Where does Evan Turner fit in on the Boston Celtics?
Evan Turner has done his best job of impersonating Rajon Rondo since Rondo sought greener pastures in Dallas. While I wish that I was referring to the level of Turner's play, I'm actually just talking about the divided nature of the pro and anti-Turner crowds. Over the last few weeks, a discussion has erupted between Celtics blog writers over the pros and cons of Evan Turner getting extended minutes in the Celtics rotation. Bill Sy and I decided to come together to discuss why each side of the line feels so strongly about there opinion. I'm of the opinion that Evan Turner isn't a great fit for the Celtics long term while Bill Sy makes the compelling argument that he could be.
Daniel Hebert: The main problem I have with Turner is that I don't think he fits into the present or the future. His on/off numbers suggest that the Celtics are outscored by 5.0 per 100 possessions with him on the floor compared to outscoring their opponent by 1.6 points when he is on the bench. Plus he is already 26 years old, and I just do not see him becoming a much better player than he already is.
Bill Sy: Right now, everything is in flux. Until Danny makes his first substantial move, we can't exactly know what the future of this team is, but Turner's $6.7M 2-year contract is the perfect look-see deal for a team in a rebuild and a player with the all-around skills that made him the #2 pick in the draft.
Daniel Hebert: While I agree that the Celtics are certainly a roster in flux, I am not a fan of the fact that James Young has been relegated to an end of the bench role. As long as Turner is on the roster, Young's role will be marginalized. I understand that trading Teyshaun Prince and Marcus Thornton has opened up backup minutes at the 2 and 3, but Turner has been playing almost the entire first quarter of every game recently. This sort of rotation doesn't allow James Young to get the early minutes necessary to develop the sort of in-game rhythm that an offensive game like his requires.
Bill Sy: First of all, we need to put to rest that anybody--Turner, Crowder, etc.--are getting in the way of James Young's playing time. The fact of the matter is that Young isn't good enough. Stevens has said that when James Young starts outplaying teammates in practice, he'll find his way on the court. While I appreciate the need for young players to see floor time to gain experience and more importantly, confidence, Young at 19-years-old just isn't ready.
Turner is ready. His +/- numbers leave much to be desired, but the entire team runs at a -1.6 differential and of the rotation players, only Olynyk and Smart perform in the black.
Daniel Hebert: I understand that Stevens makes his young guys earn playing time with their play on the court, but I disagree that Turner and Crowder aren't getting in the way. His upside far exceeds that of any other wing player on the roster, and I believe that he needs to get extended minutes to get used to the speed of the game.
The eye test says that Young gives a concerted effort on the defensive end, but he just isn't used to the talent level that he ends up going against. The sooner that Turner starts to receive fewer minutes, the sooner Young will be able to adjust to playing NBA-level defense. At this point, I feel like we know what we are going to get out of Turner (and his past suggests that he is a fringe NBA player). Until Young is given an extended look, the Celtics won't have a clear picture of what his future holds.
Bill Sy: When discussing Evan Turner, let's throw out his early seasons with the Sixers. Doug Collins has admitted that Turner needs the ball in his hand to be effective, but with Jrue Holiday on the roster, he couldn't use him at point guard. In his final season in Philly under Brett Brown. he played much better as a ball handler in a free flowing offense. It's possible that even at 26, we still haven't seen Evan Turner at his best.
Second, I'd even argue that having a player of Turner's abilities aids in the development of his teammates. His size, handle, and mid-range game has made him the de facto playmaker on this roster until Smart takes the reigns (if he ever does). There really isn't another player that can break down a defense and get his own shot. Being able to draw that additional defender gets players like James Young and Marcus Smart better looks. He's not Rondo or Ty Lawson or John Wall. but right now, he's what we have.
Daniel Hebert: While Turner's ability to attack to basket are something that is severely lacking throughout the rest of the Celtics roster, I still don't think he makes his teammates better. The Celtics seem to move the ball a lot better when he isn't on the floor, and Marcus Smart becomes an afterthought when Turner is running the show. The eye test says that Smart plays a lot more aggressively when Turner is on the bench. While I am happy that Smart is finally getting the minutes he needs, not all developmental minutes are created equal.
Marcus Smart is the centerpiece of the Celtics rebuild, and we need him to develop as quickly as possible for the team to get back on track as quickly as possible. When Smart spends time on the floor with Turner, he has a tendency to defer to Turner to create offense. When he is allowed to run the offense himself, he looks a lot more comfortable. At Oklahoma State, Marcus Smart spent a ton of time with the ball in his hands, and it seems like that is when he is at his highest comfort level. I feel like the more time Smart spends on the floor without Turner, the quicker he will develop into the offense initiator that the Celtics desperately need.
