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.)