Turner trying to fit in to new role on 76ers

Sixers' Evan Turner goes up against Celtics' Paul Pierce in Monday's preseason victory.
Sixers' Evan Turner goes up against Celtics' Paul Pierce in Monday's preseason victory. (RON CORTES/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: October 18, 2012

WHEN YOU'RE trying to get inside the head of Evan Turner, it's not that hard. The third-year guard - endearingly and frustratingly - wears his emotions on his sleeve. He spouted off about his frustration from the past two seasons when he couldn't crack the starting lineup regularly. His body language on the court the past few seasons has been horrendous at times.

But when you get to know the player and the person, the reason for his antics all point back to one reason: Turner wants to be the best player whoever played in the NBA. Is that goal realistic to those who watch him? Probably not, but that won't deter him.

The past two seasons, Doug Collins couldn't get Turner into the starting lineup mostly for two reasons: The first was that Andre Iguodala was pretty much a position blocker for Turner; the other was that Jodie Meeks and his outside shooting gave the first team a dimension that allowed other players to prosper.

Now, with Iguodala shipped to Denver, Turner steps into a new position of starting small forward. Offensively, it is a place where he can beat other small forwards with his speed and start fastbreaks with his instinctive rebounding skills.

Defensively? That's the true challenge of this experiment. In an exhibition game Saturday against the Brooklyn Nets in Atlantic City, Turner was matched with rugged Gerald Wallace, a wildly aggressive offensive player and a punch-in-the-mouth defender who will deliver body blows throughout a game.

Is Turner ready to handle the spot so admirably occupied by Iguodala for the past eight seasons? Is he ready to guard the likes of Wallace and Paul Pierce and the plethora of scoring "threes" in the league?

"It's my job, right?" Turner asked after Monday's dominant 107-75 win over the Celtics in which he posted 10 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals in close to 25 minutes. "I just want to go out there and limit them as best as possible. I just have to get used to it. I haven't really guarded the top guys in a while. I want to get used to that challenge and learn little things. Pierce, he's going to get a couple of calls and get his points up. But I made him turn it over a few times [four] and I tried to attack him. Once I get the defense together [at the three spot], I think everything will be fine."

Few worked as hard as Turner during the offseason, as he "overdosed" himself in workouts. His vigorous weightlifting sessions have given him a much more defined upper body, one that will enable him to absorb the daily collisions at his new position.

"The big difference for him is that he's being played by a bigger player," Collins said of Turner. "When he played at the 'two,' in many instances, he could go down to the post and have an advantage. Now, all of the sudden, he's going against a Gerald Wallace, Paul Pierce, and then it will be Carmelo Anthony. Evan is a guy who loves to play foul line and under. We're going to have to give him situations where he can use his ball skills and all. I still think he has a huge advantage anytime he rebounds the ball and pushes it into the open court; that's really when he's at his best."

He's also at his best when he's in a good state mentally. That's another part of the challenge of being a new starter at a new position.

"I talked to Evan the other night in Atlantic City about this and I thought against Orlando [the Sixers' first preseason game], he was putting too much pressure on himself. [I want him to] just play with a peaceful spirit. Cut the noise and all of the stuff that's clanking around. We've just got to get Evan unlocked, because he's one of our best all-around players.

"Another thing for Evan is when you're not a [great] shooter and, all of the sudden, J-Rich [Jason Richardson] is on your team and Dorell Wright and all these guys, I don't want him to think that that's what we want from him. I told him the other, day I've never taken a guy out for taking shots, and I won't do that ever, I just don't do that. I want him to concentrate on all those great things he brings to our team, concentrate on his role and what he does for us.

"Again, it's just all the little dynamics right now that we're trying to put together as we move forward with this."

Contact Bob Cooney at cooneyb@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @BobCooney76. For more Sixers coverage, read his blog at philly.com/Sixerville.

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