Myles Turner is the latest in a long line of highly regarded freshman to play for Rick Barnes at Texas. And through the the non-conference schedule, he has easily been one of Texas' best players, averaging 12.0 PPG, 6.7 RPB, and 2.7 BPG while playing 21 minutes per contest.
Roughly 40 percent of the way through what will almost certainly be Turner's only season of college ball, I thought it would be a good time to write something about him. But I don't have a coherent essay in me right now. Instead, I just have four thoughts -- incomplete essays, really -- on Turner's play. And so on this last day of 2014, I thought I would share them.
Thought 1: Does Myles Turner's inclusion in the starting lineup matter?
Monday afternoon against Rice, Texas freshman Myles Turner got the first start of his college basketball career, taking Cameron Ridley's usual place in the starting lineup.
For some observers, seeing Turner in the starting lineup probably triggered the thought "it's about time." I am not sure that it matters. Turner played 22 minutes in the game against Rice, which is nearly identical to his 21 minute per game average. It is hard to say that he impacted the game more than he otherwise would have coming off the bench.
There is also not any indication that Texas was able to get off to a roaring start with Turner, one of its five best players, on the floor to begin the game. When Turner subbed out of the game with 15:27 remaining in the first half (a time that he typically has entered the game previously) Texas led 6-3.
Now, for the most part I really don't care who starts and who enters the game off the bench. I am far more concerned with the distribution of minutes, and with the combination of players Texas has on the court at a given time. For me what is most important is that Texas works to minimize the number of minutes that Jonathan Holmes and Myles Turner sit together on the bench.
Through the Texas non-conference season, Texas has logged a total of 848 offensive possessions in my play-by-play database. For 91 of these possessions, Texas has played without either Jonathan Holmes or Myles Turner on the floor. When these two players are off the floor the Longhorns have scored 101 points per 100 possessions and have allowed 113 points per 100 possessions.
That is not very good. Using win percentage estimation formulas that were initially devised for baseball by Bill James but have been altered for basketball, a team that allows 1.13 points per possession and scores 1.01 points per trip would be expected to win around 25 percent of its games.
In the 757 possessions where either Holmes or Turner plays, Texas has scored 112 points per 100 possessions and allowed 81 points per 100 possessions. A team like that would be expected to win virtually all of its games. (Kentucky has actually been somewhat better than this, scoring 1.14 PPP and allowing only 0.74 PPP.)
Now, we have to be cautious in how we interpret these results. (We always should be cautious in interpreting results.) For example, a large factor in Texas' defensive struggles when Turner and Holmes have sat has been from three point range, where opponents have made 50 percent from behind the arc during these possessions. Jump shooting percentages over small samples (and 85 defensive possessions is surely a small sample) are inherently variable. The difference between 50 percent three point shooting and 35 percent three point shooting (a more typical value) is worth around 12 points per 100 possessions. And jump shooting percentages over such a small number of possessions probably don't have any predictive value. So going forward we would not expect Texas to be quite so bad defensively when both Holmes and Turner sit.
But setting aside this concern about the magnitude of the effect of sitting Holmes and Turner at the same time, the effect itself is still real. Holmes and Turner are Texas' two most effective offensive players, so of course the offense suffers when both are out of the game. Likewise, Holmes and Turner are both among the best defensive players on the Texas roster, with Turner probably the best interior defender on a team loaded with strong interior defenders.
So I don't care much if Turner starts the game, or if he enters at the first media time out. What I care is that Texas play as few minutes as possible without either Turner or Holmes on the floor. If Turner coming off the bench makes that easier to accomplish, then he should come of the bench. If starting him makes that easier, then he should start.
Thought 2: Myles Turner's remarkable free throw shooting
During non-conference play, Myles Turner attempted 52 free throws and hit 46 of them. This is an 88.5 percent success rate at the line. Among players who have attempted 30 or more free throws, Turner currently has the 30th best free throw shooting percentage in D-I, tied with Butler junior Kellen Dunham.
