the Wizards on Festivus. If he keeps up that rebounding clip and becomes a nightly double-double machine, the Pacers are going to be a legitimate candidate for the NBA Finals out of the East.
All Pacers fans could possibly have wanted for Christmas is right there under the playoff tree.