For three years, Sixers fans have waited for Evan Turner to develop into a superstar. Being drafted with the second overall pick of the NBA Draft creates expectations, and thus far, Turner has not lived up to them. Now in his fourth season, Turner is approaching free agency at the end of the season, and the team will soon need to make a decision: Should they try to sign Turner to an extension, or should they attempt to trade him?
Turner’s problems began at the NBA’s summer league before his rookie season. Matched against other rookies and the league’s fringe players, you would have expected Turner to dominate. Instead, he looked overmatched. He blamed his struggles on refraining from basketball activity in the months leading up to the draft. (This is a common practice for top draft picks as they want to avoid injury.) It was curious that taking a few months off would cause his game to regress that dramatically, but that was the story we were given.
Under new coach Doug Collins, the Sixers had a resurgence during Turner’s rookie year, and part of that was due to a surprisingly good season by the team’s young shooting guard. Unfortunately, the guard in question was Jodie Meeks. Meeks was an unheralded former second round pick who the team had acquired in the offseason. He didn’t have many strengths, but he was able to spread the floor as an outside shooter, a job that Turner was unsuited for. As a result, after a brief tenure as the team’s starting shooting guard, Turner was reduced to a bench role and failed to make much of an impact.
In his second season, Turner regained the starting spot, and it briefly looked like he had turned the corner. I remember watching a game in March 2012 against the Knicks where the Sixers’ guard tandem of Turner and point guard Jrue Holiday dominated. It looked like the Sixers might have found their backcourt of the future.
It didn’t last. Part of the problem was that Collins is notoriously wary of young players and doesn’t always give them time to make the kinds of mistakes that young players make. Part of the problem was that Turner isn’t really good at anything. When a guard’s greatest strength is defensive rebounding, that’s not really a good thing. Turner isn’t a great shooter, and he doesn’t play well without the ball in his hands. Unfortunately, he’s not a great ballhandler either, and he can be a bit of a ballstopper when he’s running the offense. He is adequate defensively, but far from an Andre Iguodala-style lockdown defender.
Turner has been improved this season. He has been used as the team’s go-to scorer, and as a result, his scoring has increased by over four points per game. Most notably, Turner has been better driving to the hoop and drawing fouls. In previous years, he would too often settle for pull-up jumpers rather than drawing contact. He should still probably be shooting more than 4.4 free throws a game (47th in the league), but there has been improvement. He could certainly spend less time complaining to the refs when calls don’t go his way, but that could be said about the majority of NBA players.
The question is: If general manager Sam Hinkie’s plan works and the Sixers develop into a winning team, should they count on Turner to be a part of it?
I would trade him. I think Turner’s ultimate NBA destiny is to be a player who puts up good numbers for bad teams. His scoring seems almost entirely based on how much he sees the ball, but I doubt that he’ll ever develop the ball skills necessary to be a team’s primary ball handler. As the Sixers move forward, Michael Carter-Williams will likely seize that role, and assuming that they get a top pick in this year’s draft, that player will also require a good number of offensive touches. That wouldn’t seem to leave much room for Turner.
My hope is that some other team will see the potential in Turner. Maybe they’ll remember his elite play in college and think that he just needs a change of scenery. Perhaps they’ll see his increased scoring as a sign that he’s finally fulfilling his potential. Whatever their motivation, if another team offers the Sixers a draft pick in exchange for Turner, then they should probably accept.