Status of the Myles Turner Project

The Pacers' rookie big man has shattered his first-year expectations. From limited minutes initially to moving into the starting lineup, Myles Turner has shown a well-rounded offensive game and a huge defensive upside. So how has his season held up against the other great rookie big men this year?

With his maneuvers in the 2015 NBA Draft, Indiana Pacers President Larry Bird threw away his previous policies regarding selecting experienced, four-year players in exchange for the more modern approach taking young players with length and higher upsides. The Pacers are known for being one of the more stubborn teams when it comes to the analytics movement, but the tide is shifting thanks to the influence of GM Kevin Pritchard. This change was evident following the Pacers' selection of Texas freshman Myles Turner in the first round. Suffice to say, the era of drafting Tyler Hansbroughs and Miles Plumlees is over thanks to this new drafting approach. 

From the beginning of the season, it appeared Turner's role was to spell Ian Mahinmi for brief periods and provide offensive rebounding and second chance opportunities for the Pacers' second unit. Since then, he has shown immediate growth on the offensive end, and has already become an impact player defensively for Indiana. Turner was officially moved into the starting lineup in late January, and he has stayed there since, acting as the stretch four to complement Mahinmi's paint defense.

The 2015 draft contained a wealth of quality big men, and the talent was evident with four centers drafted in the six picks. Turner wasn't seen as NBA-ready as some of the more highly-touted picks, but has quickly gained the respect of his peers and opponents. So how does Myles Turner compare with his fellow rookie centers? 

All stats courtesy of, accurate through March 22, 2016.

The Numbers:

A quick glance at the stats, and we can see a few things: One, Karl-Anthony Towns should probably go ahead and be given the Rookie of the Year award, and two, Turner seems to be holding his own against the rookie class of big men. Turner has already showcased his impressive skill set on the offensive end, whether it be from the midrange or post-up game. When posting up, Turner utilizes his long frame to get his shot up at Nowitzkian heights coupled with a quick release for a big man. The bulk of Turner's shot selection comes from midrange jumpers, but Indiana should look to add more postup opportunities for him, as he is currently hitting turnaround hook shots at a 75% clip, and turnaround jumpers at a respectable 44.4%.

 While his scoring isn't quite at the level of Towns or Okafor, his blocks and net rating are slightly better than most, trailing only Porzingis in each category. Defensive stats are often skewed by team performance, but the individual numbers are still worth a look:

Again, defensive numbers can often be affected by a team's overall defensive performance, and the Pacers' defensive rating of 99.9 equals that of Turner's. It is impressive still though, that Turner's defensive rating stacks up so well against the other big men, and all rookies. Turner's defensive rating is fifth among first year players (with at least 40 games played) behind Justise Winslow (98.6), Justin Anderson (98.8), Jonathon Simmons (99.3) and Frank Kaminsky (99.7). His defensive instincts are apparent, on display on this block on Chandler Parsons:

He tracks the cut around the screen set by his own assignment (Nowitzki) and peels off at just the right instant to block the layup. Turner's length and mobility make him an ideal option to guard stretch fours and fives depending on the matchup, but he is still also able to hold his own clogging the paint. Since stretch big men are some of the most valuable offensive assets in the NBA today, having a capable defensive option against them in Turner will help the Pacers maintain their solid defensive identity for years to come.

The Roster Implications

It has been clear since his reutrn from injury and subsequent emergence that Myles Turner is in the long term plans for the Pacers as a possible second option behind star player Paul George. As it stands, current starting center Ian Mahinmi is set to enter unrestricted free agency after the 2015-16 season, and after having his most effective season to date, a big paycheck may be in store for the French big man that the Pacers may or may not be willing to sign. Although with Chase Budinger, Solomon Hill, Jordan Hill, and Shayne Whittington's team option coming off the books, Indiana might have some room to re-sign Mahinmi to a better deal. Assuming he does re-sign, that might continue to put Turner in the starting PF spot, with the occasional slides to C when the Pacers want to play small ball. In this case, Turner's role will probably stay similar to what it has been throughout the second half of the season- often the third option on offense while being used to guard the primary zones right outside the key while occasionally sliding out to cover the three-point line.

The other option the Pacers have is choosing not to re-sign Mahinmi, moving Turner into his probable future position at Center. The extra cash in hand would allow Indiana to re-sign Jordan Hill, who has provided excellent burst off the bench this season with offensive rebounding and paint scoring. The additional cap space would help to potentially sign someone to replace Turner's 4 spot, like a Ryan Anderson or a Terrence Jones (Jones in particular is not having the best contract year, meaning his next deal would be relatively cheaper). In this scenario, Turner's primary roles would be protect the paint defensively while looking for more opportunities to post up on the offensive side. Currently, Turner's post defense is acceptable for his rookie status, but it would need to improve if he were the primary paint protector. Opponents are shooting 50.7% against Turner when shooting within 6 feet of the basket, but with more time in this role, one can expect that number to drop.


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