Don’t Overlook Myles Turner’s Rookie Season

Most of the attention surrounding the Indiana Pacers during the 2015-16 season was given to Paul George’s comeback season, in which he averaged 23 points per game and led his team back to the playoffs after he missed most of the 2014-15 season due to his leg injury suffered in a Team USA scrimmage in 2014. While George’s comeback was a significant story, fans can’t forget about Myles Turner’s rookie season when they think about the Pacers’ bounce-back 2015-16 season.

In addition to playing in George’s shadow, Turner was overlooked across the league. Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, and Kristaps Porzingis, all of whom were drafted in the top five in 2015, were rookie sensations who received most of the attention from the media. Despite his lack of recognition, Turner showed all of the tools of a future All-Star big man throughout his rookie year.

Myles Turner’s Rookie Season

Turner’s upside starts on the offensive end. In today’s NBA, big men must be able to stretch the floor in order to counter opposing teams’ small-ball lineups. At 6’11”, 240 lbs., he has a rare ability to knock down mid-range jumpers consistently for players of his stature. He shot 42% on attempts between 10 feet and inside the three-point arc. Compared to All-Star big men who can stretch the floor, Turner doesn’t stack up poorly in terms of shooting. Kevin Love hit 39.5% of his attempts from this range this past season, Al Horford converted 43.4%, and DeMarcus Cousins shot 34%. Turner is way ahead of the curve offensively.

Turner’s size and shot guarantee his place in the NBA. This rare combination forces opposing centers to come out of the paint and guard him, which then opens up the lane for teammates. In fact, when he was on the court with Paul George, they mutually benefited. Turner had more open looks from mid range, and as a result, he shot 41.4% from 10-16 feet with George on the court compared to 38.2% from 10-16 feet with George off the court.

Meanwhile, George had more open looks at the rim when he played with Turner. He converted 53.2% of his layups with Turner on the court, compared to 51.6% when Turner was off the court. The Texas product forced defenses to respect his shot, which then opened up the paint for teammates. Opposing coaches then had to sub out their center in favor of a quicker, smaller player, which allowed Turner to dominate down low.

Although shooting will keep him in the NBA, Turner’s motor will take him to high levels. It goes unnoticed in the box score, but his teammates and coaches notice. Former Pacers coach, Frank Vogel, was the first to praise Turner’s work ethic. “I think he’s an unusually mature young man, articulate 19-year-old,” Vogel said. “His work ethic has been a pleasant surprise. He’s constantly in the weight room, constantly putting extra shots up and working with the coaches.” [ESPN]

Teammate Paul George echoed Vogel’s words. “[Turner] has no fear,” George said. “Not a lot of guys in his class have emerged this fast, but he seems like he’s always ready for the moment.” [ESPN]

Myles Turner’s Playoff Performance

Turner backed up his praise in the playoffs, when the Pacers faced off against the Toronto Raptors. He came off the bench during the series, and he matched up with Jonas Valanciunas during the majority of his minutes. The box score doesn’t do Turner any justice, as it shows he grabbed just 6.4 rebounds in 28 minutes per game in the seven-game series, but he showed no fear of the big stage. He went body-to-body with Valanciunas, and made him work for every rebound and shot.

In addition to his hustle, Turner was exceptional on defense. He had five blocks in game one and averaged 3.3 blocks per game in the series, which was the highest blocks-per-game average in the playoffs. He was a key part of the Pacers forcing the two-seeded Raptors to seven games, and it is rare for rookies to step onto the playoff stage with no fear. The Raptors crowd and his daunting matchup did not rattle Turner, which is a necessary toughness for All-Star players. His composure will allow him to play at a high level in any atmosphere for years to come.

Now that he has played a full season, he is already drawing comparisons from his coaches to All-Stars, such as LaMarcus Aldridge. “It was almost like those guys were cloned,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “One thing that I loved about LaMarcus was the fact that he worked extremely hard. He stayed in the gym after practice, he was early to practice, and he really worked on developing his game. Myles Turner is exactly the same type of player” [USA Today].

After being overlooked all season, he was finally recognized by the league and media when he was named to the all-rookie second team.

Turner had a great rookie season that was overshadowed by his teammates and other rookies, but he showed that he is the real deal. He is versatile for his size, with a rare ability to shoot, finish, rebound, and defend, but his best attribute is the one that makes his potential limitless: ambition.

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