76ers' Evan Turner looking to break out by fitting in

With Andre Iguodala gone, Evan Turner will be taking care of business from the small forward spot. "My whole thing is to try to not overdo it and go out and play the game," he said. RON CORTES / Staff
With Andre Iguodala gone, Evan Turner will be taking care of business from the small forward spot. "My whole thing is to try to not overdo it and go out and play the game," he said. RON CORTES / Staff
Posted: October 28, 2012

At the start of the 1976-77 season, Doug Collins, then a fourth-year guard with the 76ers, was in a quandary.

Collins had just spent the previous season figuring out how to play alongside newly acquired ABA star George McGinnis, a muscular power forward capable of playing both inside and out. But the summer of 1976 saw the ABA absorbed by the NBA. In the process, the Sixers purchased the rights to the ABA's biggest star, forward Julius Erving.

"I had to figure out how I was going to get my points," said Collins, who averaged 20.8 points in his first season with McGinnis. "I still wanted to be a 20-point scorer, so I figured out a recipe: four jumpers, four layups, and four free throws. I had to get in where I fit in."

This is the approach, albeit modified, Collins, who averaged 18.3 points playing alongside Erving and McGinnis that season, wants Evan Turner to apply in this, Turner's third season.

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft, Turner averaged 9.4 points a game last season while going back and forth to the bench at shooting guard. He is now the team's starting small forward, replacing Andre Iguodala, who was traded to Denver in August.

However, the Sixers added skilled offensive players in starting shooting guard Jason Richardson and able wing scorers Dorell Wright and Nick Young. Tied for 22d in the league in points per game (93.6) last season, the Sixers expect to be much better offensively this time around.

A former No. 1 overall pick (1973), Collins understands that it is almost impossible for the 6-foot-7 Turner, whose 24th birthday is Saturday, not to put pressure on himself to be more productive, particularly at the offensive end. To that end, Collins is trying to relieve some of that pressure.

"If I had a little pixie dust, a magic wand or something, I'd wish that I could get him to relax a little bit more and not put so much pressure on himself. He wants to do so well all the time. I want him to understand that a bad play is not the end of the world," Collins said. "Three missed shots is not the end of the world - next play.

"Evan is such a perfectionist, and I can relate to that because I am, too. But I would just like for him to be able to do the things that he does great. Rebound the ball. Push the ball in the open court. Make plays and defend. Just let all those things happen. Evan wants to be great, and we want him to be great."

Perhaps no single issue loomed larger over the Sixers last season than Collins' use of Turner, who led all NBA guards in rebounding (5.8 average per game) despite playing just 26.4 minutes per game. Collins stuck with Jodie Meeks, theorizing that the long-range threat he posed - but never realized - would spread the floor and create driving lanes.

A 2-7 stretch bridging February and March forced Collins to interchange the two, and at first it didn't go well for Turner, who responded with a 1-for-12, two-point, 15-rebound effort in his first start of the season at Milwaukee. But Turner quickly erased the memory of that game over the next four. Playing the best basketball of his career, Turner averaged 22.7 points on 33-for-56 shooting (59 percent), 10.3 rebounds, and just fewer than four assists as the Sixers won three of four games.

Collins returned Turner to the bench later in the season, after his numbers trailed off, but returned him to the starting lineup for all but one of the team's 13 playoff games.

Throughout training camp and the preseason, Turner has sounded as though he has accepted Collins' message and is not seduced by the temptation to put up the big numbers so often expected of a high lottery pick.

"I don't think it's realistic in this type of system to go out there and think like that," Turner said. "Every game is different. Every situation is different. Some guys are going to be asked to step up differently in different games.

"My approach is that last season I got my feet wet. I understand there are big expectations for me in my situation. But the expectations that people have for me, I don't think it's realistic when you look at all the weapons we have. My whole thing is to try to not overdo it and go out and play the game. That's what I'm going to do."

Former Sixers all-star Charles Barkley, an NBA analyst with TNT, said that, while some may call Turner a bust to this point, that judgment is premature.

"They'll be able to assess him more now," Barkley said. "He wasn't going to play with Iguodala there. He really hasn't had the opportunity to show what he can do. The Sixers will have a much better idea of what they have in him this season than at any other point in the past."

Contact John N. Mitchell at jmitchell@philly.com. Follow @JmitchInquirer on Twitter and read his blog, "Deep Sixer," at www.philly.com/deepsixer

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