The Portland Trail Blazers’ 2016-17 season was a year defined by high ambitions and unmet expectations. The team saw a regression to the mean after shocking the league just a year prior, but there is plenty of talent on the roster that can help the team improve.
Ahead of 2017-18, Oregon Sports News’ Jared Wright and Bryant Knox will be breaking down the strengths, weaknesses and recent showings from each and every Trail Blazers player. Today, we look at the $70 million man, Evan Turner.
Evan Turner has things he does. He does a little bit of everything, which is what you need from an NBA player on the wing these days. For the price that his package comes with, though, it was simply not enough last season.
He is paid to be a solid number three or a very good sixth man, like he was in Boston, but he gave the Blazers the kind of production that would be expected of someone making, say, $30 million, like Al-Farouq Aminu. His Player Efficiency Rating was 10th on the team in 2016-17, behind fellow wings Maurice Harkless and Allen Crabbe (who was traded because he was an equally expensive disappointment), and one-tenth of a point ahead of Aminu, who had very similar stats in some respects with Turner, save that Chief shot much better from three-point range and had more rebounds, while Turner had more assists…by default, since he had a Usage Rate three-percent higher than Aminu’s, and had the ball in his hands far more often as an initiator.
Turner was 11th on the Blazers in Win Shares, 11th in field-goal percentage, sixth in points (behind that arbiter of offense, Mason Plumlee), had a negative Value Over Replacement Player (meaning that the average, replacement-level player would have been worth more to the Blazers than Turner last year), and was dead last in three-point shooting, by a mile.
At one point, Turner’s adjusted plus-minus was the worst in the entire league for players averaging 20+ MPG. He did get somewhat better as he got used to the team and his role, but he still had the worst net rating among rotation regulars on the Blazers, at -4.5. The Blazers got four-and-a-half points worse when Evan Turner, their big free-agent acquisition, was on the floor for them.
The eye test wasn’t flattering either; Turner looked as lost as he did when the Indiana Pacers rented him a few years ago for a playoff push. Whatever comfort level he found in Boston was dashed away the instant he breathed Pacific Northwest air as a Blazer.
To cut a 400+ word rant short: Evan Turner was a trash can of a professional basketball player last year, a very expensive trash can. He needs to NOT be a trash can if A) he wants to reclaim any modicum of respect, and B) not be derided by the Rip City faithful as the worst free-agent signing the Blazers made in their nearly 50 years of existence.
What He Brings to The Table
Portland President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey touted Turner as a Swiss Army Knife-type of player when he signed him to that four-year, $70 million contract last summer. What Olshey didn’t mention was how much production Turner provides in each of those areas.
He can pass a little bit, rebound a little bit, capably run a secondary pick-and-roll (if the Blazers ever get someone that can set a decent screen…), score some around the cup if he’s able to get around a slower player, defend somewhat ably if he’s not up against a talented wing scorer; there’s stuff there that can be useful. Just not in the kind of role Olshey brought Turner here to play, and not for the price Olshey paid.
Think of it this way: you set the table. Damian Lillard is the protein, a big slab of steak. CJ McCollum is a side of bacon-fried green beans, a fantastic side dish. Jusuf Nurkic is the baked potato, and you’re not sure if you cooked the tater just long enough to be good, but you threw it in there anyway because your guests like baked taters. Aminu and Mo Harkless are the broccoli and cauliflower, stuff no one likes to eat, but stuff you need because you gotta eat your veggies.
Evan Turner is supposed to be the seasoning that makes the steak, potato, and veggies go from “alright” to “awesome.” Olshey thought Turner would be the guy to take this meal to the next level. Unfortunately, Turner only had salt and pepper, and had only a pinch of each. He couldn’t season the food, couldn’t give it enough flavor, and what we ended up with in 2016-17 was a very bland dinner.
Hopefully, Turner found the paprika, cayenne pepper, hollandaise and sour cream while working out this summer. However, hoping for improvement from the oldest member of the Blazers (Turner will be 29 shortly after the season begins) might be hopeful at best, and foolish at worst.
What to Expect in 2017-18
Look, I have nothing against Evan Turner. I want him to succeed, as well as the rest of the Trail Blazers. But his game as a supporting player on this type of team should be based on intangibles and having an impact beyond traditional stats, and the advanced metrics for him were the hottest of hot, dank garbage last season. You do your job that badly, you’re gonna get crapped on more than a car under a power line, and all pro athletes know this. At least Turner is very well compensated for it.
Turner will get many opportunities to redeem himself, after the Crabbe trade. He’s got all the minutes he could want, health permitting. Hopefully, he gets more comfortable here, works better with Lillard, McCollum, and the bigs, and maybe someone develops an outside shot to provide him with a safety valve to pass to. Maybe Turner himself magically finds a three-point stroke, though I doubt that.
If Turner does find a bit of mojo, he’ll help recoup some value out of the outlandish contract Olshey gave him. If he doesn’t, good luck ever trading that dead weight. I hope he succeeds. I don’t think he will.
Hat tips to Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com for stats.