Myles Turner Vs. the Filthy Casuals

One of the problems with social media is it gives an equal forum to experts and idiots, watering down the discussion and often drowning out nuanced discussion with the bleating of Orwellian sheep.

And while the first thing one might immediately think of is politics and “the death of democracy” (how’s that for irony when the idea is to give everyone a voice?), sports suffer from it far more insidiously.

Take Myles Turner for example. The Indiana Pacers standout is averaging 12.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.1 assists in 31.1 minutes per game, causing a certain subset of Pacers Twitter to lose its collective mind about how Turner “does nothing for us, trade him, Domantas Sabonis is better anyway,” and from the occasional lover of the new, “start Goga Bitadze at the 5 instead!”

This is slander, and it needs to stop.

For one thing, if you read Pace and Space even semi-regularly, you know how I feel about using counting stats to evaluate a player. In no way whatsoever should the box score ever be used to evaluate a player’s overall contribution independent of his role on the team.

Yes, Turner’s averaging barely 12 a game and his six rebounds might bring to mind Roy Hibbert, but with Sabonis in the starting lineup and Malcolm Brogdon providing the backcourt scoring impetus until Victor Oladipo comes back, where is Turner supposed to get the shots that would get him the what, 15 points? 20? How many do you want from him when there’s only one ball and Turner’s only taking 9.8 shots a game?

Plus, have you noticed where Turner’s shots are coming from? He’s hitting fully 40 percent of his 3-pointers and posting a 3PAR of .424 out there. We’re finally getting the Efficient Stretch 5 Myles that smart fans have always wanted him to be.

And that’s in Nate McMillan‘s Dark Ages offense. Ask Bojan Bogdanovic what happens when a natural wing shooter gets onto a team that actually understands that 3 is more than 2. Or ask Brook Lopez in Milwaukee, who is averaging 5.1 threes a game (and, oh by the way, only hitting 28.9 percent of them like he’s Charles Barkley. Turner is shooting FORTY FRIGGIN’ PERCENT.)

But you know what? We could talk all day about Turner’s role in the offense and get nowhere. What filthy casuals truly don’t understand unless they’re chanting robotically in the arena when the other team has the ball is…

DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE!

Part of the problem with truly understanding pro basketball is that we have offensive counting stats that go all the way back to the start of the league.

In the very first Basketball Association of America game in 1946, it would’ve been possible to get a triple-double. Nobody did, but points, rebounds, and assists are the oldest box score stats. All of them are offensive in nature.

It wasn’t until 1973 that some bright spark got the idea to count steals and blocks, and for the first time, we had defensive statistics. That was the same year, incidentally, that offensive and defensive rebounds got split out in the box score as well.

Unfortunately, then as now, those defensive stats have no bearing at all on team-concept basketball. Gambling for a steal is a good way to get blown by and scored on if you don’t come up with the ball. And going for a block is good if you swat it into the third row, fantastic if you tip it to a teammate for a fast break the other way…and worthless if you whiff on the swat and find yourself out of position for the defensive rebound.

You have to look beyond the box score to the way a player’s presence on the floor as part of a team defense impacts the way the other team has to change its outlook as far as getting the ball into the basket goes.

This is where Myles Turner becomes the most underrated player in the NBA.

For starters, let’s consider what few decent defensive stats we’ve got in the Basketball Reference era.

Turner had a 4.7 Defensive Box Plus-Minus in 2018-19, third in the league behind Rudy Gobert and Giannis Antetokounmpo. He’s at 3.1 this year, tied with Kris Dunn for 20th, and not bad considering he’s been battling injury so far this season.

Is it all sunshine and rainbows for Turner? Well, no. His defensive advanced stats have certainly slipped from last season, and finding his role with Sabonis on the floor has involved some growing pains.

And yes, Sabonis is, from the point of view of scoring enough points to win the basketball game, more valuable and has a better on/off Net Rating split to go with it. Nobody’s arguing that the big Lithuanian hasn’t emerged as a legit All-Star candidate (dude had the same WS/48 as Karl-Anthony Towns and Kyrie Irving last year, fercrissakes.)

But in a world where affordable contracts for solid starters are practically a pipe dream, there’s Turner making $18 million a year to be a legit All-Defensive candidate, his lack of need for the ball on offense allowing Brogdon and Sabonis to shine, and just generally being the perfect teammate and provider of defensive highlights. What more could you possibly want?

“But he’s only scoring 12.2 a game.” Just shut up. The Pacers are a greater-than-the-sum-of-their-parts team, and Myles Turner is a huge part of the reason why.