Bill Sy: I don't think you're wrong when it comes to Smart's play when Turner is on the floor. Turner is much more aggressive with his dribble and yes, that means less ball movement, but it also means more penetration and kick outs to shooters. People give Turner a hard time because he's not great at anything, but decent at everything. Guys like Olynyk and Turner are maddening to fans, but they're players that thrive in Brad Stevens ' system.
I'm not completely sold on Smart being the centerpiece of the rebuild and even if he is, we still don't know if he's going to run the point. I'm not saying that Turner is the point guard of the future, but it's possible that Smart could be groomed as more of an off guard (especially since the Celtics landed Isaiah Thomas ).
Daniel Hebert: Now that Isaiah Thomas is in Boston, I'm afraid the combination of him and Turner will push Smart into even more of an off-the-ball role. While I am super excited about acquiring a scorer of Isaiah's caliber, he is another guy that loves to play with the ball in his hands. I actually like the fit of Thomas and Smart long-term. Neither is a guy who is going to go out and get you 10 assist per game, but between them we should have two guys that could develop into quite the playmaking pair.
Brad Stevens has a tough decision to make to decide who out of those three he wants to do the most initiating moving into the future. I would imagine that Turner continues to start at small forward (although he will still take point guard duties) with Isaiah Thomas continuing to come off of the bench. I don't love the idea of Smart spending a ton of time on the court with both Isaiah Thomas and Evan Turner because I fear he will defer way too much. It will be interesting to see how everything works out, but I think Evan Turner is even less of a fit with Isaiah Thomas in Boston.
Bill Sy: The Celtics are 8th in the league in touches per game and move the ball nearly as well as the Spurs and the Hawks. They're 10th in passes and 3rd in assists. Stevens' read-and-react offense gives everybody an opportunity to do something with the ball. Not considering who they have to match up with on the defensive end, it's positionless basketball.
The addition of Thomas will actually make Smart's (and everybody else's) role easier. Picture this: Turner (or Thomas) initiate the offense with a pick-and-roll and penetrate the paint. A big rotates to defend the rim, Smart's defender shades toward the key, and the ball swings to Smart with the defense compromised. To his credit, Smart has been working on his shot and it's showing, but he's also started to incorporate more driving back into his game. On a possession like this, he may not be the primary ball handler and point guard, but his point guard skills will come into play. You can't have enough of these types of players in this kind of offense. Don't worry about Smart's development.
Daniel Hebert: While I love the thought of Isaiah Thomas driving and kicking to Marcus Smart, I don't share that sentiment towards Evan Turner. Evan Turner is good at attacking the basket, but he just has too many live
ball turnovers that lead to baskets for the other team. If I thought Evan Turner had the ability to become a high-end drive and dish option like Isaiah Thomas, I think I would be a lot more open to his presence in the Celtics rotation. I just don't think the Celtics future involves Evan Turner being our primary ball handler. I don't necessarily think the Celtics future involves Smart being the primary ball handler either, but I think that him taking those duties on right now would be more beneficial to the team long term.
Bill Sy: For what it's worth, Turner's assist-to-turnover ratio is better than Isaiah Thomas' this season at 2.07 compared to 1.90 for Thomas. Don't get me wrong. I love the Thomas acquisition, but there are elements to Turner's game that you're overlooking. First of all, size. At 6'7, there are just passes and angles that he can make that Thomas' won't be able to in the half court. Second, Turner's mid-range game. The Celtics aren't a particularly good three-point shooting team and they don't generate a lot of free throws, so a lot of their buckets come in the long-2 variety. To Turner's credit, he's one of the best mid-range shooters in the league. Of players that have shot at least 100 times 10-16 feet from the rim, Turner shoots a whopping 47.7%. That ranks him 7th behind guys like Chris Paul. Markief Morris, and Chris Bosh .
Daniel Hebert: I won't lie and act like I've watched Thomas nearly as much as I have watched Evan Turner. I have watched every Celtics game this year compared to only having watched 20 or 30 Isaiah Thomas games over the last few years including his time in Boston. That being said, not all turnovers are created equal. It seems like every time Evan Turner turns over the ball, it leads directly to a bucket for the opposing team. Also, Evan Turner's height isn't a tremendous advantage because he still "plays" the 3. The guys guarding him typically are just as tall (if not taller) and just as athletic (if not more athletic). It isn't like Evan Turner is playing point guard and we also have a small forward to force the defense into putting a smaller point guard on him defensively. He plays the 3 while taking care of the point guard duties. I just don't think it is a long term solution.
I also just don't think Evan Turner has the upside to grow into a player that the Celtics want on the roster moving forward. He has never had a PER above 13.2, and while I agree that he has improved as a passer (primarily because he has been forced into a role that requires it), his turnover percentage has grown proportionally to his assist percentage. Evan Turner has also only had one stretch of his career where his team was actually better with him on the floor, and that was when he was playing for the 76ers who fielded a bench full fringe NBA players that wouldn't warrant a roster spot on most teams. While Evan Turner may be the Celtics best option at the small forward for the time being (based on the positional weakness, not his ability), I just think it is time to use him in a more traditional role. I'm sick of him taking point guard duties while Smart is forced into an off-the-ball marginalized role (at least when Evan Turner is on the floor). Now that Isaiah Thomas is on the roster, I see even less of a need to use him as the Celtics primary ball handler.
