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

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

BOX SCORE

Brett Brown was ready to do it Wednesday night. The matchup against the Kings presented an opportunity to experiment with playing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together. That pairing had to wait two days, though, after the Kings game was postponed

On Friday, Embiid and Okafor shared the court for just under 13 minutes in the Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), who also rolled out a duo of bigs in Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I thought we had our moments,” Embiid said. “We shared the ball, we made shots. Obviously we need to play more together and learn how to play with each other.”

Embiid and Okafor first played together for 5:29 in the second quarter. They scored all of the Sixers' 12 points during that time, including a pair of threes by Embiid. They also combined for five boards. The Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9, with the bigs in together.

The benefits of the floor spacing was apparent. Oftentimes in the game, Okafor could be seen open at the basket with a hand up for the ball while Embiid was also getting looks from long range. 

“I liked our spacing, I liked the high-low stuff we were doing,” Brown said. “I think when you post Joel, that Jahlil is going to play sort of hide-and-seek on the other side of the floor, and work that low zone, and become — I hope — a potent offensive rebounder. When you post Jahlil, Joel has the ability to space to three.”

Brown turned to Embiid and Okafor again in the fourth. At that point, the Magic had a 23-point lead. Their next 7:25 together was a chance to give them a long run in live game action. They combined for another 12 points and four rebounds. All of their buckets were layups, dunks or free throws. Both teams scored 19 points with Embiid and Okafor in that segment.

Both Embiid and Okafor finished the game with double-doubles: 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Embiid; 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Okafor. 

“I thought they played well together,” Vucevic said. “I thought it was tough to guard them because they’re both really good offensively.”

Okafor credited his friendship with Embiid, which dates back to high school, as a key to coexisting well on the court. Both emphasized their off-the-court relationship would help them in a game situation. 

“I think the communication piece went really well,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me, I was talking to him.”

Scoring and communication always seemed to be the easier parts of the pairing to tackle. Defense, though, was the challenge given that one of the centers would have to guard the four spot. Okafor noted their transition D as an area that needs improvement.

“We’re both used to going right to the rim,” Okafor said. “I think I had a couple easy buckets. That’s something we’ll be able to fix.” 

Brown had based his decision of when to play Embiid and Okafor together on the matchups. While the two could boast their own edge on the offensive end, Brown didn’t want to play them in a scenario in which they’d be at a huge defensive disadvantage. 

“It’s not offense to me, it’s defense. That’s the thing that is most challenging,” Brown said. “We want to play fast. We want to put points on the board. You don’t want to play in the 80s. You don’t want to do that, that’s not our sport anymore. So you want to make sure that you're capable of guarding the opposition.”

Vucevic noticed the challenge from an opposing perspective. He understands the necessary changes since playing alongside Biyombo.  

“It takes time for them to get adjusted, especially for the guy that will be playing the four defensively,” Vucevic said. “They’re not used to that because they always back down to the paint guarding the fives. It’s a different look. They have to work on it, communicate, and I think they’ll be fine.” 

On a night with few highlights in a 17-point blowout loss, Brown was able to take away a positive from this anticipated duo.

"I thought Jahlil and Joel did a really good job," he said. 

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Joel Embiid didn’t see four quarters of basketball from the Sixers in their 105-88 loss to the Magic Friday night (see Instant Replay). Their efforts were inconsistent as they fell flat in long stretches and allowed the Magic to build up double-digit leads as high as 29 points.

The Sixers gave up a 16-0 run in the first and shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) in the quarter. The Magic, who had lost a one-point game to the Grizzlies in Memphis the night before, rallied together to seize this opportunity.

“They just made a lot of shots that we didn’t,” Embiid said. “That’s the game, but we didn’t play hard all 48 minutes and we need to do a better job next time.”

The Sixers didn’t break 30 points until 4:33 to go in the second and attempted just two free throws in the first half. By the end of the third, the Magic had a 21-point lead which they held on to with in ease in the fourth. 

The Magic outshot the Sixers on all areas of the floor: 47.4 percent to 37.9 from the field and 50.0 to 28.1 from three. While the teams had nearly equal percentages from the line, the Magic shot 18 for 26 compared to only 7 for 10 from the Sixers. 

“They missed a lot of shots,” Magic forward Jeff Green said. “We got stops, were aggressive, guys just played hard and created for one another and played as a team.”

Covington injured
The Sixers are waiting to learn more news on the extent of Robert Covington’s injury. In the fourth quarter, Covington exited and did not return after suffering a left knee sprain when he collided with T.J. McConnell chasing a loose ball in front of the Sixers’ bench. If the starting small forward has to miss time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown is thinking ahead to possible lineup changes. 

“We'll try to figure out what his next week represents,” Brown said. “If we aren't with him, maybe there's a chance we can look at Dario [Saric] a little bit at the three.”

Covington is averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 27.5 minutes per game. Saric has been coming off the bench at power forward behind Ersan Ilyasova. He started 10 games earlier this season at the four spot. 

Embiid honored
The Sixers honored Embiid during a timeout for being named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (October and November). Embiid was appreciative of the award and has his sights set on the bigger picture this season.

“All the hard work I’ve put in, it feels great,” Embiid said earlier in the day at shootaround. “Obviously, maybe the bigger picture is Rookie of the Year, that’s what matters. … I don’t have my mind set on that. But if I can get it, that would be nice.”

Brown sees this recent showing as just a glimpse into what Embiid will be able to do over his career. Embiid leads the Sixers with 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. 

“This in infant stages, early days for him,” Brown said. “His body of work, given his lack of playing basketball, really is jaw-dropping for what I think he can be. To jump in and get rookie of the month I think is a real, sort of, quick snapshot view of him now. I think what he’s going to be is going to be extremely special.”

Embiid also is shooting 51.4 percent from three, including 3 for 5 against the Magic. When asked if he would like to participate in the three-point contest All-Star weekend, he said "it would be nice" and noted he would have to work on the speed of his release.