Indiana Pacers: Future Of Team Rides On Myles Turner

May 1, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Indiana Pacers forward Myles Turner (33) takes a jump shot in practice before playing Toronto Raptors in game seven of the first round of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
May 1, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Indiana Pacers forward Myles Turner (33) takes a jump shot in practice before playing Toronto Raptors in game seven of the first round of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

The Indiana Pacers are a wild card in the Eastern Conference. How they fare for next season and beyond will hinge heavily on the development of Myles Turner.

Myles Turner is not the best player on the Indiana Pacers, but he is the most important player on the team. The team’s success, both in the short term and for the foreseeable future will depend on what level of success Turner enjoys as a pro.

Since being drafted a year ago, nearly every sign of his his talent has been a positive one. After a successful rookie campaign, Turner appears primed to take his game to another level in 2016-17.

Turner participated with the USA Select Team, a team full of young and promising players, as Team USA revved up for their run in the Rio Olympics.

In those practices, Turner was talk of the media on-hand to watch some of the best players in the game play against each other.

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Nobody should be happier with Turner’s apparent emergence over the summer than Pacers’ president of basketball operations Larry Bird, who chose Turner with the 11th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Turner was a pleasant surprise for the Pacers as rookie, averaging 10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in 22.8 minutes per game. The numbers don’t jump out at you, but it’s important to note that Turner was considered a long-term project coming into the draft.

Turner was far ahead of where many expected him to be as a rookie, raising both his floor and ceiling as a player exponentially. His strong play allowed the Pacers to pass on re-signing last year’s starting center, Ian Mahinmi, as well as backup big man Jordan Hill.

The development of Turner will likely determine the ceiling for the Pacers this season and even more importantly, how the foreseeable future for the franchise will unfold.

On paper, the Pacers have a stronger roster than last year by adding proven veterans Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson while losing George Hill and Mahinmi.

But the biggest upgrade that the Pacers could see this season is a better Turner in a bigger role.

Myles Turner, The Rim Protector

This season, Turner’s defense will likely be his main contribution. With Mahinmi gone, many minutes will be usurped by Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson, two players who range from replacement-level to borderline disastrous on defense.

In 2015-16, Turner ranked in the top 20 in points saved per game according to rim protection stats from While being in the top 20 is an accomplishment for any player, it’s outstanding given Turner’s circumstances.

Turner churned out a top-20 season in points saved per game despite playing 22.8 minutes per game.

What makes a great rim protector?

Typically, there are two kinds of rim protecting centers. There are the long, athletic big men who uses a physical advantage to contest and deter the shots of opponents; think of Hassan Whiteside or Bismack Biyombo.

Then there are the smart, always-in-the-right-spot big men who use their brains more than any athletic skills, think of Tim Duncan or Andrew Bogut.

Turner falls into more of the first category, common for a player of his age. At times last year, Turner was lost defensively. You could almost see how his mental process was operating.

The problem with that is when you’re thinking about where you need to be, opponents are already there on their way to two points.

While never confirmed by last year’s coach Frank Vogel, who built a reputation as a defensive wiz behind rim protectors like Roy Hibbert and Mahinmi, I think it’s safe to say some of Turner’s inconsistency with minutes came due to his rudimentary understanding of defensive rotations.

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His understanding of defensive rotations will improve as Turner gets more familiar with the NBA game and defensive schemes.

Still, Turner landing near the top of the league in points saved per game and 17th in contest percentage (percentage of shots at the rim contested while on the court) is an encouraging sign.

With a better understanding of team defensive principles, Turner should be a force to be reckoned with going forward.

Blocks don’t mean everything when it comes to rim protection. Tyson Chandler, who has been one of the NBA’s prototypical rim protectors over the past decade, has averaged “only” 1.3 blocks per game for his career.

However, blocks are still a stat worth keeping. At the most elementary level, a block prevents two points. On a deeper level, having a shot blocking presence deters shots and keeps defenders out of the paint.

As a rookie, Turner averaged 1.4 blocks per game. Turner became the 10th player to average at least 1.4 blocks per game in their age 19 season, per

While there are some surprising names on that list (Darius Miles, Eddie Griffin), it’s never a bad thing to be in the company of players like Kevin Garnett, Chris Bosh, Andre Drummond and Dwight Howard.