If you follow college hoops closely, you are already aware of Dunham, one of the more dangerous shooters in the college game. Dunham, a former four star recruit from outside Indianapolis, matches the archetype of the Indiana shooter. He was practically born with a basketball in his hands, and has as spent his entire young life refining his shooting touch.
Turner has logged some time in the driveway, too. It is obvious when you watch him play. A lot of hours have gone into that shot -- although a certain amount of it is just a gift from above. Turner's shooting shows up all over the court -- Turner is currently 8-20 from three point range and 20-45 of his two point jump shots -- but Turner's shooting gift is most apparent at the free throw line. He is nearly automatic, and Myles Turner free throws are probably the best single individual component of the Texas offense.
I am not an NBA prospect expert, so take this for what it is worth, but it is really hard to imagine a non-injury scenario where Turner fails to have a long and successful career. I don't know if his future is an all-star or simply as an impact player in a team's rotation -- and no one truly knows this -- but I do know that there aren't many 6-11 shot blockers who shoot the ball like that.
Turner is far from a finished product(*). Turner's greatest weakness is his lack of physical strength. Fortunately, this is an easy weakness to resolve. Everyone gets stronger as they age and, everyone gets stronger with strength training. The fact that Turner is so effective offensively without the strength required to establish position in the low post shows just how advanced the rest of his game is for his age, and how much of an advantage he will have once he establishes the required baseline strength to mix it up inside.
(*Low post footwork is another area where Turner can improve. I am pretty sure that he will. It is not hard to imagine a 22 year old Turner having a diverse array of post moves to complement his terrific shot.)
Thought 3: Myles Turner the rim protector
Coming into the season, it was hard to project how Myles Turner would perform on offense for Texas, although I would suspect he has exceeded most expectations so far -- he has certainly exceeded mine. But defensively, it was far easier to anticipate just how much Turner was going to help an already strong interior Texas defense. That is because big, athletic centers nearly always help a defense.
And Turner has helped. He currently ranks 15th nationally in shot block percentage, turning away an estimated 13 percent of opponent attempts from inside the arc while on the floor. While Turner is on the floor, opponents are shooting just 33 percent on two point field goal attempts. Even when Turner plays without Cameron Ridley or Prince Ibeh, functioning as Texas' sole shot blocker, opponents have only converted on 35 percent of their twos. (By the same measure Ridley and Ibeh have also done well.)
Turner is not only a shot blocker but a perfectly capable defensive rebounder as well. He rebounds 24 percent of opponent misses while on the floor, which is the highest rate on the team.
Thought 4: Turner's struggles against top competition
If there has been a knock on Myles Turner that has been discussed through the non-conference season, it has been that he hasn't played as well against top level competition. For example, this recent Upside Motor piece is an attempt to scout his pro potential, and presents the arguments against the Texas freshman:
Turner hasn’t been particularly impressive against high level competition this season, with non-descript performances against California Berkeley and Connecticut, a struggle against Kentucky, and a subpar outing against Stanford.
On the low post, he has struggled establishing deep position against high level competition. Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl Towns, Jr. consistently pushed him off his spot, as Draft Express’ Mike Schimitz detailed in this video. Stefan Nastic also successfully denied him the ball last week. When he has caught it below the foul line, Turner has looked hesitant to create separation by backing opponents down, often opting for quick turnaround hooks or fadeaway jump-shots. He has a lean 240-pound frame in the context of his six-foot-11 height and doesn’t play with much strength, which also makes him unable to push people off the way on the offensive glass.
I think this critique has some fair elements (I addressed his obvious physical strength issue above) and some unfair elements (show me the big man who hasn't struggled against Kentucky). It also focuses on his offense more than his D -- while his statistical line against Connecticut was not impressive, his play defensively down the stretch was largely responsible for Texas' comeback in that game. So I can't agree with calling his game against UConn nondescript.
Going forward Turner will get plenty of chances to shake this reputation over the next two months, as Texas' schedule is loaded with games against high level competition.
To the extent that Turner's struggles relate to being behind his peers in terms of physical strength, and nowhere near as strong yet as a college upperclassmen, he may continue to have problems. But he has enough other tools to compensate. I am not worried.