Rookie Hazing: Notes on Evan Turner's Miserable Summer League

Rookie Hazing: Notes on Evan Turner's Miserable Summer League

Oof. About as excited I was for this week of Sixers Summer League games to begin, that's about how excited I was for it to finally be over, too. That's primarily because Evan Turner, the Sixers' #2 draft pick and one of their best hopes towards redemption next season, struggled mightily the entire week, doing good things on occasion but spending most of the time looking utterly lost.

As previously detailed, in his league debut, Turner had issues finding his shot and spent too much time in foul trouble, but contributed in other ways (rebounding, passing, defense) that allowed him something of a pass for what seemed like a relatively mediocre effort. If you had told me that that was as good as things were gonna get for The Villain this week...well, I kind of wish you had told me, because it could've saved me from (or at least prepared me for) watching some heartbreakingly sub-par play from our much-hyped rook.

For the week, Turner's stats were as follows: 9.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.6 TO, 33% shooting from the field. His inability to find his own shot in the first game plagued him through all five games, as he was largely unable to beat defenders off the dribble and found few good spot-up opportunities. The first few games, the excuse being used for him was that Jrue Holiday being the primary ball handler was throwing him off, Turner having been the primary ball-handler for his team for all of last season. Then Jrue sat the next few games with minor injruies, and Evan's play tanked even further, as the team lost its last three games and The Villain rode the bench for the fourth quarter in Thursday's outing.

So what happened? Well, there are many explanations, some more satisfying than others. The one that most apologists appear to be going with is that Turner is out of game shape due to not having seriously played in several months, after essentially being shut down for the draft. This sort of rust could account for Turner's relative lack of game speed, as well as his at-times clumsy ball-handling, and it's also been pointed out that similarly highly-touted rookies like the Jazz's Gordon Hayward and the Nets' Derrick Favors had issues of their own throughout the week, though none quite like those of The Extraterrestrial.

The other primary (and significantly more troubling) explanation is that Turner simply doesn't have the athleticism to do at the NBA level what he was able to do with relative ease in college, and thus isn't able to be nearly the natural playmaker that he was for Ohio State. We all knew this was a worry, as no one ever claimed Turner to have the blinding speed of a John Wall or even a Sherron Collins, but I don't think we expected him to be quite this wooden, either. If he's not going to be able to get by anyone--not just blow by them, but get around them at all--at the very least he's going to have to significantly reinvent his game, a process that could take some time and brings no guarantee of success. (Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook thinks we should be worried about this, though he does allow that many circumstances were not in Turner's favor.) 

To their credit, Turner and Coach Doug Collins seem to be saying all the right things in response to the week's poor performance. "I got my butt kicked--it's the first time in a while I got my butt kicked," he admitted after the League was over. "Now, I'll go back to the laboratory and drawing board and get things
done [...] It happened to me in college. I
just have to go back and work on certain things." Collins, ever the spin-master, claimed the entire process as a positive. "I think this was the best 8 days of Evan's life," said Collins. "He understands the level now that you
have to be at competitively and in shape to play this game [...] He'll go from here, and now he's got form now until the end of September to do what's necessary."

In the end, this is only summer league, and one probably should not read too much into it. It's been pointed out on the Liberty Ballers forums that Jrue was similarly unimpressive in Summer League play last year. whereas by this year he led the entire league in scoring with his 19 a game. Similarly, I've seen it mentioned elsewhere that Warriors then-rookie Stephen Curry (who was dogged by similar speed/athleticism concerns as Turner) was sub-par in his debut as well, before going on to finish second in Rookie of the Year voting. Clearly, a poor week of games in Orlando in July is not nearly a reason to throw in the towel on our beloved rook.

I also don't think we should forget about this entirely, though, and at the very least, we should adjust our expectations accordingly. Even if Turner does end up an All-Star in this league, it might take some time (and a whole lot of practice and lineup mixing-and-matching) before he's able to really find his groove. But the good news is that one thing everyone seems to agree on as a positive with Turner is his high hoops IQ, so we can hope that he'll have the patience and mental werewithal to work with Collins and learn how best to use his skills on the court at the pro level.

