Comes and Goes: Goodbye (again), Evan Turner

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Comes and Goes: Goodbye (again), Evan Turner

There’s an old joke about volunteering to drive an unwanted player to the airport just to get him out of town. Except when the Sixers traded Evan Turner to Indiana, it wasn’t a joke. Sam Hinkie actually hopped in the car with Turner and took him to catch his flight. That had to be an awfully strange ride.

“It was random, for sure,” Turner said. “But I can shoot the s--- with anyone. It was cool, man. Hinkie is definitely a cool guy. He comes off as reserved. Sometimes you don’t really know what to take from him at first, but he talks and he’s cool and he has pretty cool stories. It was just a kind gesture. I appreciate that.”

That is not quite what you’d expect to hear from Turner, who as recently as early November said, “Hinkie is not my GM.” Time and distance have a way of smoothing things over.

Turner was in Philly on Friday for the first time since being bundled off to Indiana. He was in good spirits before the game (which the Pacers predictably won) and spent some time catching up with old teammates and reporters. He said he didn’t harbor any animosity toward Hinkie for trading him (see story). But what was their relationship when he was still here?

“I barely saw him, as opposed to the Rod Thorn situation,” Turner said. “Rod was my man, you know what I’m saying? He could scold me, and then we could talk about something else later. Sam is a different GM and a different president. He does things a little bit differently. We spoke, and there wasn’t any hostility. It wasn’t anything negative or anything like that.”

It was a bit odd to see Turner in the visitor’s locker room in the visitor’s jersey, but it was also inevitable. After a few seasons, it was apparent that Turner wasn’t a top-tier player, or at least that he wouldn’t return enough value on the Sixers’ initial investment of a second overall pick. You knew he would eventually move on. Hinkie simply accelerated the departure.

Turner said it “takes guts” to implement a plan like Hinkie’s in a city like Philly. When Turner was asked whether Hinkie articulated his designs on tanking to the players or whether they were left to figure it out for themselves, he laughed.

“I don’t know how to answer that question,” Turner said. “For me, man, I always don’t believe the ship is going down. In any situation, I was always taught when you wake up, you have a fighting chance. I always thought the next game was our game to put a streak together.”

The Sixers are on a streak, just not of the variety Turner once hoped. Friday marked their 19th straight loss. But as Turner said, he’s in a different place now, a better place, even if that place hasn’t come complete with the easy transition he’d probably prefer.

In his first nine games with the Pacers, Turner averaged 22.9 minutes, 9.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 turnovers. He shot 47.2 percent from the field and made 5 of 9 three pointers. His role, as you might expect, is limited compared to what he did here. His usage rate has dipped from 24.1 with the Sixers to 19.8 with the Pacers, while his PER has dropped from 13.2 to 11.9. (He went 1 for 4 for two points in 21 minutes on Friday).

Unsurprisingly, the biggest adjustment for Turner has been acclimating to the Pacers' defense-first approach. As Zach Lowe wrote for Grantland, “the Pacers have been disastrously bad defensively with Turner on the floor.” Lowe outlined several “non-Pacery” defensive help decisions by Turner, one of which was described as “particularly egregious” when Turner left Jeremy Lin wide open for a three in order to collapse on Omer Asik, who can be generously described as not exactly an offensive threat.

“It’s a little different,” Turner admitted, “because when they call a call, I find myself reverting back to doing something from Philly … they understand. They know I’m trying. It’s a process.”

It has always been a process for Turner. In Indiana. In Philly, especially. Brett Brown said that when Turner was here, he had “the weight of the city on him.” Turner remains acutely aware of how he’s perceived -- the second overall selection that never quite played like it.

“Where I was picked and how my role was from the first or second year, it wasn’t realistic,” Turner said. “Coming off the bench, you can’t get 20 points a game. If the team’s high is 14 points, you get mad at me because I average 10. Sometimes the gun was pointed at me and sometimes I didn’t do the best job every now and then either. I take full responsibility for anything else. It’s all good. I was able to make the playoffs and had some good moments.”

