How Evan Turner can make the Blazers unstoppable

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The Blazers face the Miami Heat on April 2, 2016. Bruce Ely / Trail Blazers

The Blazers face the Miami Heat on April 2, 2016. Bruce Ely / Trail Blazers

All the same disclaimers: I'm a Pistons fan first, I might be a bit off on some of this. If I am, just say so and we'll work it out. Also, you can find lots of good and bad with any guys game. If I say good things about a player I don't think he's the GOAT, and if I say bad things it doesn't mean he sucks. Lastly, some of the ideas given here (especially some lineup ideas) are not being brought up as “For sure going to be awesome” they just intrigue me enough that I would like to see them, even if they might not work, they also might work.

So this is a joke, right? You're not being serious about the title?

It is not a joke, but I'm not being totally serious. It's not a joke because Turner could be a really good fit, but I'm not being totally serious because the scenario that I am about to paint would be, by far, the best case scenario here. HOWEVA, what I am going to lay out here is likely what the Blazers had in mind (to some extent) when they signed Turner to his contract.

Ok. So get on with it then.

In case you were have not been paying attention this offseason, Evan Turner signed a 4 year, $70 million(!!) deal with the Portland Trailblazers. And he was the one major outside free agent acquisition that the Blazers made. Other than Festus Ezell signing a 2-year deal worth about $7.5mill they largely re-upped on their roster from last season and are paying a huge sum of money to do it.

Cool, they were a fun team last year that actually ended up being pretty good.

That is true, but there is one problem with going on all in on the team from last season. And that problem is the issue of we are not actually sure that the Blazers of last season were that good. The West had Golden State and The Spurs at the top who were obviously both stupidly good. But the back end of the west was not the same as it has been the last few years. The most obvious representation is that, literally 1 year before, the Blazers 44 wins of this past year would have missed the playoffs by a game. In fact, they would have missed the playoffs in the Eastern Conference this past year (by virtue of losing the tie breaker with the Pistons. Obviously they are playing different teams there so it isn't a perfect analogy).

On top of the very obvious fact that they won fewer games, is that the West just was not as terrifying this past year. Memphis, New Orleans, and Phoenix (all teams that won a lot of games the previous couple seasons) all were totally destroyed by injuries and/or other things in the case of the Suns, and that isn't even mentioning that the Blazers first round win was greatly aided by the Clippers losing their 2 best players. (Not saying the Blazers for sure lose if Blake and CP3 play, but it certainly would have been a harder win). On top of that, the Rockets totally fell apart as well.

Essentially, after the top 4 teams, it was kind of a crap shoot. And there is a good argument to be made (not necessarily the right one, but there is an argument) that the Blazers simply happened to be the healthiest of the mass of non-contender playoff teams. HOWEVA, there is a reason that Evan Turner's name is in the title. Because the Blazers did not just bring back the exact same team, they added Evan Turner. And he could be the one to put them over the hump (There is a sentence I didn't think I would ever type).

Ok, so how is Evan Turner going to put them over the top?

The first, and main reason that Evan Turner could be a huge asset for the Blazers is because they have the best imitation of the splash brothers in the NBA. Lillard chucking off dribble 3s aimed straight for the opposing team's soul. CJ McCollum is another sniper (although his game puts the ball in his hands more than Klay) who is a solid defender as well. They are not exactly the same (and not as good) but the duo that the Blazers have made the foundation of their team is a good comparison for the Warriors backcourt. As such, you can look to the Warriors for a blueprint of success with two awesome shooters as your starting PG and SG.

The primary way that Turner will fit in here is doing his best Draymond Green impression on offense, and actually, he has a good chance to do more than a good impression, but rather just be better than Green on offense. Something that makes Draymond so great on the Warriors is that when Steph (or Klay) draws double teams beyond the 3 point line, they can dump it to Dray who can then charge into the lane with a 4 on 3, and slice teams apart with his passing. The Blazers' backcourt also gets this same treatment of double teams beyond the line with some regularity, so when they dump it off, they need someone to make plays. This is how Mason Plumlee was racking up assists in the playoffs last season.

Evan Turner has always been a good passer, but he really shined in Boston in that area. And unlike Green, Turner is a really canny midrange/shortrange scorer as well. (Not that Green is bad, just not as good as Turner) Essentially, Turner will be in a lot of situations that should be absolutely perfect for him. His lack of shooting will not matter much because they will want him to catch the ball and go to the hoop in order to force the defenders to leave someone open, and then he will be able to make fairly easy passes (for a guy of his passing abilities) and he can rain floaters and midrange jumpers all over fools.

There is not going to be a good answer for the Blazers when Lillard, McCollum, and Turner share the floor. By putting Turner near a PnR that either sniper is in (or better yet, having Turner be the screener) teams will be put through a series of unfortunate decisions. The first decision happens at the point of the PnR, the first option is that defenses can just play the PnR normally, maybe hedge slightly, but just hope that the guard can fight over top of the screen and not open up any gaping holes.