This does mean that he probably won't average a 20/5/5 in his rookie season season like I might have hoped he would out of college--hell, he might not even start for the team next year. But we've still got a real player here with Turner, and he's got a long way to go before he can truly convince us otherwise. (Let's, uh, hope he doesn't test us too much on that, though.) 

Link: Sixers Rookie Turner Sees Gain from Pain of Summer League

NFL Notes Rams' All-Pro Aaron Donald skips OTAs amid contract talks

NFL Notes Rams' All-Pro Aaron Donald skips OTAs amid contract talks

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald has skipped the Los Angeles Rams' first day of organized team activities while he negotiates a long-term contract extension with the club.

Rams general manager Les Snead says the team knew Donald wouldn't be at their training complex Monday.

Snead acknowledged Donald's absence is because of their contract negotiations, which are reaching "the serious part." The GM is confident Donald will be a long-term fixture on the Rams' line.

The Rams exercised their fifth-year option for 2018 on Donald last month. He will make nearly $7 million next year. Snead has repeatedly said the Rams plan to sign Donald to a long-term deal.

Donald is a three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro in his three-year career.

Vikings: Zimmer takes time off after latest eye surgery
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer finally relented, taking some time away from the team to allow his right eye a proper recovery from his latest surgery.

Better in the spring than during the fall, he realized.

As Zimmer departed Monday for some rest and relaxation at his vacation ranch in rural Kentucky, general manager Rick Spielman said the organization anticipates a return by Zimmer "in a few weeks." Players will take the field Tuesday for the first of 13 scheduled offseason practices, including the three-day mandatory minicamp that runs June 13-15.

"We all agree Mike's health is the priority, and we believe rest and recovery are in his best interest for the long term," Spielman said.

Zimmer directed a free youth football camp Saturday at team headquarters. He revealed to reporters that he underwent an eighth procedure on the eye last week, a trying seven-month stretch that has included several unplanned operations (see full story).

Jets: Former 2nd-round pick Smith waived
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Wide receiver Devin Smith has been waived from the injury list by the New York Jets.

A second-round draft pick from Ohio State in 2015, Smith rarely saw the field for the Jets. He tore his ACL during the offseason workout program after he appeared in four games last season. He started that season on the physically unable to perform list while rehabbing from another ACL tear suffered in December 2015.

If Smith clears waivers, he would revert to the Jets' injured reserve list.

"It's bad luck and bad timing because the kid worked so hard to get back," coach Todd Bowles said last month during the NFL draft. "He has to persevere and adversity will help him get stronger. But unfortunately in this game, over my course of time playing and coaching, you see these types of things. Some of the best athletes get hurt and don't get a chance to get on the field, and it's just bad timing, bad luck."

The Jets also re-signed wide receiver WR Deshon Foxx on Monday. Foxx originally signed with the Jets in January and was waived May 9. The Connecticut product first signed with Seattle 2015 after going undrafted and was waived/injured with a hamstring injury that August.

Buccaneers: TE Howard signs rookie deal
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tight end O.J. Howard has signed his rookie contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Howard, who was the 19th overall pick in last month's NFL draft, signed a four-year deal on Monday that includes a team option for a fifth season. He is the first of Tampa Bay's six draft picks to sign.

Howard, who is 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds, was a third-team Associated Press All-America selection last season. He started 12 of Alabama's 14 games last season and had 45 receptions for 595 yards and three touchdowns.

The drafting of Howard and signing DeSean Jackson in free agency should give Jameis Winston more options in Tampa Bay's passing game.

The Buccaneers also announced that defensive end Jacquies Smith has signed his restricted free agent tender.

The case for Duke's Jayson Tatum to the Sixers at No. 3

The case for Duke's Jayson Tatum to the Sixers at No. 3

With the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery behind us, there appears to be a consensus on the first two selections in next month's draft. The Celtics are expected to take Washington guard Markelle Fultz, and it would be a surprise if the Lakers passed on Lonzo Ball.

After that, all bets are off, and the Sixers will have plenty of options at pick No. 3.

