Jason Wolf of Delaware Online published an article today entitled "76ers' focus on analytics may hurt Evan Turner." The piece focuses on ET's underwhelming stats and general ineffectiveness as a scorer, which stand in fairly stark contrast to the Sixers' obvious new direction, one with a clear tilt in favor of advanced stats and a priority on efficiency. "It appears unlikely that Turner fits into the organization’s long-term plans," Wolf concludes, saying the Sixers will likely let the Extraterrestrial walk as a free agent next off-season, or deal him earlier if he proves tradeable.
Wolf's stance is not an uncommon one, and he very well might be right. The common thought on ET--one shared by Zach Lowe of Grantland, who recently named Evan to his "All-Intriguing Team"--is that he's a mistake of the old administration, and one that GM Sam Hinkie--far more concerned with the discovery of undervalued assets than the redemption of overvalued ones--will look to unload ASAP. If you believe the reports, Hinkie even tried to deal Turner once already, to the Suns on draft night for a mere low first-round pick, and the fact that the Suns may have turned that offer down should give you a sense of Evan's current value around the league.
Here's a thought, though: What if Turner himself is, at the moment, actually undervalued?
Of course, you're not going to find much in his first three seasons' worth of stats that would suggest such a conclusion. Wolf's right--Turner's been woefully inefficient, and according to Basketball-Reference, he's actually been a net negative on offense the last two seasons as far as Win Shares go. He doesn't get to the line enough, shoots too many long twos, and only just started converting threes at an acceptable rate for a wing player--a development which Evan has even admitted was the result of not doing much of anything.
But let's not totally isolate Evan from his circumstances here. ET has played for but one coach over his three-year career--Doug Collins, noted unbeliever i n advanced stats and analytics. (In a quote that haunts the dreams of most Sixers writers, Collins once even said he'd probably "blow his brains out" if he had to worry about that stuff, and called his head and gut his advanced stats.) Collins was infamous for his teams' offensive conservatism, favoring isos and pick-and-pops over attacking the bucket or really pushing the pace in transition, especially last season.
Consequently, it's worth noting that Evan wasn't the only talented player on the Sixers whose stats were never the model of efficiency. For all the praise Jrue Holiday rightly received for his All-Star breakout campaign last year, his advanced stats were hardly elite either--he posted an offensive rating of just 99, and was worth less than 0.6 wins on offense, again according to Basketball-Reference. He shot about four long twos (16-23 feet) a game, and converted less than 39% of them. He only got to the line about three times a game.
For what it's worth, Andre Iguodala also saw his PER and OWS, as well as his three-point and free-throw attempts, shrink in his two years playing for Collins. And Lou Williams, the only guard on the team in recent years whose stats actually held up well to the glare of analytics, was swapped out last season for Nick Young, a poster boy for shooting inefficiency. Clearly, with the given priorities of Collins and the front office that adored him, this was a team that was never going to be a model of efficient offense, almost regardless of personnel.
Meanwhile, it's also worth noting that Evan Turner actually was a fairly efficient scorer in college. He got to the line about six times a game (a good, if not quite elite, rate for a college career) his final two seasons, he shot threes in moderation but converted a decent percentage of them (high 30s), and he shot over 50% from the field. His Junior year at Ohio State--his last before declaring--he posted a LeBron-like PER of 30.0, and an offensive rating of 111.
Now, that's not all to suggest that Evan Turner could have been James Harden by now in the pros if not for Dougie getting his grubby, inefficient little paws on him as a rookie. Turner's struggles to adapt to the pro game, especially in his first few months, were very, very real, and were certainly as much based (and probably even moreso) on his relative lack of athleticism and his mediocre shooting stroke as any way he was being misused in the team's offense. Turner may in fact never be able to become a productive starter in the pros, at least not at anywhere near the level expected of him when he was the #2 overall pick back in 2010.
But isn't it possible that we're all approaching this the wrong way? Maybe instead of looking at the many ways Turner's efficiency woes mean he won't fit in with the new Sixers administration, we should be looking at this as an opportunity for a talented offensive player--and Turner is still that, make no mistake--to finally be given the proper instruction and motivation to use his skills in an efficient way, as preached by two men in Brett Brown and Sam Hinkie who hail from perhaps the two franchises most praised in the entire sport for their ability to maximize player potential and minimize player failings. Isn't it possible that the best is yet to come for ET, and that might be worth something to the Sixers more than trade value?
Turner will still just be 25 years old when the season starts. That's younger even that Jeff Green, another talented but historically inefficient player with high draft pedigree, was last season with the Celtics, when he had something akin to a breakout year (especially in the last few months of the season), posting career highs for the season in PER, field goal and three-point percentage, and points per 36 minutes. Green's breakthrough was also largely attributable to a change in circumstance--in his case, finally getting to play big minutes as a starter and featured offensive player in the wake of injuries to the likes of big-name players like Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and occasionally Paul Pierce. Green still has a ways to go in consistency before officially realizing his star potential, but he'll get even more of a chance to prove himself this year, in a Sixers-like rebuilding year for Boston, with Garnett and Pierce now traded and Rondo still out with injury.
Could that be Evan this year? It's certainly not definite, and I probably wouldn't bet money on it--I've been burned by Evan too many times in the past to continue in blind faith--but it's possible, and in my opinion, it's worth finding out. I certainly hope that Brown and Hinkie give Turner a fair and true chance, work with him to help him understand what he needs to do to help the team run more efficiently, and allow him to show that the Doug Collins stink can wash off him enough for him to become a net positive player on offense again. AFter all, that's the advantage of having a season that everyone knows going in is already lost--there's no downside to expending the time and effort to figure this things out.