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The 76ers picking Evan Turner 2nd overall: What Went Wrong?

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By the Philadelphia 76ers essentially giving away Evan Turner on the last year of his rookie scale contract, it’s safe to say the pick hasn’t gone as planned. Turner was the consensus 2nd overall pick in a widely considered top heavy 2010 draft, taken ahead of Derrick Favors, Demarcus Cousins who were considered all-star prospects at the time. Turner was expected to be no less than a star.

So let’s perform an autopsy on the Evan Turner pick.

First, consider that a major reason for Turner going 2nd was production evaluation. He broke out to a huge 20.3 points, 9.1 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.9 blocks per game at .58 TS season his 3rd year at Ohio State, for a 30.8 PER. This domination in college earned him the Naismith and AP Player of the Year awards and made him a national media star. There are many people who use college production as their big starting point for evaluating prospects, before adjusting for age, style of play and talents afterwards when predicting whether they will adjust. Turner appealed to these draft raters.

Of course, you won’t find anyone who uses production evaluation to judge prospects less than me, it is the Jack to my Locke’s talent evaluation strategy. I simply find using production evaluation unreliable. The college games rules/strategies of play and need for player skillset, is so different than the NBA’s that it favors different prospects than the ones who will succeed most at the next level. Furthermore just as some rookies and sophomores in the NBA may develop slowly but eventually become the best players from their draft, it’s logical to believe college prospects may be better or worse players in the NCAA than their peers just because they developed at a different speed into their talent level, physically and mentally. There are too many confounding variables going into college production for me to find it useful. Although talent has a big part in who’s good in the NCAA, there are so many other factors in play as well that only leads to confusion and red herrings. Some statistics like 3 point shooting and free throw percentage or assists are important indicators of talents, but I frankly don’t really care how good a player is at the college game.

Now of course, the Sixers will have evaluated Turner’s talent level as well, as did everyone else. Everyone is aware college production alone can’t tell the story.

Turner’s biggest strength has always been his feel for the game. His craftiness, shiftiness, ability to adjust speeds and fluidity, along with court awareness passing, has shined going back to Ohio St. The funny part about feel for the game however is that while for everyone else it’s largely disregarded, when players are elite in it and everyone notices it, it can sometimes actually get overrated. Jabari Parker and Tyler Ennis are leading the way in elite feel for the game this season for this draft class and the media/fans widely recognize feel/instincts as the biggest thing going for them – and they are two prospects I like less than their expected draft positions. I only rate feel for the game as 1/3 of talent. Even for their great affinity in that area, I am not impressed enough in Parker and Ennis’ talent in the other 2/3s to support them being top 3 and top 10 picks respectively.

This weakness in the non-feel for the game 2/3s of talent, looks to be true of Evan Turner. Turner’s two other strengths are his height for a 2 guard and his ballhandling skills. However, he is an unexplosive athlete which makes him an average at best slasher to the basket. Turner was strong at getting to the basket in college due to his ballhandling and feel, however in the NBA having the burst of speed at the point of attack is essential to standout play in this area. Turner’s lack of elite athleticism also hurts him defensively, where his lateral mobility is average at best, if not subpar. It appears Turner’s concerning lack of explosiveness was misdiagnosed coming out of college, largely because he was driving to the rim so easily at the time.

Secondly, he has typically had a non-existent 3 point game. Turner is currently averaging 0.7 3PM/2.5 3PA (28.5%), while he has the time to improve his 3 point stroke, in the NBA it’s a disadvantage in both efficiency and spacing value to not be a consistent 3 point threat at SG. In his final season at Ohio St. Turner averaged 0.7 3PM/1.8 3PA (36.4%), the percentage respectable but the low volume indicated a shaky outside shooting talent. He also shot only an ok 75.1% from the FT line. This type of shooting career is indicative of a player who can become a 3 point threat, but shouldn’t be counted on to be one. Turner however is a reasonably solid midrange shooter for his position. I am not sure whether to give him credit for better than average passing skills, although his assists per game has been solid, as a high volume possession user with ballhandling and feel for the game as his specialty, if a more gifted passer he may be hitting 5 or 6 assists per game instead of 3 or 4.

Effectively, the combination of his non-feel for the game talent, appears to be perfectly average. My talent grades for Turner at SG would in fact look like this, using these rubrics:

11: Transcendent, 10: Incredible 9: Elite, 8: Great, 7: Very good, 6: Decent, 5: Average, 4: Lacking, 3: Weak, 2: Very poor, 1: Awful

What the overall grades mean:

25+: Perennial all-star talent, 23-24: Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent, 19-22: Blue Chip starter talent, 17-18: Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent, 14-16: Rotation player talent, 12-13: Deep bench to rotation player talent, 11 or lower: Deep bench player talent

Evan Turner:

Physical impact (Athleticism, ballhandling, lateral quickness, size) talent grade: 5 / Average

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 5 / Average

Feel for the Game talent grade: 9 / Elite

Total talent grade: 19 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

Despite Turner getting taken so high being a mistake, I am not sure so the Sixers should have given up on him. It is hard to get long term starting caliber players and Turner is still young enough to improve his 3 point shooting, which could make him an upgrade from 5 in the skill impact talent category and make him very useful. Turner is only 4 years and 8000 minutes in his career. When players like Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic weren’t even starters 4 years into their careers and now are arguably deserving of All-NBA consideration, breakouts could happen. Or to give another example, Demar Derozan is a draft older than Turner and has had a massive 5th year breakout season. At the least, Philadelphia keeping Turner would have given them the chance he takes his game to another gear statistically enough to become a real trade asset later. Turner may not be a spectacular talent, but there is value in good starting talent. But then again, if the Sixers lose enough games from here on out to get the #1 or #2 pick in the draft, they may consider that well worth the value of trading Turner.

Written by jr.

February 25, 2014 at 11:32 am