Over the course of this season, we’ve learned some things about Myles Turner, and they’re not necessarily the lessons we’d hoped to learn watching him navigate his first two seasons in the league.
In particular, the belief that his ceiling was “rich man’s Hassan Whiteside” may have been a bit overly optimistic. Turner, unlike Whiteside, is a terrible rebounder, and he’s so afraid of contact that you’d think he was shooting 30 percent from the free throw line and not 77.8 for his career.
Instead, his ceiling is more “Roy Hibbert with a jump shot.”
The Pacers are 9-7 when Turner misses the game; they are 17-15 when he starts and 2-1 when he plays off the bench.
Put another way, they’re 11-8 with Domantas Sabonis as the starter, the difference over 82 games between 47-35 and 43-39.
Which, OK, four games, that’s not catastrophic; it’s not like they’re starting Lance Stephenson over Victor Oladipo unless Vic gets hurt (it’s worth noting that they’re 28-18 with Vic in the lineup, a 50-32 pace, and they lost all five games without him.)
This does, however, leave a more interesting question out there…namely, should Turner even be starting? And what’s the Pacers lineup going to look like once they get Glenn Robinson III back?
You could see them going for a lineup that includes Darren Collison, Oladipo, Robinson, Thaddeus Young, and Sabonis starting, then bringing Turner, Bojan Bogdanovic, Lance, and whatever they can fish out of the G-League off the bench.
In terms of depth, it actually makes more sense.
Consider that Bogdanovic has made a career out of feasting on second-unit competition; he put up the best per-minute and per-possession numbers of his career off the bench in Washington last year after consistently being a negative-VORP player in Brooklyn.
After a red-hot start, Bogie is down badly to a 12.2 PER, .077 WS/48, and negative Box Plus/Minus; sure, his VORP is positive for the first time since his rookie year, when his role was mainly off the bench for the Nets, but he’s still one of the worst starters among any NBA team with playoff aspirations. Too much more of that and he’ll regress all the way back to the below-replacement guy he was in Brooklyn.
GR3, meanwhile, isn’t exactly a darling of the advanced stats either (with an 11.2 PER last season, but with better numbers otherwise than Bogdanovic put up, plus Robinson is a far better defender), but he’s a plus guy compared to the boys in Fort Wayne.
Turner looks to have the same shape to his career so far. His 22-point, 8-of-11 shooting night in the win over Charlotte Monday was one of the best performances he’s had all season as he’s battled injury.
Dwight Howard would eat Turner’s lunch; Frank Kaminsky couldn’t do a thing against Turner. You put Myles in against the enemy’s reserves, he’s going to play up to his best level rather than getting bullied on the boards the way Hibbert used to.
Sabonis had 10 rebounds in 27 minutes against Howard. Turner had four in 21 minutes against Kaminsky. You see the problem.
But perhaps more important than any of this is just how important it is for Indiana to be able to match up not just with the starters in the game but with the second unit in that same situation. The team tends to struggle when Oladipo sits, but if you put Bogdanovic and Turner on the second unit next to Lance and Cory Joseph and someone like T.J. Leaf or Alex Poythress, good things are going to happen.
The only wild card in all of this is the effect on Turner’s ego. Is he OK with being the sixth man, or will losing his starting job to Sabonis only hasten his departure when his rookie contract is up after the 2018-19 season?
And if so…well, the last time the Pacers couldn’t keep a free agent, they got an All-Star and an emerging star out of it. What do they get for Myles Turner?