It’s also worth noting that of the 10 players to average 1.4 blocks per game, only Drummond did it in fewer minutes per game than Turner needed.

As the Pacers transition with a new roster under a new coach playing a new style, much is unknown. One of the things we do know is that the Pacers will depend heavily on Turner to anchor the defense.

Bird watched the offensively-challenged Ian Mahinmi sign with the Wizards in free agency. As Turner slides to center, Thaddeus Young will replace Mahinmi in the starting lineup.

Gone is George Hill, the point guard who didn’t perform the prototypical duties of slashing to the basket and creating plays for other. In his spot is Jeff Teague, a quicker player who thrived in a space-oriented offense in Atlanta.

Mahinmi and Hill have been better defensive players than Young and Teague. Monta Ellis has been a minus defender for much of his career. Al Jefferson has been a defensive liability for his entire career. At age 31 and battling foot problems, he isn’t going to get any better defensively.

Paul George has been a great wing defender for the entirety of his career, but he can’t do it all himself, especially while carrying a heavy load of the offensive possessions.

The only way for a team with poor perimeter defensive players to neutralize that weakness is to have an elite rim protector to cover for their mistakes and prevent easy baskets.

Thus, Turner could be the most important player for the Pacers this season. The Pacers’ ability to get stops will hinge on Turner’s ability to be a defensive force and exonerate the flaws of his teammates.

Going into the season, the Pacers are a team with a lot of volatility in how their season could go. They have George, the second-best player in the Eastern Conference, so things can’t go too bad as long as he’s healthy. Outside of George, there are a ton of question marks.

Ellis is a poor defender who needs the ball in his hands, but is playing next to a more true point guard in Teague. Young has spent much of his career putting up solid numbers on mediocre teams. Jefferson is past his prime and has had troubles staying on the floor.

In an Eastern Conference that is pretty wide open after the Cavaliers, Turner’s defense could decide whether the Pacers are a top three seed or fighting for a playoff spot in the final week of the season.

Master of the Midrange

Around this time last year, Bird and Vogel had spoken of their commitment to playing smaller and faster, something that was tried and given up on early in the season.

This year, Bird made the necessary personnel changes to truly follow through on his allegiance to embrace the pace-and-space principles of modern offenses.

On the offensive side, Turner is a bit of a work in progress, albeit one with an elite skill.

Last season, Turner was sent back to the bench despite showing great signs in his time as a starter. Pacers fans complained about what appeared to be a demotion for a promising rookie, but it was made to maximize Turner’s effectiveness.

Towards the end of the season, the Pacers began to play Turner more frequently with the second unit.

While many Pacers fans wondered what on earth Vogel was doing, it made sense for two reasons.

The move to the bench allowed Turner to have a bigger offensive role, where he wouldn’t have to share possessions with George, Ellis, and Hill. At the same time, it provided an offensive threat for a bench unit that desperately needed scoring.

The Pacers signed point guard Ty Lawson on March 7. Lawson, who had excelled in a pick-and-roll heavy scheme with the Denver Nuggets, made an ideal match to partner with Turner.

Turner, who struggled at creating his own shot (79.9 percent of Turner’s made shots were assisted), it’s important for him to have someone who can help create a shot for Turner.

It was a great idea in theory, but Lawson failed to live up to expectations.

The signing of Lawson was likely the initial action and sign that the Pacers were interested in a point guard who runs pick-and-rolls and sets up scoring opportunities for the team.

The Pacers swapped out George Hill for Jeff Teague, who should help Turner find open looks to utilize his jump shot. Last season, Hill was listed as the primary ball-handler on pick-and-roll opportunities on 259 possessions.

Teague had more than twice that many plays as a pick-and-roll ball handler, finishing last season with 545.

Teague had ideal pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop partners with Al Horford and Paul Millsap in Atlanta. New Pacers coach Nate McMillan would be wise to make the Teague-Turner pick-and-roll a staple of the offense.

Turner should have a healthy scoring output next season on putbacks that will come with pick-and-pop opportunities.

Turner can really become a scary prospect if he can show some sort of ability to create offense on his own, as 80.4 percent of Turner’s shot attempts as a rookie came with zero dribbles, showing that it was often in a catch-and-shoot scenario.

