Sixers vs. Wizards highlights
Evan Turner is averaging 22.2 points per game this season. (USA Today Images)
Long after his teammates had departed from Thursday’s early morning practice session at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Evan Turner took advantage of the empty gym to work on his shot.
Shot after shot splashed through the net for Turner, who ended the workout with a series of free throws. It made sense because Turner has spent much more time taking shots than in his previous three seasons. That includes the foul line, where Turner is taking nearly six free throws per game.
Scoring 22.2 points per game on nearly 16 shots per game, Turner has finally emerged as the Sixers’ best scoring threat. Drafted No. 2 overall in 2010, Turner was viewed as a can’t-miss talent. However, it took some time for the Chicago native to carve out his niche in the team’s offense.
Headed into an offseason that could include free agency, the big stats won’t hurt Turner’s cause.
“He has a lot of areas that he really can blossom,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “He is a talent.”
Dig deeper into the numbers and some of the same issues stand out with Turner. Though he’s shooting 55.1 percent from the field, Turner has found his scoring touch by knifing through the defense to the hoop. He has taken 35 shots from in the restricted area and 41 shots from closer than 10-feet.
Because Turner is usually on the move when he gets those shots close to the basket, he’s drawn plenty of contact. Finally, Turner says, he’s getting some foul calls.
“It’s great because I’m finally starting to get foul calls,” Turner said after Thursday’s practice. “That helps out a lot of things and it’s advantageous to our team. It puts pressure on the defense.”
Interestingly, Turner is scoring despite not shooting well from the perimeter. Playing at the small forward and big guard spots on the floor, Turner often receives the ball on or near the three-point line when in the half-court set. In the past he would have squared up and let it fly from the outside. But now Turner understands the benefit of driving to the hoop.
The numbers bear that out. On shots longer than 15 feet, Turner is 3 for 17, including 1 for 9 from three-point range. Yes, this shows that Turner hasn’t been very good. But it also indicates that Turner hasn’t settled for the long jumper.
Instead, Turner is playing to his strengths.
“If it doesn’t go in, it doesn’t go in. I have to do what I’m confident with,” Turner said. “I’m taking shots, but I feel like I’m getting better and better at driving to the basket. And when I attack the rim, I get foul calls and that helps the team. I’m getting to the line and that’s great and I hit a three [on Wednesday night], but that’s not the focus. I want to take good shots and take what’s in rhythm and stay confident.”
Adrian Dantley was a small forward like Turner who put together a Hall of Fame career even though he wasn’t a great outside shooter. Dantley was relentless at driving to the basket, drawing contact and taking foul shots. The six-time All-Star averaged 30 points per game in five different seasons largely because he had an incredible knack for getting to the basket and the foul line, averaging nine or 10 free throws per game in his best years.
Turner isn’t quite to that level, but he seems to have embraced that slashing, gritty style of offense.
In the meantime, Turner says he has found a new level of confidence from Brown’s up-tempo offense.
“Sometimes when I’m playing I hear Coach say, ‘Stay aggressive.’ When we’re walking to the sidelines to get the play, he says, ‘Forget the play, attack, attack.’ And that’s just great confidence,” Turner said. “I’m not looking over my shoulder and worry if I miss a shot. There’s not really pressure and it instills confidence.”
Imagine where Turner’s confidence will be if those outside shots start to fall.