Inside the Sixers: Evan Turner is the talk of the Sixers

Evan Turner, shooting over the Jazz, was inserted into the starting lineup to help end the Sixers' slump. It has worked.
Evan Turner, shooting over the Jazz, was inserted into the starting lineup to help end the Sixers' slump. It has worked. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 11, 2012

For the better part of this season - and a healthy slice of the last - the debate raged over when was the right time to insert Evan Turner into the 76ers lineup. Perhaps the only subject as divisive was what to do with forward Andre Iguodala.

The largest group resided in the camp that didn't want Sixers coach Doug Collins bringing Turner off the bench, the thinking being that it was best for the franchise to determine as quickly as possible what it had in the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft. Another group loudly proclaimed that Turner was a flat-out bust, a mistake that might set the franchise back another half decade or so. Others wished the Sixers, in need of an athletic big man capable of putting up double-doubles, had snatched Derrick Favors or DeMarcus Cousins instead of the 6-7 Turner.

Some of the head-scratching continued when Collins said last week that he was committed to having Turner in the starting lineup for the rest of the season along with Jrue Holiday and Iguodala. Some wondered what took him so long. Others presumed this was a last-second effort to showcase him before the March 15 trade deadline.

The more likely reason, believe it or not, is the one that Collins has been giving during this whole process.

The condensed season, with games all of the time, has no doubt hurt graybeard teams such as Boston, because there is never enough time to recuperate from the last game. Teams like the Knicks, with all of their new pieces, won't really get to know each other until late in the season (at the earliest) and most likely not until their next training camp.

The Sixers, on the other hand, brought back all the familiar faces from a team that went 41-41 after winning 38 of its final 66 games and returning to the playoffs, one season after winning just 27 games.

They obviously drafted well. Spencer Hawes - due back Wednesday - played better than he did at any point in his career before the Achilles tendon injury, and they took advantage of a stretch of 18 home games in 22, going 15-7. With the same starting lineup that lost in the first round last season, the Sixers looked like the favorite to win the Atlantic Division.

Twenty-nine games in and the Sixers were 20-9. After the same number of games the previous season they were 11-18. The year before that they were 7-22.

Get the picture?

The Sixers were making progress and simultaneously leading an Atlantic Division that most didn't think they could win, and all of a sudden the line that separates building for the future and winning now started to blur. Collins and president Rod Thorn have more than 75 years of NBA experience between them, and when they smell success they are wired to win and win now.

So they stuck with what was working and tried to get the most out of it. But then came the five losses in a row and eight out of 10.

The Sixers' sudden inability to score became a critical issue, and Jodie Meeks' inability to spread the floor with his inconsistent shooting became a glaring problem.

That brings us to Turner.

The Sixers recognized that their lineup had been figured out and it was, in fact, time to change. So they did, subbing Turner for Meeks.

He is not on the trading block, but like every other player on the roster he will be dealt if the Sixers believe they have the right deal. That does not look to be the case.

For those who have said Turner can play the point, guess what, the front office believes he can as well. They also believe that he is their best defensive rebounder, blessed with the unique ability to sweep the glass, diagnose the resetting defense, get on top of it, and apply pressure that many players his size simply cannot.

We'll find out more in the 25 remaining regular-season games, of which only nine are at the Wells Fargo Center. Turner will continue to grow or regress. There is no in-between, as the team's stated goal is to win its first division title in 10 years.

If there is one thing regarding Turner that all can agree on, it is this: Hopefully he really had fallen out of shape, as the rumor mill spat out last week. If he's putting up a career-high 26 points one night against Boston and then coming back two nights later to log a career-high 43 minutes, score 16 points, grab 12 boards, hand out six assists, and collect a block and a steal, imagine what the Sixers will have when he gets in shape?


Contact staff writer John N. Mitchell at jmitchell@philly.com. Follow him on Twitter @JmitchInquirer. Read his blog at www.philly.com/deepsixer

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