Turner didn’t look comfortable putting the ball on the floor last season. Turner doesn’t need to be DeMarcus Cousins, who took 49.4 percent of his shots after taking at least one dribble, but becoming a threat to create his own shot is what could make Turner a star.

How Myles Turner Could Shape The Pacers Going Forward

Turner isn’t just the biggest X-factor for the Pacers for the upcoming season, they’re banking on his development to help anchor their future. Turner could be the key that keeps Paul George in Indiana beyond his current contract.

George has two seasons left on his contract, with a player option for the third that will definitely be declined.

As Andrew Perna of stated in a look into George’s contract situation, players like Kent Bazemore, Luol Deng, and Evan Turner will all be making more than $18 million in 2018-19, when George can decline his player option to sign a bigger deal.

George hasn’t shown any signs that he’s in a hurry to leave the Pacers, but in today’s NBA if you aren’t concerned about getting a superstar, you’re concerned about the superstar you have leaving.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past few years, major markets aren’t as important as they used to be. Just ask the Lakers, who couldn’t land a meeting with Hassan Whiteside.

Or the Knicks, who couldn’t convince Greg Monroe to choose them over the Milwaukee Bucks in the summer of 2015.

Basketball situation is the new market size.

Star players leave their current situations for better basketball situations. This isn’t 1980 where only the Celtics and Lakers are getting nationally televised games. Last year, two of the three biggest stars in basketball called Cleveland and Oklahoma City their home.

It’s 2016 and the cameras and sneaker deals follow the stars, not the other way around.

Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City, but he made it clear throughout his free agency that where he would sign would be strictly a basketball decision. Durant left a team that had a good basketball situation to play for a team with the best basketball situation.

LeBron James can say he went back to Cleveland because he was homesick, but it’s hard to believe the timing of the move was just a coincidence.

The Cavaliers had dominated the lottery on their way to a collection of young players and assets. James’ Heat team that was the oldest team in the NBA by a sizable margin, had lost in the NBA Finals and was breaking down.

This is a scary, but a positive sign for the Pacers. The Pacers must give George the best basketball situation that can be offered to him not only to win, but to keep possibly the best player in franchise history in blue and gold.

This is where Turner is the key.

While the Pacers are a question mark of a team for this year, their worst-case scenario for this season is probably a 35-win season. Historically, that will keep you out of the playoffs and towards the back end of the lottery.

Although George (and Turner) were late lottery picks, it’s unlikely to find franchise-altering players in that range.

As long as the Pacers have George and are in the East, they’re probably going to make the playoffs.

This means that they won’t be in position to draft high and land a superstar. They’ll likely continue the blueprint that Bird has followed for years: sign secondary-tier free agents, draft well in the teens, and focus on player development.

It’s unlikely that George would choose Indiana over other destinations to play next to players like Ellis or Young.

The Pacers need to give George a basketball situation that would be hard for him to leave. It’s a few years down the road, but the pieces in place aren’t appealing for George in 2018.

The draft and free agency are the two primary sources of roster improvement. The Pacers haven’t been a historically attractive place for free agents. Signing a 31-year old David West might be the best free agent addition in team history.

The draft is a bit of a crapshoot. The Pacers have a really good history of drafting outside of the of the top nine. In that range, they’ve brought in George, Turner, Roy Hibbert, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Granger to Indy. Yet the Pacers cannot bank on adding big talent in the mid-late first round.

If the Pacers are going to give George a sidekick that can take them up a notch, he’s already on the roster.

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Turner will be fresh off of his third NBA season when George will decide to exercise his player option. At that point, the team would control Turner’s rights for another year.

After that fourth year, he’ll become a restricted free agent, meaning the Pacers could match any offer sheet to retain him.

If Turner is the second coming of Aldridge, then that changes the landscape of the franchise. His rise coupled with George, would put the Pacers in excellent position to rise to the top of the East if LeBron James begins to decline.

On the other hand, if Turner’s development stagnates, it puts them in big trouble. The Pacers would become a prime example of a team with a stranded superstar who needs a new start.

The future is impossible to predict, but it’s still necessary to prepare for it. The Pacers aren’t a team built for long-term greatness. The team construction right now is George, a cast of average veteran starters, and Turner.

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For the Pacers to be anything worth being excited about in 2016-17 and beyond, Turner must bloom into a star.