Can Myles Turner Keep the Pacers a Playoff Threat?

The Indiana Pacers are in the top half of the eastern conference playoff race but their best player is out for the season. Fourth-year center Myles Turner will be one of the keys to how well they stay afloat between now and April.

When Victor Oladipo went down with an injury on January 23rd, the Indiana Pacers had a 32-15 record and were comfortably among the top teams in the east. They then lost their first four games without their star. However, the Pacers have since won their past four while trying to find their footing in a newly egalitarian setting, hoping that new players can carry them past the opening round of the playoffs. After a slow but steady climb in productivity over his first four seasons in the NBA, it's time for Myles Turner to shine.

Turner, who is not yet 23-years-old, turned heads two seasons ago when he attempted 1.4 three-pointers per game and made about 35% of them. Since proving that he could shoot, his game has stretched away from the rim on offense while staying close to the rim on defense. And boy, can Myles Turner play defense.

Myles Turner's Defense

Offense is fun and all (we'll get to it later) but this 7-footer from Texas is leading the NBA in blocks. Turner has missed a handful of games, but through the 50 he has played, his average of  2.7 blocks per game is just a pinch ahead of Anthony Davis's 2.6. The difference is that Turner's 3.4 blocks per-36 minutes is well above Davis's 2.5.

But raw numbers only go so far. Myles Turner is blocking 5.1% of the shots opponents take when he's on the floor, according to CleaningTheGlass.com. That percentage places him in the 98th percentile among bigs in the NBA and is by far the highest mark of Turner's young career. Furthermore, teams shoot over 6% worse at the rim and almost 4% worse from 4-14 feet when Turner is on the floor versus when he's off the floor.

I realize that's a lot of statistics, so here are a few examples of how he's defending.

The clip below shows back-to-back possessions against the Suns on January 15th. First we see Turner sagging back, waiting to see if Devin Booker will try to get into the paint, but leaving himself enough space to recover onto Richaun Holmes for a block at the rim. Seconds later we see Turner stop a fast-break, refuse to bite on an up-fake, and (with incredible ease) slap a Kelly Oubre shot into the camera bay

If you need a little more evidence, the Pacers are currently second in the league in defensive rating, allowing just 104.2 points per 100 possessions. That number drops under 102 when Turner is on the court, which would be league-best by a long shot. In a pretty staggering statistic, the five-man lineup of Cory Joseph, Darren Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, and Myles Turner allow just 92.4 points per 100 possessions -- one of the best five-man groups in the NBA, per Cleaning The Glass.

It's not a fluke or an anomaly. Regardless of where you prefer to get your defensive statistics or which statistics you prefer, they all seem to agree that Turner is a high-end defender.

But there's more to Turner's game than his impressive defensive resume. And, unfortunately, the rest is not as encouraging.

Myles Turner's Offense

It's important to point out - again - that Turner won't turn 23 until late this season. He's extremely young and has time to improve. The problem is that there are still a lot of things he needs to improve upon offensively.

The Good

Myles Turner can shoot. While he's technically listed at 6'11 (but come on, he's a giant), he is a career 77% free-throw shooter and has steadily climbed from 35% to 36% to (after hitting his last six attempts) over 40% on three-pointers over the past three seasons. He demands attention inside strictly based on his size, so when he steps out and does what you see below, defenses are in a horrible bind.

 

The Pacers should be able to use this skill in two very different settings: 1) With either Thaddeus Young or Domantas Sabonis as the interior offensive player. Both of these guys are skilled inside, with Sabonis being an excellent passer. If opponents put two bigs on the floor, Turner will step out for open threes. If opponents only use one big, Turner or Young/Sabonis will take them inside. 2) A smaller lineup of Collison, Joseph, Bogdanovic, and newly-signed Wes Matthews can surround Turner and create a possible 5-out lineup which still includes a dominant rim protector.

The Bad

Turner has shown flashes of being a serviceable roll man in the pick-and-roll, but the numbers don't exactly bear that out. According to Synergy, Myles Turner ranked in the 41st percentile in the NBA over the 2017-18 season in points produced as the roll man, averaging 1.031 PPP. As we near the All-Star break this season, Turner has regressed to 1.012 PPP, which places him down in the 40th percentile.

He has a habit of doing what you see in the clip below: He rolls to the rim, then either pulls up and tries to out-maneuver a shot-blocker or he just doesn't roll hard enough.

It's more than just rolling to the rim. Despite his defensive instincts and relative agility, Turner doesn't yet appear to have the athleticism or touch to be a devastating finisher in the NBA. For example, in the clip below, this should be a dunk -- or at the very least an easy layup (or a pass; he really picked the worst option here). Instead, he shows both a lack of aggression and a lack of finesse.

I realize it feels nitpicky to complain about a guy who's making 70% of his field goals at the rim, but he's only taking 26% of his shots at the rim, so the aggression needs to be ramped up.

All things considered, it's not unusual for a young player to excel in some areas while struggling in others, so the Pacers are in a perfectly fine position. However, they're only a couple of losses away from losing home-court advantage in the playoffs. Dropping in the standings would also mean playing in Boston or Philadelphia in round one, neither of which should sound appealing to the Pacers.

What does Indiana need from Myles Turner?

It's hard to pinpoint a solution to his offensive issues beyond practice, but what's certain is that Turner is going to get more chances to score in the season's final 25 games. In the seven games since Oladipo went down, Turner has taken about 12 shots per game, up from his season average of just over 10, and is scoring a full 4 points per game more than before the injury shakeup. The Pacers need more of that.

On the bright side, he doesn't have to change much of anything in his defensive game. He swatted ten shots in just under 50 minutes in Indiana's two blowout wins over the Los Angeles teams this week.

What the Pacers are really hoping for is that Turner swaps some of his mid-range jumpers for shots closer to the rim. On the season, Myles Turner is shooting 51% from the floor, but 27% of his shots are coming between 16 feet and the three-point line. Those mid-range shots are a problem. As mentioned, he's a good shooter (he's making 44% of these long mid-rangers), but the Pacers need all the points they can muster down the stretch. And since Turner shoots almost 70% at the rim, he needs to be in there more often.

He has earned the reputation that defenders need to respect his pump-fake. He will now need to get downhill toward the rim and finish.

The bulk of Oladipo's scoring burden will likely fall on Bojan Bogdanovic, but for the Pacers to make noise in the playoffs, they need Myles Turner to be the best version of himself.

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