The Sixers recognized some of those moments with a video tribute during Friday’s game. It was pretty short.

Nerlens Noel thinks he and Ben Simmons can be a lockdown defensive duo

Nerlens Noel thinks he and Ben Simmons can be a lockdown defensive duo

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers' abundance of big men lends itself to numerous combinations in the frontcourt.

On Thursday, Nerlens Noel had his first experience playing with Ben Simmons. The center gelled with the rookie forward.

"It's a great duo, I think," Noel said following the morning practice session of training camp at Stockton University.

Noel has been paired with many big men during his career with the Sixers. Last season, he faced the challenge of playing out of position at times with Jahlil Okafor. The logjam prompted him to speak out about the current makeup of the roster (see story).

After playing with Simmons, Noel saw how the two can share the court.

"I think we complement each other very well, especially on the defensive end," Noel said. "He's definitely a lockdown type defender that digs in."

Even though Simmons has yet to play an NBA game, Noel already envisions how he can help the Sixers.

"He just plays basketball the right way," Noel said. "When your big man does that, it makes it a lot easier because he is very versatile being a point-forward type. That opens up a lot of things for him to be able to open up for his teammates."

Sixers intend to use Ben Simmons, Dario Saric in same lineup

Sixers intend to use Ben Simmons, Dario Saric in same lineup

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Training camp is an opportunity for Brett Brown to assess all the pieces he has available to construct the best roster possible. There are no clear-cut formulas to create the most successful lineups, not when the team has so many players that can be utilized at multiple positions. 

“There are a lot of moving parts,” Brown said Wednesday after Day 2 of training camp. “You’re going to see a bunch of different looks, blue and white. That’s part of my job. That’s part of what I’ve got to get done when we play on opening night.” 

Among these combinations is pairing Dario Saric and Ben Simmons. Given their versatility, the rookies can play multiple positions to share the court. Brown has eyed their size and skills at the two- and three-spots.

“The pluses are you have 6-10, do-alls that really can jump into a very versatile defensive world with perhaps a lot of switching,” Brown said. “I think they’re elite defensive rebounders that can rebound and lead a break and take off. ...

“The disadvantages are, you’re playing two guys out of position that’ve never played a second of NBA basketball and have never played together. It comes down to familiarity, it comes down to some type of comfort level that they’re going to have to navigate and figure out each other a little bit more.”

Saric and Simmons, like the rest of the Sixers, are learning one another’s games in training camp. Saric described Simmons’ skill set as “amazing” considering his stature and speed, noting, “I never played with somebody who’s that [many] kilograms.” 

“I think we will find a way to play together,” Saric said. “I think we can do it. Coach said most of the time we will play together. Maybe I can push the ball, he can push the ball too. ... He’s an unbelievably good passer and I think we’ll find a way how to play and I’m very happy because of that.”

Simmons entered the league touted as a point-forward. Exceeding the combo position, Simmons has played pure point at times, both on the offensive and defensive ends. He has been tapping into the Sixers' guards and veteran leader Elton Brand to help enhance his communication running the floor.

“[The] challenge is probably guarding the point guard position. They’re a lot quicker,” Simmons said. “But I also have a lot more length and strength. I think just being able to get to the rim. Also, if I have a smaller guy I can post it up.”

Saric also has ball handling skills in his arsenal. He grew up playing point guard from ages 8 to 14 before hitting a growth spurt. Saric looked up to Magic Johnson at the position. 

“To make other players happy and to make other players better, I think that’s the role of point guard,” Saric said. 

Brown will use the next four weeks as a trial period to maneuver different combinations and looks, including a towering duo of rookies.  

“Now is the time to do that," Brown said, "with the end game being whenever that type of thing happens, you have something quite special if they’re paired — when they’re paired, because I’m going to play them together — when they start really feeling each other’s game out in the environment that I've put them in a lot better."