A popular choice has been Kansas' Josh Jackson, and with good reason. The 6-foot-8 guard was an All-Big 12 first-team selection in his lone season with the Jayhawks, averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

Others have pointed to Kentucky sharpshooter Malik Monk, who would fill an obvious need. Monk consistently has shown the ability to pull up without hesitation. He shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc while averaging 19.8 points per game to lead the Wildcats.

There is a strong case to be made, however, that Duke forward Jayson Tatum will be the most talented player remaining on the board when it is the Sixers' turn to pick. 

As a basketball beat writer for The Duke Chronicle, I had the opportunity to watch Tatum play up close and in-person for much of the season, seeing him at his best and his worst.

A quick rise
After coming to Durham, N.C. as one of the key pieces of the Blue Devils' top-ranked recruiting class, Tatum suffered a left foot sprain during a preseason practice that kept him out of action until early December. 

But even with what appeared to be a breakout performance against then-No. 24 Florida in early December, he struggled to find a rhythm throughout the first half of the season. Tatum shot only 30 percent from three-point range in his first 13 games.

When the Blue Devils were shocked at home by ACC bottom-feeder N.C. State Jan. 23, I was quick to call out the first-year player — he was not cutting it on the defensive end, and offensively, Tatum had yet to prove himself as a consistent shooting threat.

Down the stretch, however, no freshman came on stronger than Tatum. He scored 28 points on 6-of-7 shooting from distance against Virginia in February, averaged 22 points in four ACC tournament wins in March, and notched a double-double in his first career NCAA tournament game.

Whatever questions scouts have about Tatum's potential, he has already shown an ability to develop in a short period of time. Even if Tatum takes time to develop as an NBA player, it probably won't take all that long as the Sixers continue their rebuild.

Cool customer
In a deep ACC, Tatum was one of just two first-year players to earn all-conference honors, picking up a third-team spot in early March. He was also second in ACC Freshman of the Year voting behind N.C. State's Dennis Smith.

Tatum been a consistent performer at the charity stripe — unlike Jackson, who shot just 56.6 percent from the line. He hit on 118 of 139 free-throw attempts (84.9 percent) and has the body to get to the line at will with strong drives to the rim.

Although the Sixers have budding stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, they lack a true end-of-game threat who can score both inside and out. Tatum's improving outside shot combined with a powerful inside game could give the Sixers an option that will stretch opposing defenses.

Defensive concerns
As has been the case with a few recent young Duke prospects (e.g. Brandon Ingram, Jabari Parker), Tatum at times struggled on defense. As Sixers fans know all too well, Jahlil Okafor has the same problem. The former Blue Devil standout led Duke in scoring during his lone collegiate season but wasn't a major factor on defense and has been even worse with the Sixers, ranking 324th of 486 NBA players in defensive win shares last season.

Tatum's numbers suggest he has potential to be a better defender than many might expect. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Tatum had a 3.2 block percentage and a 2.3 steal percentage — an uncommon combination. He helped Duke limit North Carolina's Justin Jackson to only 6-for-22 shooting in an ACC tournament semifinal matchup.

Where Tatum needs to grow is guarding away from the ball. He often found himself losing his man on back cuts and long possessions in the half-court.

With the Sixers, the 6-foot-8 Tatum potentially could be the shortest member of a lineup that would feature the 6-foot-9 Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Simmons at 6-foot-10, and the 7-foot Embiid in the middle. Although he will likely need to improve his quickness, Tatum has the size to overwhelm smaller guards and the strength — weighing in at 205 pounds — to match up with most small forwards in the league.

Tatum vs. Jackson
Tatum and Jackson are comparable players in most respects. The two were right next to one another in the ESPN's Class of 2016 rankings behind Harry Giles and put up nearly identical numbers on the offensive end.

Both are considered top-five picks, but the 19-year-old Tatum is younger by more than a year and has room to grow physically. And unlike Jackson, he does not carry the baggage of a criminal property damage misdemeanor from December.

Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel told 97.5 The Fanatic last week that Tatum is "one of the most talented, most gifted offensive guys" he has ever seen. 

Agreed.