Expectations, whether they are fair or not, can sometimes ruin a player’s career, especially for those selected near the top of the NBA Draft. If selecting in the top-five, teams plan on getting a franchise changer, even if that player is a “project” that may take a few years to develop.
When the Philadelphia 76ers took Evan Turner with the second pick in the 2010 Draft after a dismal 27-55 season, it was with the hope he would be the guy to lead them into their next era of success. They had already drafted Jrue Holiday, and realized that while Andre Iguodala was a very good player, he wasn’t a franchise player they could build their team around.
With Turner coming off one of the most impressive collegiate seasons in recent history, Philly expected greatness from the 6-7 swingman. What ensued was disappointment.
Turner struggled mightily in his first season and a half in the league. His shot was regularly awry, his ballhandling skills were unapparent, and his confidence was visibly shaken. There were questions about his true position. Was he a point guard, shooting guard or small forward? Can he coexist with Iguodala in the starting lineup or should he be a reserve?
With the questions mounting you could see the cerebral Turner thinking too much on the court. He wasn’t able to just play. Soon rumors about he and Doug Collins not getting along surfaced. Then fans labeled Turner with the dreaded “bust” tag. His name was brought up in trades which had to be embarrassing for someone with so much promise. The city of Philadelphia is not for the faint of heart. It’s the city of Brotherly Love if your brother was the kind to push you around and call you names in an effort to motivate you.
For the better part of his second season, the 76ers led the Atlantic Division with Turner coming off the bench. But when the Celtics began to close the gap, Collins inserted Turner into the starting lineup last March to give the team a boost. Turner responded in a big way, posting a career-high (at the time) 26 points, and nine rebounds in a resounding win over Boston, 103-71.
After that game, Collins told the media, “Evan is a great leader. He worked his tail off to be a better basketball player in the offseason and he was when he came back. When he didn’t start, I know a part of him said ‘I should be.’ But he didn’t say anything. Evan has extreme confidence. He thinks he’s the best player on this team.”
Collins has been starting Turner ever since.
Turner is now averaging career-best numbers in points (15.5), rebounds (7.1), assists (4.2) and three-point percentage (47) so far this season. He is making a living off midrange jumpers, drilling 49 percent of his shots between 10-15 feet while playing multiple positions in the 76ers lineup. Turner starts at the small forward position and he moves over to facilitate the offense as the primary backup point guard when Holiday gets a rest. Along with the budding Holiday and the energetic Thaddeus Young, Turner has the 76ers in the playoff hunt in the Eastern Conference despite missing the services of Andrew Bynum.
Seeing Turner figure things out has been a joy for his team and even more so for Collins.
“Evan is an amazing kid. He’s always been a guy that needs to feel that everything fits. I really feel good about the way he’s letting me coach him,” Collins recently told Philly.com. “I feel a real connection with Evan and it feels great. I don’t know that Evan has trusted a lot of people in his life, but I hope he trusts me.”
Now that things are on the right track, Turner admits to some early relationship woes with his coach.
“It’s definitely improved,” said Turner in an interview with Philly.com. “It’s just self-improvement on both ends. Obviously I was a little stubborn. Doug (Collins), every now and then, is stubborn a little bit. We’ve both been working on it.”
He also worked on dealing with the high expectations placed on him coming out of the draft. Yes, Turner was the No. 2 pick in the 2010 Draft, but since the 2000 Draft, only LaMarcus Aldridge (’06) and Kevin Durant (’07) have been franchise changers as No. 2 selections. Incidentally they are also the only two players to make an All-Star team from that selection spot during the same period.
Because of Bynum, the question of whether Turner can be a franchise player is a non-issue. For now, Turner is happy to be a heavily contributing member on a young up-and-coming team.
“Man, in this situation now when you have so much responsibility on you, it’s like sink or swim,” Turner said recently. “I think we kind of saw it last year in the playoffs where Jrue and myself stepped up. It’s just sink or swim, and if the play is run for you, you’ve got to make the shot. Sometimes you just black out and don’t even think about it.”
Can Turner develop into an All-Star?
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