Depending on whom you asked after former No. 2 overall high school recruit Myles Turner concluded his lone season as a Texas Longhorn, you might hear that the hype surrounding him was premature and unfulfilled through 34 collegiate games. That claim is debatable, considering the heightened expectations that followed Turner to Austin were unequaled by any incoming freshman since Kevin Durant’s days in burnt orange, although Turner did walk away from Texas with Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors.
But depending on whom you ask following Turner’s three-game NBA Summer League display, Larry Bird and the Indiana Pacers – who selected Turner 11th overall in the June 25 draft – may have walked away with a late-lottery steal after Turner racked up 18.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.3 blocks in summer league play.
But what's to make of such a convincing contrast in play from his time at Texas to his inaugural efforts as an Indiana Pacer? How could a lanky stretch big man with unorthodox physical mechanics struggle so mightily at times against notable collegiate competition, yet make the jump to the NBA level -- albeit summer league action -- and look like a man among boys?
There's no simple explanation to Turner's exceptional play early on compared to his Texas days, but rather, a multitude of factors.
The most immediately noticeable factor was Turner’s apparent lack of hesitancy; offensively speaking, of course. Also immediately noticeable, and a hand-in-hand contributor to Turner’s lack of hesitancy and summer league success was a dramatically increased confidence level, as compared to his days in Austin.
It's crazy what some confidence can do for you @Original_Turner been eating— Javan Felix (@JavanFelix3) July 8, 2015
Flashback to Turner’s time in burnt orange: outside of his first couple games, which were against some severely underwhelming competition, it was quite easy to notice throughout the season Turner rarely, if ever reached the confidence he brought to the court in high school. This became even more so with heightened competition levels, such as most of conference play in the rugged Big 12. And of course, those repetitious lapses in confidence affected Turner’s game to the point that his decision-making and willingness to step up as the offensive force so many hoped he would become were negatively affected, as well.
At times, Turner looked as if he didn’t know whether or not to attempt a shot that was unquestionably in his range. Other times, Turner heaved shots as if he had to rack up field goal attempts to play well, with little regard for how early in the shot clock those looks were, the defensive traffic surrounding him and the open options on his team.
But even from his very first game as a professional, where most players have to shake off nerves and jitters, Turner came out with confidence and offensive assertiveness. Less than a minute into his NBA debut, Turner turned over his right shoulder – a move he relied heavily upon at Texas – and knocked down the 10-foot jumper. In the second quarter of his debut against the Miami Heat’s summer league squad, Turner found a rhythm and racked up 11 points in what was a 10-minute quarter en route to 20 points on 8-11 shooting, eight boards and three blocks.
In his second game versus the Detroit Pistons, Turner presented much of the same, accruing 23 points on 9-16 from the field, eight rebounds, four blocks and two steals. Of course, the rebounding and rim protection doesn’t come as a surprise after Turner controlled the paint in those areas at Texas and led the Big 12 in blocks as a freshman.
Turner followed his first two performances, in which he averaged 21.5 points, eight rebounds and 3.5 blocks, with a 13-point, nine-rebound, six-block effort against the Orlando Magic’s "White" summer league unit before sitting out the next two games for rest and a DNP coaches decision.
For Turner’s most underwhelming performance to be the aforementioned 13-9-6 game says a lot about how far he’s come in a few short months. His summer league contributions led to Turner being named to NBA TV’s All-Summer League Team.
I can’t give an exact explanation on why there appeared to be so much more confidence and comfort in his game during the summer league, which lead to Turner’s dominance, but I do have a few quite likely theories.
As noted, Turner never really seemed to take control of his confidence and it became quite noticeable in his play at Texas. Turner often played like he was the new kid on the block, despite the fact that from a sheer talent and potential standpoint, he was the best player on the floor in most situations, even as a freshman. What we saw during summer league play was the exact opposite, as Turner played as if he new exactly where to be on the floor, was extremely active on both ends of the floor and played as if he knew he had a golden opportunity to step up as a key contributor right out of the gates at the highest level of basketball in the world once the regular season kicks off.
Numerous factors could have, and likely did contribute to this.
Coming out of high school, Turner was ranked as ESPN’s No. 2 overall recruit for a reason: he’s tremendously talented. But at 18 and 19 years old, his body is far from being fully developed, his understanding of the game of basketball is far from where it will be after a handful of years in the NBA, and primarily, Turner has more than enough to develop in regards to understanding his personal strengths and weaknesses and building upon them.
For the most part, this growth doesn't come through a mere single season in college. Additionally, the vast majority of college schemes are built on team play. In particular, at Texas, the guard-heavy isolation offenses that Rick Barnes implemented paired with the Horns’ apparent inability to find quality spacing, consistent ball movement and post-feeds quite simply prevented Turner from ever really being able to find a rhythm and comfort with his role. But since his departure from Texas, everything has been focused on individual development and how much he can impress NBA teams into selecting him -- the kind of individual attention he will steadily receive in the NBA, as compared to the team-first concepts in the NCAA.
In summer league, Turner was blessed with more spacing, offensive ball movement and consistent looks in his areas of strength. And with that spacing, ball movement and consistent looks, the noticeable strides Turner’s taken with his physical frame and skill set reaped their reward as soon as Turner got his chance to shine as a pro.
Also worth noting is that Turner averaged only 22.2 minutes per game as a Longhorn. During his three-game SL stint, Turner played totals of 28:25 against Miami, 31:25 against Detroit and 27:31 against Orlando. Throughout his entire 34-game tenure at Texas, Turner only player 27-plus minutes six times -- a dramatic underutilization if you’re wanting to get the most out of a player with Turner’s potential.
Between the added minutes, the individual attention of development Turner has seen over the last handful of months, the renewed sense of confidence that comes with being tabbed as a future centerpiece of a team that should remain as a perennial playoff lock, along with the numerous differences I touched on between the system he was under at Texas and the style of play in the NBA, it’s no wonder Turner has looked so impressive.
Yes, it was only summer league, but those rosters or filled with former college stars and current NBA talents, making that competition much higher than what Turner was used to seeing in college.
Say what you may about Turner’s lone season at Texas, but I think there’s every reason to believe Turner has just as good a chance as any to become the next great Texas-ex building a very successful NBA career.