If you have faith in your guards fighting over screens this is the best option, HOWEVA, even the best defenders get slowed by screens, as such if you just play them straight up there will be open 3s allowed for McCollum and Lillard. Some teams (especially in the regular season) will just go with this, and as such, Lillard and McCollum will score lots of points.

The other option, is to hedge hard against the 3, and allow for the easy pass to Turner for the 4 on 3. At this point, Turner is theoretically catching the ball just inside the arc, and he then takes a couple of steps in, to about the free throw line. The defense now has to make the choice between staying on all the other players, (and one of the guys who defended the pick and roll is scrambling back to reinforce) giving Turner, a very good midrange scorer, a pretty easy look. OR they can come off of another player to contest Turner and leave another player open, which allows for a fairly easy pass for Turner to get an open look for another player.

Obviously good defenses will be able to defend this without giving up wide open looks every time, but even good defenses will give up good looks here. And the Blazers as a team have enough passing (largely thanks to Terry Stotts' coaching) that they can ping the ball around against a scrambling defense until the defense finally messes up. Once again, there is nothing that is truly “un-defendable” but the Blazers would get a lot of open looks.

Turner might not even start, though.

That is true, but to be sure, I think that whether he starts or not he will be playing starters minutes. And even if he starts, he is very likely to spend a lot of time with the second unit so I think that him starting or not will not actually matter much for how he is utilized. And besides, his abilities in leading a bench mob will be a huge help for the Blazers as well. The Blazers only real PG on the roster behind Lillard is Shabazz Napier, who might still end up being a decent player, but there is not a lot of evidence after 2 years in the NBA that he is any good at all. And the Blazers almost certainly did not sign him with the intention of actually playing him in the regular rotation.

Lillard should play just under 36 minutes per game (since he was exactly there the last 3 seasons) which leaves about 8 minutes per game where Turner will get to be the de-facto point guard. Obviously the Blazers will likely do their best to stagger Lillard and McCollum so that one of them is on the floor most of the time, and when Lillard is off the floor McCollum will take on more ball handling duties. (Just as a slight aside, this is a spot that makes Allen Crabbe really handy for the Blazers, a wing that can credibly play SG and shoot the ball so that they can play Lillard without McCollum without losing much, if any spacing, and just letting Lillard run the show. And vice versa with McCollum on the floor while Lillard sits).

Even if McCollum is on the floor, Turner should see the ball a lot in these situations and allow McCollum to be an off ball player. And if there is one thing that Turner truly proved with the Celtics, it is that he can be a killer lead ball handler with bench mobs, where he is allowed to abuse back ups with his herky jerky game. And the Blazers have enough solid bench guys to compliment him that there is every reason to believe that the Blazers' bench will freaking slaughter people. 2 of Plumlee, Ed Davis, and Festus Ezeli will be coming off the bench, and all 3 are really solid two way centers who can finish in the PnR. (Obviously Plumlee is the favorite to start as the incumbent).

Allan Crabbe and Meyers Leonard give some nice shooting to give Turner space, and Maurice Harkless is a tricky fit but should be a solid two way player. Not to mention that one of Lillard or McCollum will likely be on the floor more often than not. Essentially, Turner will get to have the ball in his hands to create looks, with a bunch of guys who are really good at finishing looks created by others. The problem is/was just that they didn't always have enough creation to hurt people, with the addition of Turner they should no longer have any such issues.

What lineups are going to best utilize Turner?

ONCE AGAIN, THESE ARE JUST SOME THOUGHTS I DON'T KNOW THAT ALL OF THEM WILL WORK.

I personally really like the lineup of Lillard/CJ/Crabbe/Turner/Leonard. That lineup would hemorrhage points, with McCollum and Crabbe being the only plus defenders in the lineup (and neither of them are big pluses). Meyers Leonard can't defend, well anything really, and Turner is stuck trying to guard 4s. There are certainly some teams that this lineup can't be used against, but there are some that this group could possibly not get totally shredded on defense. And this lineup would massacre almost any defense it encounters, with Turner essentially playing center on offense with tons of shooting. It would be an absolute nightmare. But once again, a defense would be a huge worry, and possibly a big enough problem to kill that lineup.

A more likely approach to see heavy minutes is Lillard/CJ/Turner/Aminu/Plumlee. (And you can swap in either of the other centers there really) This lineup has a good mix of passing, defense, scoring, and shooting. This also could well be the starting lineup on opening night for the Blazers so it kind of should be good. Aminu can at least hang with a lot of 4s, and also pulled solid outside shooting from his backside last year, Plumlee is a really well-rounded center who can do a bit of everything, Lillard and McCollum can do their thing, and Turner is a great change of pace guy who can sort of rove around and pick apart the holes left by the backcourt in the midrange.