Bill Sy: Is Evan Turner in the future of the franchise? I don't know. I thought Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo would still be around after the trade deadline. Can Turner play better? Can Turner be better statistically? Sure, but so could the entire team. Only four players on the entire team are above the league average of 15 in PER. However, is Evan Turner the type of player that Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge are looking for? Absolutely.
It seems like one of the biggest problems you have with Turner is that he's crummy at point guard and won't fit in the traditional role at small forward. I don't think you need to look any further than the trades of Rondo and Green to see what works with this team and this roster. For all their strengths, Rondo couldn't shoot and Green couldn't create for others. That may be a little overstated, but utility players like Turner that can do a bit of everything will have staying power on the Celtics going forward.
Daniel Hebert: I don't mind Evan Turner not being a typical small forward, but you are right about me thinking that he is a crummy point guard. I don't think I would have a tremendous problem with him running the 3 full time, but I just can't get over the amount of time he spends as the teams primary ball handler. I know Turner has the ability to do a little bit of everything, but I don't feel like he does anything particularly well (other than his mid range jump shot). Considering that his best attribute (the jump shot) is something that is slowly being phased out of the NBA, I just don't think he has the ability to ever become a particularly efficient player.
Bill Sy: For what it's worth, Turner's per-36 assist numbers rival those of Eric Bledsoe. Damian Lillard. Tony Parker. Brandon Knight. and Mike Conley. He's not the prototypical point guard, but he's getting the job done even if it's a little unconventional. You'll have to define what you mean by "primary ball handler." My guess is that Synergy and/or SportsVU will show that Turner has the ball in his hands to most, but I think that can mostly be attributed to the fact that he's often times the first trigger on an offensive set, but as soon as he makes the first decision on a pick-and-roll or a dribble hand off, the ball starts whipping around the court until someone (not necessarily Turner) finds a crack in the defense. There really is no primary ball handler on the team, especially now with some combination of Turner, Smart, and Thomas always on the floor.
Daniel Hebert: At this point, I wouldn't mind moving Isaiah Thomas into the starting lineup and Marcus Smart to the bench. Isaiah Thomas creates havoc with the ball in his hands, but I also don't want to stunt Smart's development by using him primarily as an off-the-ball player. I would love to see Isaiah Thomas being the team's primary ball handler starting out with Smart coming off of the bench as the primary ball handler. I just don't love the idea of Evan Turner being the primary ball handler long term.
I understand that he has his moments and gets into the lane, but I just don't think he is a long term option. Plus we seem to move the ball around the perimeter a lot better when he doesn't dribble a possession away. I agree that the motion offense doesn't necessarily need a primary ball handler, but I just think it would be so much more beneficial long term to force Marcus Smart to operate with the ball in his hands. Obviously that is one of the primary differences in each of our arguments, so its hard for me to see any way that would could agree on the Turner situation.
Bill Sy: We'll have to agree to disagree. With the Celtics battling for a playoff spot, it's all about winning games. We can have our theories about primary ball-handling and development, but the bottom line is what the Celtics are doing now is winning games. But for what it's worth, the most effective four-man lineup since Isaiah Thomas arrived has been one that features Isaiah Thomas as the "primary ball-handler" with Marcus Smart, Jonas Jerebko. and Jae Crowder. With Thomas penetrating, that foursome is generating two-thirds of their shots from behind the arc with yes, Marcus Smart working off-ball. The next four most productive lineups feature Turner in the the ball-handling role surrounded by shooters.
Daniel Hebert: Small sample sizes in both regards. Thomas just came over to the Celtics, and he already has a far more positive impact than Evan Turner. Also, Evan Turner has been in a brutal shooting slump other than 2 decent games over the last month, so he has been an overall negative for the offense. Like you said, this is a situation where we will just have to agree to disagree. I just don't love Turner as a player. I think Crowder brings more energy, defense, and offense (Crowder has a better offensive and defensive rating than Evan Turner) to the small forward position, and I would much rather have Smart or Isaiah Thomas handling the ball for the most part.
I also don't think battling for a playoff spot is more important than the long term development of guys like Smart and Young. I love the idea of getting the young guys some early playoff experience, but I think that they will get plenty of it as they continue to progress and develop. Regardless, if the major goal is to get to the playoffs, then Evan Turner playing extended minutes probably isn't the best way to get there. The team is far worse with him on the floor than they are with him off of it (applies even more strongly now that Isaiah has shown the ability to be a high end primary ball handler).
Bill Sy: Yeah, but.