While teams are still fighting in the playoffs, the Boston Celtics are turning their attention to the off-season. After the Atlanta Hawks eliminated Boston in six games, Celtics’ President of Basketball Operations, Danny Ainge, started planning for the draft, in which his team has eight picks. In addition to the draft, the Celtics will be active in free agency, as they only have $27 million committed to contracts in 2016-17. Evan Turner’s future with the Celtics is cloudy; he is an unrestricted free agent, and another player could take his roster spot in the draft or in free agency. However, Ainge has to try to bring Turner back in green, as the versatile veteran provides value that goes beyond the box score.
Immediately after the season ended, Turner made it clear that he wants to remain a Celtic and negotiate quickly. “Free agency starts July 1. Hopefully, it’s over July 1,” he said [Boston Herald]. Even though the Ohio State alum prioritizes the Celtics, they aren’t placing him at the top of their list. “This offseason is bigger,” Danny Ainge said. “My expectations are high this off-season. … We need the Ping-Pong balls to bounce our way to give us the best opportunity. Whether we use that (lottery) pick or whether we trade that pick, and in free agency, we have opportunities” [NESN]. For Ainge, the opportunities are drafting Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram with the Nets pick that has the third-highest chance to be first overall, or signing two maximum-contract free agents in what could be a loaded class.
Boston already has a guard-and-wing-heavy team. Isaiah Thomas has cemented his place in Boston, Brad Stevens implied that Avery Bradley isn’t going anywhere, and Jae Crowder had a breakout season. Additionally, the young Terry Rozier played good minutes after Avery Bradley went down against Atlanta, and Marcus Smart had a solid series. If the Celtics add a top wing player through the draft and sign a scorer in free agency, it would be hard to provide Turner with significant minutes.
Despite these factors, Turner should still be back in green. He has the versatility that doesn’t limit him to one role, so a crowded roster will not affect him. He can play off the ball as an effective mid-range shooter or post player. He hit 43.6% of his jumpers from 10 to 16 feet this season, whether it was coming off a screen, isolation, or a post-up. He was also one of the best finishing wings in the NBA this season, as he converted 62.2% of his attempts at the rim.
Since the Celtics’ offense was built so heavily on passing, (they ranked 6th in the NBA with 24.2 assists per game) it was horrible if a shooter was cold one night, which showed in the playoffs. As a result, the Celtics would need someone to bail them out and get a bucket. After Isaiah Thomas, Turner was the only player who could create his own shot. He averaged 10.5 points per game on an efficient 45.6% this season, and only 34.1% of his buckets were assisted.
Turner was also the only player (other than Thomas) who could create for others. He had the second-highest assist rating of 23.9 on the Celtics, and third was Terry Rozier with 16.5, who only played in 39 games and averaged five minutes a game. Brad Stevens understood Turner’s value, so he didn’t play a single lineup for one minute all season that didn’t have either Thomas or Turner in it. Thomas was on the bench for 1311 minutes this season, and Turner was on the court for all of those minutes. Turner’s ball handling and passing was helpful even when Thomas was on the court. It allowed the 5’ 9” point guard to come off screens and have more freedom shooting the ball and scoring because he didn’t have to create for himself and others; Turner was doing that while commanding the defense’s attention. The two teammates ran a Celtics offense that ranked 5th in the NBA with 105.7 PPG.
If the Celtics keep Turner, he will fill his role as a scorer and distributor off the bench while Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier grow and develop their playmaking abilities. It would put much less pressure on the young guys because would allow them to naturally grow into their games, instead of being forced to fill a role as a creator that they are not yet capable of playing. Even if Brandon Ingram is wearing green in November, he can’t create for others yet. Turner would be a great compliment for him, commanding most of the defense’s attention and allowing Ingram to grow into his game without extra pressure. If Boston allows Turner to walk, they will have no consistent playmakers off the bench, which would affect their title chase.
In addition to his versatile offensive game, Turner has the physique and athleticism to play with any lineup. He is 6’ 7” and 220 lbs. with great quickness and strength. This enabled Turner to play point guard, shooting guard, small forward, and in some cases, as a stretch power forward, and he played well in each one of those roles. A small lineup of Thomas-Bradley-Turner-Sullinger played 282 minutes this season and outscored opponents by 12.5 points. A bigger lineup that featured Bradley-Turner-Jerebko-Olynyk played 195 minutes and outscored opponents by 19.5 points. Hypothetically, if a wing scorer signs with Boston, along with a wing in the draft, Turner could still play a role, whether it’s as the two guard off the bench, or a stretch four.
Coach Stevens wants Turner back in Beantown. “I can’t imagine anybody being more valuable off the bench than Evan,” said Stevens. “He’s been extremely valuable. He guards three positions a night, sometimes four positions” [ESPN]. Turner is the type of player who can play any role on a team, and he has a high basketball IQ, which makes him irreplaceable.
The Celtics front office is faced with a tough decision, but if they consider everything Turner brings to the table, the decision should be easy.
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