Defense and rebounding would figure to be a bit of an issue here as well, but the reality is that the Blazers do not figure to be awesome at either of those no matter what lineups they use. They will have to hope that Stotts can continue to work magic on the defensive end.

Noah Vonleh could be a wild card in some of these lineups as well. He has not done much in his NBA career, but he hasn't played a lot either. If he could become somewhat serviceable as a 3 and D type of big, then swapping him in the previous lineup for Aminu could be a boon for the team since he would not be as undersized.

The last thing I would love to see, even though it likely would not be terribly effective, is the Blazers run a twin towers lineup with 2 of their 3 centers. For instance, if Vonleh sucks (which is entirely possible at this point) and the Blazers don't have a reliable backup 4. (or starting 4 as it may turn out lol) Run a bench mob with both Davis and Ezeli on the floor, (Davis played some 4 last year so that combo should be ok. Although Ezeli is not as slick a passer as Plumlee so it wouldn't be as clean a fit) with Turner/Crabbe/splash-whatever and you have a lineup with a fun combo of playmaking, a couple of snipers, 2 behemoths, and whatever Turner is at this point. It could be fun.

The last thing that will be big for the fit with Turner, is Meyers Leonard making some sort of a step forward, particularly as a defender. Because even if he is improved a bit as a shooter, Turner will not be scaring anyone with his outside shot. So getting Leonard on the floor more (particularly as a center) to try and neutralize the lack of shooting they would be getting from the SF spot would be big. The problem there, of course, is that the Blazers literally have 3 other guys who play center who all are good enough to get playing time.

Ok, so you said at the start you were not being totally serious. Stop being overly optimistic, what are some things that should worry the Blazers about this situation with Turner?

The first thing that comes to mind is his defense. Lillard is, still, a really poor defender (although last season he seemed to actually put in some effort to improving, so maybe he will keep getting better) and so is Turner. (ditto for the actually trying a bit the last couple years though) And the reality is, they don't have any really good defenders on the roster. Aminu is rock solid, McCollum and Crabbe are pretty good, and their trio of centers are all alright. But unless someone on the roster blossoms into a top level defender (who can also do enough other stuff to get on the floor) then it will be hard to have a solid defense with this group. Which was already an issue last year for the Blazers, and Turner will only make it worse.

The other obvious thing is that Turner can't really shoot 3s. A lot of smart basketball people seem to think that he will just figure it out and shoot 35% from 3 this year, and enough smart people have said it that I would tend to believe them. But the reality is, Turner is a career 30% shooter from deep on just over 1 attempt per game. Playing 2 non-shooters at the same time is not ideal. Unless Leonard ends up winning lots of minutes at center, their centers don't shoot, and there is even some worry about Aminu's shooting from last year regressing to the mean (Aminu shot 36% last year, his previous career high was 31% in his rookie season and that is the only other time he was even over 30%).

Having 2 shooters as good as Lillard and McCollum (and throw Crabbe in there too) can cover up a lot, but there is a chance that the Blazers will have some serious problems with their spacing. Hopefully Turner manages to shoot like 34% and Aminu keeps it up and then they will be fine. But there is a chance it could be a problem.

The last thing is not so obvious, but is a concern to me. One of the reasons that Turner was such a good fit with Boston is because, beyond Isaiah Thomas, they really had no one who could consistently create their own shots, and Isaiah could struggle in crunch time as well. So Turner stepped into the void and filled a huge hole. The Celtics desperately needed in a guy who they can toss the ball to and consistently get decent looks. Because the thing is, Turner did not score very efficiently with Boston, and his passing was good but not crazy good. He was in a similar situation to Marcus Morris with the Pistons last year, and I have similar concerns for Morris moving forwards (Although Morris is at least a reliable shooter and defender so he should be ok).

The problem is that, now that Turner is on a team with 2 guys who are legit scorers, much better than he is, so that there is not nearly as gaping a hole there, he might just be a guy who can't shoot or play defense, who is a inefficient scorer in the midrange. Essentially, by being Boston's go-to crunch time guy (he wasn't always, but he kind of was) he was the tallest building in Nebraska. Meaning that he was their best option, but that doesn't mean he was actually much good. Because of this, even though I actually do really like this signing for the Blazers and I like Evan Turner's game, there is a chance he could be a huge flop.

So how do you actually think it will turn out?

I think he will do well. He will help their offense a lot, but the Blazers have some serious questions to face with their defense. I think that he will do a lot of the good stuff that I've mentioned earlier and I will be fascinated to see how Stotts uses him because he is such a unique player in today's NBA. And I fully admit that I like Turner more than I should just because he is unique. Essentially I think he will work out fine, his contract might not look great in a couple of years but he will be solid for them. Even if he isn't enough to put them over the hump.

What do you think? How will Turner do? What are some lineup combinations you'd like to see from the Blazers? Let me know! We all get smarter!