Bob Cooney: Sixers rookie Turner showing progress

Associated Press
Associated Press
Posted: December 31, 2010

MAKE NO BONES about it - rookie Evan Turner's progression has gone about as quickly as the demolition of the Spectrum.

It certainly isn't what Sixers fans want to hear. Turner, the consensus college player of the year last season, has struggled mightily trying to figure out life in the NBA.

Did the organization overvalue Turner, thinking he was a good enough athlete to come in and be an NBA "two" guard after handling the ball most of his collegiate career? Did the Sixers take the safest pick, going with Turner over longer shots Derrick Favors and DeMarcus Cousins? Did the rest of the draft, after top pick John Wall, turn out not to be all that good?

Right now, the answer appears to be yes to all.

To perform in the NBA as a "two" guard, Turner needs to do the following: defend the bigger guards; move without the basketball; take the ball to the basket off the dribble; and, most important, make jump shots.

Turner can defend fine and will even get better. That is not a concern right now.

The paramount issue is Turner's inability to drain open jumpers.

When a shooting guard makes shots, it puts everything else in motion. Defenders must now jump out after him when he sets his feet, which eases drives into the lane, which creates passing alleys. Turner just doesn't have that ability right now. And his spending some time in the NBA Development League has certainly been discussed by the front office.

One telling time this week in Golden State showed just how shaky Turner's situation is. With the Sixers missing Andre Iguodala because of injury and Lou Williams, who was back in Philadelphia for the birth of his daughter, coach Doug Collins specifically noted before the game that Turner was someone the team would need to gobble up minutes.

Collins played Turner more than 16 minutes in that first half, and the coach spent most of his time palming his head with both hands in disbelief. Turner didn't perform defensively and was pretty much invisible on the offensive end, missing all four of his shots and dealing only one assist.

When the second half rolled around, Collins went with rookie Craig Brackins ahead of Turner in the rotation.

Many times this season, in close games, and especially recently, Collins has been hesitant to go with Turner, making his lack of trust painfully obvious. Before Wednesday's game in Phoenix, Turner had scored in double figures only once in 15 games, and had some DNPs. Turner, who is not good at hiding his emotions, didn't appear to handle the benching well.

Then came the Phoenix Suns game. The Sixers were again without Iguodala and needed bodies against the high-octane Suns. Collins again gave Turner the chance - and the rookie flourished. Turner finished with his best overall game as a pro - 23 points, making nine of his 12 shots.

But there was more to see about his performance than only the points. When Turner came into the game, he hit his first two jump shots. A light appeared to go off, a confidence gained. As the game wore on, Turner wanted the ball, wanted to take the big shot. He did just that - a few times. None more important than his three-pointer with 1 minute, 42 seconds left in the game, with the shot clock running out. It put the Sixers ahead by 10, put the game on ice. Just for good measure, he hit another bomb less than a minute later.

Turner's shooting accuracy did so much for his game, put an extra spring in his step, brought his confidence to an immeasurable level.

It was a telltale game. It really did go a long way toward showing what Turner could be, what the team needs him to be if he is going to live up to being the No. 2 pick. If he can improve his jump shot . . . no, make that if he can become an above-average jump shooter, well, maybe games like the one in Phoenix could be a sign of the times.

Sure, Turner's game has risen when Iguodala has been sidelined, and many have e-mailed that he should step into Iguodala's spot. But was that the thinking when he was taken? No, Turner was picked to be this team's starting "two" guard for years to come. That will be a much better transition if his jump shot comes around.

DRIBBLES

UPCOMING GAMES

Tonight at Los Angeles Lakers, 10:30

Comcast SportsNet/WIP (610-AM)

The skinny: The Sixers held a lead against the Lakers in the third quarter at the Wells Fargo Center earlier this month. Then the Lakers got serious and wound up coasting to the win. Kobe Bryant scored only nine points that night while battling a hurt right pinkie. The Lakers have struggled a little lately, and will look to put a hurting on the Sixers to right the ship.

Monday at New Orleans, 8 o'clock

Comcast SportsNet/WIP (610-AM)

The skinny: The Sixers dominated the Hornets earlier this month on a Sunday afternoon, when New Orleans couldn't have thrown a snowball into the Delaware River from the edge of Penn's Landing. Chris Paul always plays well against the Sixers, but doesn't always get the help he needs.

Wednesday vs. Washington, 7 o'clock

Comcast SportsNet/WIP (610-AM)

The skinny: Perhaps the Sixers' two most devastating losses came this season at the hands of the Wizards. They have a whole new look, with Gilbert Arenas having been shipped to Orlando. Rookie John Wall has struggled to get on the court because of various injuries.

BY THE NUMBERS

12: How many games it took the Sixers to win a game when allowing 100 or more points. They finally won on Wednesday, 123-110, over the Suns.

33: How many total rebounds Elton Brand got in back-to-back games against the Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors this week. He might not be the player he was 5 years ago, but this team sorely needs what he gives.

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