The Indiana Pacers converted a buzzer-beater at the trade deadline, but did it put them over the top?
That's the biggest question coming out of the NBA's sleepy trade deadline that wrapped up Thursday. The Pacers have a two-game cushion on the Miami Heat for the East's top seed, and they picked up former No. 2 pick Evan Turner and reserve big man Lavoy Allen for Danny Granger's expiring contract and a future second-round pick to aid their cause.
But is Turner the ringer who gets them past the Heat?
It all comes down to Indiana's player development staff -- an operation that has the league's envy by repeatedly spinning straw into gold.
Like the Oklahoma City Thunder, the small-market Pacers can hang with the big boys of the NBA because of their ability to cultivate young talent and turn potential into reality. It's a testament to their built-from-within grooming that Turner now becomes the first player on Indiana's current roster who has been picked inside the top 10 of the draft. Roy Hibbert, Paul George, David West, Lance Stephenson and George Hill -- all were picked 10th or later.
Can Evan Turner become the piece that gets Indiana past Miami in the playoffs?
But Turner represents a new test for the homemade Pacers: the reclamation project. This is about getting a seat at the table with San Antonio and Miami, who have routinely rejuvenated players' careers. If Turner is going to put the Pacers over the edge, they have a lot of work to do.
Yes, Turner's averaging 17.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists per game, which may seem to signal that he's enjoying a career year. But don't pay too much attention to Turner's traditional stats. In reality, he's an inefficient, pound-the-rock scorer who lives in the midrange and coughs up the ball too often. His PER stands at 13.3, nestling somewhere between replacement level and league average.
Turner can thank the Sixers' helter-skelter offense for much of his inflated statistics. The Sixers average 102.5 possessions per game, which is 6.7 percent higher than your typical NBA team. If we adjust Turner's numbers for pace, his statistical profile doesn't look nearly as impressive. His lukewarm PER is a far more accurate portrayal of Turner's abilities to date.
But Turner won't be asked to be the Pacers' horse and that may spur more growth for the 25-year-old. Turner saw his usage rate bump to a career-high 24.2 percent this season and the flood of shots propelled his scoring average to new heights. But his lukewarm efficiency never warranted all those shots. In Indiana, Turner won't have to bear that burden anymore. He'll likely come off the bench and anchor Indiana's second unit, where he can stay in his lane and inject some playmaking where Granger could not.
Turning someone who has been labeled a massive bust into a reliable championship cog won't happen overnight. The key is whether Indiana's staff can get Turner to take better care of the ball (3.0 turnovers per 36 minutes). Turnovers provide the oxygen for the Heat's open-court attack, making this particular area of improvement critical for Turner's success. In Philadelphia, Turner had a tendency to force drives and end up at a dead end with nowhere to go.
For a Pacers team that already has issues taking care of the ball (23rd in team turnover rate), coach Frank Vogel should make it a priority to make things easier for Turner and not make him have to do much heavy lifting. The Pacers can pull this off if he shares minutes with Hill, Stephenson and George, but not if he's left out to dry as he often found himself in Philadelphia.
We'll see how much Hibbert can cover up Turner's mistakes on the other end. This is the added benefit of Vogel's defensive system that relies on Hibbert to function as both the plug and the eraser. According to Synergy video tracking, Turner had a big hand in the Sixers' horrendous defense as he ranked as the single-worst defender on a per-possession basis among 87 players with at least 500 plays defended. He's particularly lazy on closeouts, but Hibbert should help there as Turner knows he can glue himself to his man, knowing he has a safety net in Hibbert. Again, it's all about the system.
At the end of the day, the Pacers' last-minute trade is more about trusting their developmental staff and organizational principles than it is about trusting Turner. Can Vogel and his staff convince Turner to play selfless, disciplined basketball in the midst of a contract year?
From what we can tell from Turner's track record, the odds are against them. But time and time again, Indiana has proved that the organization's golden track record is what matters most.