by Fox Doucette
Myles Turner is in his third season in the league, and he’s played 180 games now. The day looms large where the Pacers will have to decide in free agency whether he’s essential to the franchise future; his rookie deal, which pays him $2.57 million this year and $3.41 million next year, is up in 2019.
Likewise, he’s ranging out beyond the arc and shooting slightly below league average. He thinks he’s Dirk Nowitzki out there, but Nowitzki is a wing forward; Turner is more of a stretch 5 who can’t run a good low post inside-out game.
But let’s let the numbers do their job. Everything said so far is “eye test”, and you know how we feel about the eye test around here. The question we’re trying to answer is…
Is Myles Turner the quality NBA starter that Indiana’s roster-building suggests they think he is?
We’re not asking if he’s an All-Star. If he’s a plus player, he gets the coveted Confirmed plate. If he’s a career backup, or even Indiana’s sixth man, this one is Busted because he’ll walk in free agency to a team that pays him starter money. Are we clear?
Good, let’s go.
Turner is, in 39 games this year, averaging 13.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.1 blocked shots. He is shooting 49.1 percent from the field, 35.1 from three, and 75 percent from the line; his eFG% (to allow for the increased number of three-point attempts) is .534, and yes, effective FG% is a counting stat, the simplest adjustment in sports.
Last year? 14.5/7.3/2.1 points/rebounds/blocks, a 51.1/34.8/80.9 shooting line (with an identical .534 eFG%).
On a per-minute basis, since Turner’s played more off the bench due to injury and due to the presence of Domantas Sabonis and therefore averages 28.2 minutes against 31.4 last year, Turner’s scoring and shotblocking is up while his rebounding is flat.
Still, 8.3 rebounds per 36 minutes? Whiteside, this year, is at 16.7 per 36, in 36 games—like Turner, he’s missed time due to injury.
Hibbert, the Lead Standard? He averaged 9.4 during his career in Indiana, a 7-2 center who couldn’t hit the boards and who still had a better nose for the ball inside than Turner does.
Turner, 2017-18, VORP adjusted to per-82-games: 17.6 PER, .118 WS/48, 0.8 BPM, 1.68 VORP.
Turner, 2016-17, VORP over 81 games: 18.5 PER, .151 WS/48, 2.4 BPM, 2.8 VORP.
Likewise, with Sabonis around, the Pacers are still better when Turner’s in there than when he isn’t (a plus-1.2 Net Rating on/off split), but last year, Turner’s number in the same stat was plus-8.2. (Sabonis, for the record, is at plus-2.4.)
Which…wait a minute…
Domantas Sabonis is Better, Isn’t He?
Sabonis, counting stats, per game: 12.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.5 blocks (Turner, for comparison, has 1.5 assists per game.)
Sabonis, counting stats, per 36: 17.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 0.7 blocks. Also, his shooting percentages, 53.8/33.3/72.9, for an eFG% of .547, make him not just a more efficient shooter but also a more distinctly inside-game guy with a better-defined role that the Pacers can build a more traditional four-out offense around with their good wing shooting.
This is especially important for a guy like Bojan Bogdanovic, whose wing play is only as good as whoever’s setting up his corner threes, and Sabonis is both a better floor spacer and a better passer than Turner.
Sabonis, advanced stats: 18.7 PER, .136 WS/48, 0.3 BPM, 1.23 adjusted VORP. This is much more of a fair fight for Turner, as he’s better in two of the four stats but worse in the other two.
Still, Sabonis is in only his second year, and he wasn’t nearly as hyped as Turner was.
And All That Other Stuff
Turner is injury-prone. He’s missed 39 of the team’s 219 games since he came into the league, playing in only 60 games in 2015-16 and missing 16 games so far this year.
His True Shooting clocks in at .574 compared to Sabonis’ .586, he actually pulls down fewer rebounds out of the available total than does Lance Stephenson (Turner REB%: 13.1, Lance: 13.5), and he has shown no improvement whatsoever in his positioning or ability to box out; he goes for blocks (and, to be fair, leads the league in block percentage), but in doing so, he sacrifices position on rebounds.
It might not be fair to call Myles Turner “Roy Hibbert 2.0”; Turner is a massively better offensive player than Hibbert ever was.
But at the same time, he is only the second-best center on the Pacers, and remember the question we asked at the top of the show here.
Pacers fans calling for the team to focus on developing Sabonis as the starter are on to something, and that means this one is Busted. Myles Turner will be worth more as offseason trade fodder than he is at a post-rookie-deal cap number.