Sixers expecting breakout year for Turner
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Evan Turner is not easily dissuaded. When asked if the addition of center Andrew Bynum would help transform his game and give him the chance to show off his open-court game instead of worrying about rebounding, Turner wasn’t having any of it.
Oh yes, he’s going to get rebounds. Bynum or not, Turner is getting his boards.
“That’s how I play,” Turner said, only half joking, following Tuesday’s practice session at St. Joe’s Hagan Arena. “I was the best rebounder on the team last year. It’s what I do. I’m getting boards, baby.”
Turner is right about the fact that he was the best rebounder on the team last season. Coach Doug Collins even suggested that Turner could have been the best defensive rebounding guard in the NBA, which was personified by the 7.5 rebounds per game Turner snatched during the playoffs.
But Turner’s strength is when he has the ball in his hands and with Bynum expected to receive so much attention from defenses on the low block, there likely will be more chances for Turner to get the ball. No longer will he have to actually go and get it himself.
“I think Evan knows what opportunity is there for him,” Collins said. “Just think about it — last year Evan was our best rebounder. This year he could arguably be our third or fourth-best rebounder. That would be amazing because with the big guys on the boards you can get out more and go with it.
"Big men give you a chance to have a running game. They give you rim protection. They get you to the foul line and they get you to the paint where the game is won. I think Evan has a great shot to take another big jump.”
Yes, and there’s the rub. After two years in the league after being selected as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft, it’s time for Turner to bust out.
After being brought along slowly in his first two NBA seasons, Turner likely will be a starter for Collins this season. And after two inconsistent seasons at the start of his career, Turner won’t be looking over his shoulder anymore. He’s going to have the chance to sink or swim.
It’s about time, says Turner, who thinks the Sixers “left teams off the hook” last season. Though the consensus in the Sixers’ front office was that the group with Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, Jrue Holiday and Turner maxed, Turner says they were just scratching the surface.
With Bynum and a bolstered frontcourt and perimeter, Turner expects bigger things. Still, Turner wonders what would have happened if he had played a bit more.
“I don’t know because we never really fully utilized myself, Jrue and [Iguodala],” Turner said. “I think we maxed out the post situation, but we never maxed out running it through mine, Jrue or 'Dre’s hands. We did that for a couple of weeks and what, we scored 115 points? We were ready to rock-and-roll.”
It’s true. When Turner was pushed into the starting lineup he caught fire, pouring in 26 against the Celtics on 11-for-19 shooting on March 7 and followed that with 16 points and 12 rebounds against the Jazz on March 9.
However, the coup de grâce came on March 10 at Madison Square Garden, where Turner scored 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting with 15 rebounds. He scored 13 points during the third quarter, in which the Sixers took a 16-point lead over the Knicks.
Add in the 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting against Indiana on March 14 and Turner put together a four-game stretch in which he shot 36 for 57 (63.2 percent) for 87 points.
But then there were also stretches where Turner was maddeningly non-existent. Sometimes he would just disappear, like in the April 17 game against the Pacers in which he clocked nearly 30 minutes, took just three shots and did not score a point. Was he getting the ball? With seven rebounds and four assists, he had the ball plenty.
Then there was his shooting, which never really improved during his second season. On shots beyond 15 feet, Turner shot just 33 percent, a decline from his rookie season.
Still, make no mistake about it, now Turner is going to get a chance to show off his game.
“He’s grown the past couple of years and he’s really learned the NBA game,” general manager Tony DiLeo said. “He has tremendous skill and this is a great opportunity. We have to have some players step up for us and we’re looking at him to do that.”
“It’s going to give him more opportunity. If you look at last year, we had four guys who wanted to finish games — we had [Lou Williams] and Evan and Jrue and [Iguodala],” Collins said. “Evan is going to take a great step leadership-wise.”
That leadership role, just like the increased playing time, is another part of the game Turner is seeking.
“The most important thing is guys are looking for us to lead,” Turner said. “There are a lot of guys here looking for direction. We’ve got some ears that are ready to listen, so it’s way different.”
Also different is the fact that Turner will not have to go to rebound the ball if he wants it in his hands. The Sixers have Bynum and a deep frontcourt to take care of that.
Or do they ...
“Nah, I’m rebounding,” he said with a wry smile.E-mail John Finger at firstname.lastname@example.org