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NBA Daily: Turner Sees Pacers Reaching New Heights

Spencer Davies chats with Myles Turner about the Indiana Pacers getting to the next level and playing with expectations in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Year three was supposed to be Myles Turner’s time to shine.

Following an impressive sophomore campaign the season beforehand, he was pegged to become the face of the franchise and make that leap from good to great.

Instead, Victor Oladipo took a new opportunity and ran with it, earning honors as the league’s Most Improved Player and vaulting the Indiana Pacers into a winner-take-all Game 7 with the defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs. He, in turn, took his place as the team’s leader in one season.

Turner, to some, didn’t quite look like the same player as he did in 2016-17. While his three-point rate and percentage increased, the rest of his average numbers dipped across the board.

There are a few possibilities as to why. Maybe it had to do with the departure of Paul George. Perhaps the arrival of Domantas Sabonis and his natural grasp of the Pacers’ system rewarding him with big minutes had an effect. It could have even been a style change within the team due to the roster turnover.

Whatever the reason was, Turner just didn’t jump as high as other young talents have in their third year—which is typically when you find out a guy isn’t meant to play at this level or has the potential be good, great or elite.

But make no mistake about it: Myles Turner could be the exception to the rule.

Going into his fourth season, Turner is laser-focused. He’s lost weight. He’s changed his diet. He’s constantly working. It should be a breakout year for him.

With that said, though, the 22-year-old is not concentrating on what he does individually, but rather what Indiana does collectively.

“I don’t look at it that way,” Turner told Basketball Insiders. “I’m looking to come out here and just play for my team. If I have a great season, then so be it. But my main focus is to look at the Pacers and new heights.

“Been in the league for four years now, haven’t passed the first round for three years – so that’s where all my focus lies.”

As one of seven players on Indiana’s roster playing in the final season of his current deal, some feel Turner will hit the floor with an extra drive and motivation to command a hefty payday in the summertime. While it has given a push to players in similar situations in the past, he doesn’t think it should change anything.

“For me, it’s not necessarily about playing for my contract,” Turner told Basketball Insiders. “I need to do what my team needs me to do. If that’s rebounding, cool. If it’s scoring, score. But it’s all about what my team needs me to do in that aspect.”

So what does head coach Nate McMillan want him to do better? When asked about it, he doesn’t want to single him out. As a whole, first and foremost, he wants the Pacers as a whole to crash the glass. It’s not only on the two players in the frontcourt, either.

“That’s a challenge to our entire team, to be better rebounders, and, as a group,” McMillan said. “Certainly our bigs know that we want them to do a better job of rebounding the ball. But it’s not on just our bigs.”

McMillan indicated that the increased spacing in today’s game means everybody has to be involved.

“Sometimes, you’ve got your five-man spread or they’re at the top of the key,” he said. “It’s not ‘old-school basketball’ where the center’s sitting in the paint all game long.”

In order to address Indiana’s shortcomings on the boards, McMillan is going to try out a Sabonis-Turner pairing in the frontcourt. It’s a combination that hasn’t practiced together at all during training camp, but will be tested out until the season tips off.

Last year, the two didn’t play much alongside one another, and when they did, the numbers weren’t too pretty. Among two-man lineups that played at least 50 games for the team, the duo ranked dead last in offensive rating (93.2) and net rating (-9.9) in 269 minutes together.

As pundits and local media debate if a successful Sabonis-Turner partnership is possible, they spent some time with each other this past offseason to bond over yoga and taking care of their bodies.

When asked why McMillan wants to try both of them on the floor simultaneously, Turner’s reasoning was two-fold.

“I think me and Domas work well together,” Turner told Basketball Insiders. “We haven’t gotten the opportunity to do it too much, but I think it’ll be a good opportunity for us.

“One, for rebounding purposes to be able to kind of dominate the boards. Two, our offensive prowess. There’s a lot of setting the table, especially the high-low kind of set. And then just being able to kind of, not to say intimidate teams, but just make teams match up to us.”

Regarding what he’s worked on personally, Turner told Basketball Insiders he’d like to become a better perimeter defender and move more on the defensive end. He’s “always had” a reliable jump shot, but he’s looking to improve that every day as well to hone that skill.

Away from the court, Turner has slimmed down tremendously. He admitted to ESPN that he was “pudgy” last year and wanted to do everything he could to better his conditioning. He revealed that healthier eating habits, not just the concentration on yoga, has helped accomplish that and he already feels the bodily improvement in practice.

“I’ve had pretty good sustained energy,” Turner told Basketball Insiders. “The hugest difference for me is just the way I feel out there. We’ll see how it impacts me over the course of the season—gotta be able to stay in shape and gotta be ready for a long season.”

Indiana has a real shot at making more noise this year than they did before. With Lance Stephenson and Trevor Booker off doing their own thing, team president Kevin Prichard acted and brought in three new veteran faces in free agency—Tyreke Evans, Kyle O’Quinn and Doug McDermott.

Turner has his own predictions for the trio, each of whom he believes has already shown they’re all in with what the Pacers are trying to accomplish.

Evans will be the leader of a dangerous second unit, utilizing the pick-and-roll and being a “maestro.” O’Quinn will benefit Turner and Sabonis to work against and with, coming off the bench, providing energy and not trying to do too much. And McDermott is going to shoot the ball and force defenders out to the perimeter to open up the lane for his teammates.

“They have the right attitude,” Turner told Basketball Insiders of his new teammates. “I think everybody’s bought into their roles, so it’s gonna be good.”

As for who’s already there, Turner sees Oladipo picking up where he left off and capitalizing on his incredible season with a better one.

“Just being able to adjust what teams throw at him,” Turner told Basketball Insiders of Oladipo’s next step. “Some teams are gonna double him. Some teams are gonna send guys to trap him. I mean, he’s gonna be able to adjust to different defenses. And once he’s able to master that, the sky’s the limit.”

To be clear, everybody—especially the returning players—is looking forward to building on those accomplishments and progressing further.

“We have to, all of that momentum that we had last year, create that again this year,” McMillan said. “We’ve turned the page on all of that that has happened last year. We’re building kind of a new system, new style again this year.”

In contrast to a season ago, Indiana isn’t going to sneak up on anybody this time around. Teams are going to be prepared to take on a ball club equipped with more than enough talent to claim the Central Division, and, potentially, the Eastern Conference.

McMillan understands the chatter and excitement that comes with what his team previously did, yet he won’t allow those things to divert his team’s attention from the task at hand.

“Well, we was here last year, too,” McMillan said. “We don’t pay attention to outside noise and we don’t pay attention to people telling us who we should be. Last year, they kind of wrote us off and, this year, they’ve got us winning it.

“So it’s all up to us to take it one day at a time and to try and improve one day at a time, one game at a time. That was our focus last year, that’ll be our focus again this year.”

Turner acknowledges the same and doesn’t expect anything to change too much.

Playing with expectations isn’t easy, especially if it gets in your head and the competition sees it—but that won’t be happening to these Pacers, who are starving for much more than just an appearance in the postseason.

“We have the same goals,” Turner told Basketball Insiders. “Guys are more aware of who we are now, but that doesn’t change what we’re about.

“We’re gonna come in here with the same mindset, same approach that we did last season and just elevate it.”

Spencer Davies is a Deputy Editor and a Senior NBA Writer based in Cleveland in his third year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past five seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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