Mar 27 2013

Fiasco: The Philadelphia Adventure with Evan Turner

As Evan Turner’s disastrous tenure in Philadelphia approaches its third anniversary, it’s time to acknowledge that we were wrong about him. That I was wrong about him.


Last week, when the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War came and went, a handful of public intellectuals who initially backed the invasion took to the blogosphere to deliver earnest, if overdue, mea culpas.

Ezra Klein wrote:

Rather than looking at the war that was actually being sold, I’d invented my own Iraq war to support — an Iraq war with different aims, promoted by different people, conceptualized in a different way and bearing little resemblance to the project proposed by the Bush administration.

Jonathan Chait was similarly apologetic:

The biggest single conceptual failure of my argument for war is that I gave absurdly little thought to the post-invasion phase.

And from Andrew Sullivan:

I have blood on my hands. However many times I try to wash them, the blood will not come off.

In this spirit, it’s my turn for an admission of grave error. Three years ago this summer, I was publicly wrong about something of great consequence. It was a mistake I’ve been slow to acknowledge, but that I’ll be silent on no more.

I wanted the Sixers to draft Evan Turner. I was wrong.


Credit: Philly Sports Central

Credit: Philly Sports Central

When the Sixers won the rights to the second overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, I celebrated. I was in my mother’s living room with my brother. I pumped my fist and hugged him. I was overwhelmed, elated. The Sixers, I knew in that moment, would draft Evan Turner.

I was enamored of the Buckeye. The questions surrounding Turner didn’t sway me, didn’t begin to penetrate my confidence in him. Were his terrific college numbers a product of his (relatively) advanced age and the (relatively) sorry state of the Big Ten? Impossible. He was so productive it had to translate into the NBA. Low ceiling? Hardly. He was the best player in college basketball. He could be Grant Hill 2.0.

And Turner wasn’t just a physical genius, had the intangibles too, or so I convinced myself. A broken back that was supposed to keep him out of action for two months sidelined him for just six games. This was a man of character. A man of destiny.

Even through an underwhelming rookie season I held fast to the party line. While Turner wasn’t much of a scorer he mitigated the deficiency by not shooting often. He understood his weaknesses; played around them in games while he ameliorated them on the practice floor. I told myself this. Plus, he was a deft passer. And he could rebound the basketball.

But the evidence mounted, and eventually I couldn’t dismiss it any longer.

Turner has become not merely a bad, but a profoundly inefficient offensive player. Yes, he takes a lot of midrange shots and hits them at a typically poor rate, but when he attacks the basket, he’s almost as bad: on drives he’s one of the least effective players in the sport.

In three NBA seasons, he’s yet to post a PER over 13 or a WS/48 over 0.7. His WARP for his first two years in the league was -2.6, and he’s currently, after a promising start, having the worst season of his career—his win shares and wins produced per minute are both at their nadir. In 2012-13, in what was supposed to be a breakout campaign, the swingman has gotten worse each month. In March he’s averaging 10.7 ppg on 39.5 percent shooting and is below his season averages in rebounds and assists.  

His teammates don’t seem to like playing with him. He seems incapable of insinuating himself into the fabric of the offense. Of blending. Of recognizing, in any given possession, in any given game, what his team needs and providing it. At times it seems he’s playing in a separate game, apart from the one the other nine players on the floor are engaged in.

So I was wrong about him. In retrospect, the chief defect in my thinking about Turner wasn’t that I didn’t grasp the significance of his physical maturity relative to his collegiate competition, or that I didn’t understand the impact playing behind or alongside Andre Iguodala would have on his development. It was that I didn’t anticipate the grim way these two dynamics would interact.

I failed to see that, during a critical period in Evan Turner’s basketball development—a period that, owing to his relatively advanced age, would come sooner in his NBA career than it does for most draftees—he would have his progress blocked by a stylistically similar player. I failed to anticipate that in those crucial first few seasons, he would either have to play the game in a way that didn’t suit his abilities, a shift that would warp him in ways large and small, or he would have to sit. And I failed to appreciate that in both cases, he wouldn’t be getting better at basketball.

But those things happened, of course. And the infinite possibility of Evan Turner collapsed into a firm and finite reality. The No. 2 overall selection in the 2010 NBA draft, will be 25 years old by the start of next season and is a below average basketball player. That’s not going to change. 

I have blood on my hands. However many times I try to wash them, the blood will not come off.

  • I was one of the early anti-Turner people, starting as soon as we got the 2nd pick in the lotto. I’ve never been a big fan of slow guards who can’t shoot. I desperately wanted Cousins or Favors. Then again, I also would’ve taken Wes Johnson over Turner, too, so what the hell do I know.

    • Tom Sunnergren

      You knew more than me. I’ll give you that.

    • Ransom

      Amen, I’m in your camp. Save for the Wes Johnson part. I haven’t done the research on this but anecdotally, what’s the success rate of drafting older players? Turner sort of applies. But guys like Wes Johnson and Ekpe Udoh come to mind… In general terms i don’t think drafting middling-to-poor athletes over the age of 22 works out well..hey there Evan

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  • teddygreen

    the black marko jaric

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  • the reason why Evan Turners lack of production on drives is brought out even more is because he waits until there is 5 seconds left on the clock and then does his thing preventing a second chance bucket off a rebound if he misses which we know he does… A LOT

  • when they revealed that the wolves had the third pick i started jumping up and down yelling “DEMARCUS!!”

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  • robbybonfire23

    Thank you for your candid honesty. But, of course, the failings of this man are really on his shoulders, not yours. It is NOT your fault that this player became a crass under-achiever.

    You do the best you can, without the benefit of hindsight, when you draft a player, for whom you harbor high expectations. I certainly give the 76ers a pass, here, too. Sometimes the best of intentions just don’t work out, so now the club and its supporters all have the opportunity to move on – thank goodness!