What went wrong with Sixers and Evan Turner?

What went wrong with Sixers and Evan Turner?
February 25, 2014, 1:00 pm
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Evan Turner arrived in Philadelphia with a lot of hope as the No. 2 overall pick. He departed for bargain-basement prices. (USA Today Images)

Evan Turner will play basketball Tuesday evening. It will be the 280th game of his NBA career –- and his first for a team other than the Sixers.

(UPDATE, 9:50 p.m.: Turner scored 13 points off the bench in 26 minutes in his Pacers debut, a 20-point win over the Lakers.)

At the trade deadline, Turner and Lavoy Allen were sent to Indiana for Danny Granger and a 2015 second-round pick.

That’s what the Sixers got for Turner: A 30-year-old with left knee issues who will be gone one way or the other before long, along with a second-round pick that figures to be late in the 2015 draft. The maximum the market yielded for Turner was the minimum anyone imagined. It wasn’t much, but Sam Hinkie was right to take it. Something is better than nothing, which is what Turner had become for them.

If the Sixers hadn’t dealt Turner, they would have let him walk this offseason. They could have extended him a qualifying offer of $8.7 million to make him a restricted free agent, but that never seemed likely. Trade him or open the door and push him through it. Those were the only options.

You could see it coming. In late October, the Sixers declined to offer Turner an extension. Turner responded by saying “Hinkie is not my GM” while offering that he and the team were “going in different directions.” As recently as last week, Turner said he was “excited” for the trade deadline. He knew all along that his time was at an end.

The beginning wasn’t that long ago. The Sixers took Turner with the second pick of the 2010 NBA draft, just behind John Wall. Wall was the consensus top pick. Turner was the guy you picked after you looked at the rest of the guys and went, “yeah, sure, he must be next.” About the rest of the players taken after Turner: Derrick Favors went third, DeMarcus Cousins fifth, Greg Monroe seventh, Gordon Hayward ninth. Turner’s new teammate, All-Star Paul George, was taken 10th. Eric Bledsoe went 18th.

That happens every draft. You can look back and reorder it in your mind, but that won’t alter the current reality. Turner was the pick. So why didn’t the pick work?

It probably didn’t help that the Sixers kept Andre Iguodala around after drafting Turner. Iguodala was, and remains, a better version of Turner in every respect. He’s a better ball-handler, passer, rebounder and scorer. He’s better on the break. He’s infinitely better as a defender. As a result, for the first two years of his career, Turner came off the bench. Turner did not like coming off the bench. He viewed himself as the “best player in the draft at the time,” not as a role player.

In his third season, after Iguodala was gone, Turner became a full-time starter under Doug Collins. That worked OK at first, then not so OK. Collins would alternately praise Turner for his ability with the ball, then criticize Tuner for not doing enough to get the ball in his hands.

Turner and Collins had an ever-shifting relationship. They were like two tectonic plates pushing against each other while everyone waited for them to crack and crumble and split for good.

But while Collins deserves some blame for Turner’s underdevelopment, it’s also true that Turner’s skill set simply hasn’t translated well to the NBA. He has been an average to below-average pro. In Brett Brown’s hyperactive system, Turner averaged 17.4 points, 6 rebounds and 3.7 assists. Only the points per game represented a career high, and he was taking 2.6 more shots per game to get it.

Turner averaged career highs in free throw attempts and free throws made this season, which was to his credit. Getting to the line was something he could and should have done earlier in his career. But even with Brown telling his guys to shoot from distance whenever they have open looks, Turner was never a capable three-point marksman. That’s a huge problem in a league that places ever-increasing importance on the three-point shot.

In 54 games with the Sixers this year, Turner averaged a career-high 2.4 three-point attempts. He made just 28.8 percent of those. More troubling still: He hit on only 19 of 59 corner three-pointers. And the most troubling of all: He took nearly 20 percent of his shots from the 16-to-24 foot mid-range moat. While Turner made 41.6 percent of those shots, that’s the kind of inefficient selection that makes the advanced metrics crowd cringe.

Given all that, it’s not surprising Turner’s true shooting percentage and player efficiency rating aren’t stellar. Turner’s 50.4 true shooting percentage with the Sixers this season was the best of his career –- and yet that ties him for 238th in the NBA. He simply isn’t a very good shooter. Nor is he very efficient. His 13.3 PER (also a career high) ties him for 191st. After three-and-a-half seasons in Philadelphia, it was obvious that Turner was a mid-level performer who wouldn't return enough value for the Sixers to make a second investment in him.

It will be interesting to see what happens next for Turner. His new coach, Frank Vogel, said he plans to play Turner about as much as Granger, who averaged 22.5 minutes for the Pacers. That’s not a lot. It would be the fewest minutes per game Turner has played as a pro.

That’s evidently OK with Turner. His agent said Turner was “ecstatic” to get traded to the Pacers. And maybe he is. But beginnings usually feel that way. What follows is less certain.

If you’re nostalgic, here’s a list of ET moments from his time in Philly. My favorites: 23, 21, 19, 5 and 4. But especially 5.