Throughout Team USA’s recent training camp in Las Vegas, Paul George noticed that many of the NBA stars in attendance were impressed with his Indiana Pacers teammate Myles Turner, who was on Team USA’s Select Team.
“Myles looked really good,” George told Nate Taylor of the Indy Star. “I think the whole talk around that camp was, ‘Man, you got a good one.’ That’s coming from all the guys on the Olympic team. Everybody was just raving of how good Myles is. … He’s got the respect. He’s earned it from the veterans and he’s going to be good. He’s one of the best up-and-coming talents in the league.”
Turner played very well against some of league’s best players – even swatting one of George’s lay-up attempts out of bounds. In addition to receiving praise from fellow players, a number of the reporters in attendance spoke highly of his performance – with Marc Spears of ESPN going so far as to say that Turner looked like he belonged on the actual USA Basketball roster as opposed to the Select Team.
In addition to receiving excellent guidance from legendary coaches like Mike Krzyzewski and Gregg Popovich (who’s coaching the Select Team), he’s getting the chance to work out and play against talented big men like DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan as well as stars like Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Jimmy Butler among others.
This comes after a very impressive rookie season in which the 11th overall pick in last year’s draft averaged 10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 22.8 minutes. Turner fared well compared to his first-year peers, ranking seventh among all rookies in points per game, fifth in rebounds per game, third in blocks per game and sixth in double-doubles on his way to making the All-Rookie Second Team. Oh, and he just turned 20 years old in late March.
In the postseason, there were stretches where he dominated. In the Pacers’ first-round series against the Toronto Raptors, Turner averaged 10.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.3 blocks in 28.1 minutes. He was a monster in the paint, finishing every game with multiple blocks and totaling 23 rejections in the series (plus many more altered shots). If Turner had any nerves about playing on basketball’s biggest stage for the first time, they didn’t show. In his debut playoff game, he had 10 points, five rebounds and five blocks in the Pacers’ upset victory over the Raptors. Two games later, he recorded 17 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. In Games 5 and 6, he totaled 29 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocks while shooting 61.9 percent from the field.
Pacers president Larry Bird has said that Turner’s “talent is off the charts” and it’s hard to disagree based on his recent production with Indiana and Team USA.
Basketball Insiders recently chatted with Turner about his rookie season, playoff debut, Team USA experience, Indiana’s recent moves, expectations for next year and more.
Alex Kennedy: First of all, how nice was it not having to go through the draft process this year? I know most guys hate doing that, and you were put under the microscope last year. Is it nice knowing you never have to do that again?
Turner: “It’s super nice. You can actually settle in to a normal summer process and focus on getting better, and not have to worry about where you’ll end up, what city you’ll be in, what the coaches are thinking and all of that. You’re really just working for yourself now, and it feels great.”
Kennedy: How much do you feel you learned from your time with the Team USA Select Team?
Turner: “I feel like I’ve made huge strides because that pace is so much faster than what people think. I mean, you see them beating up on these foreign teams and now I can definitely see why teams struggle against them. You have to make plays a lot faster and you have to make reads a lot faster, so I feel like that was really good for me.”
Kennedy: A lot of guys have had breakout seasons after participating with the Select Team because they expand their game, get great coaching and their confidence is way up. Can you envision that happening for you and having this translate into the season?
Turner: “Yeah, definitely. I’m looking forward to making a big jump forward next year. I know I did some good things last year and I want to build off of that. I think this experience was really good for me. It’s one of a kind. I was blessed and fortunate to be chosen and to have this experience.”
Kennedy: Gregg Popovich is coaching the Select Team. What was it like being coached by him?
Turner: “Man, it was great. Coach Popovich is a really cool dude. I don’t think the media gets to see his real personality and the side of him that he shows when he’s coaching players. But I definitely see why he’s considered one of the best. He’s an awesome guy, with a great personality, and he’s really all about getting better. Overall, my experience was great.”
Kennedy: When we talked back in April, you told me DeMarcus Cousins was the toughest center you had guarded. What’s it like being able to play with him and learn from him in this Team USA setting?
Turner: “I feel like I really held my own this time. I definitely was a lot better guarding him this time than I was during the season when I played him (laughs). It was cool to see how he uses his body and uses his footwork to get around other people. I always see it on TV and see what he does, but to see it in person, it’s definitely one of a kind. But yeah, I definitely feel like I did a lot better this time.”
Kennedy: How much are you taking from the other stars there too? Obviously there’s some skill stuff, but then also things like work ethic, preparation and seeing how they handle specific things. Are there things like that you can learn from the Select Team experience?
Turner: “Yeah, that’s huge. Their work ethic, like you said, stands out. The coaches were actually trying to get them to relax and chill because they have all of these scrimmages, but they were the ones who always wanted to work. They were getting up extra shots after practice, they scrimmaged against us one time and you can just tell that they love playing the game. With all of those guys, they don’t ever truly feel like they ‘made it.’ They really continue to work on their game and keep learning and are true students of the game. It’s [motivating] to see that from people who are at the superstar status.”
Kennedy: Which other players from the Select Team impressed you the most?
Turner: I like [Milwaukee Bucks draft pick] Malcolm Brogdon out of Virginia. He really impressed me. We were playing a lot of one-on-one and he’s a very capable player. He can use both of his hands, he can shoot it, has a good handle on the ball and he’s athletic. I watched college basketball this year, but I didn’t really get to see Virginia play a lot, but I can see why people were high on him. I really like his game. I know everyone else from my class. D’Angelo Russell did well. Stanley Johnson did well. I knew they were going to do well. Oh, and I had never really seen Brandon Ingram play in an NBA setting or whatever. I saw him play at Summer League and I saw him play at Duke, but I like his game too. Once he starts adding more strength to his game, he’s going to fill out nicely.”
Kennedy: From your first NBA game to your final postseason game, how much did you improve as a player?
Turner: “Oh wow, drastically. Dramatically. It’s so crazy how the improvement process goes because you don’t really improve body-wise or things like that. The game just starts to slow down for you and once that happens, everything is so much easier. When I came back from my injury midseason, I was able to take a step back and really see everything for what it was. I definitely got a lot better in the post, making defensive rotations, seeing plays before they happen. I dramatically improved over the course of the season.”
Kennedy: How would you describe your first playoff experience? And how can you build off of that momentum because you played really, really well in that series.
Turner: “I appreciate that, man. It’s definitely a lot different. The game is fast in the regular season, but in the postseason the game is a lot faster. The crowd is more into it. Every possession matters and it’s a nail-biter every other play. Really, in our series, things didn’t get interesting until the last couple games because the early games were blowouts – either they blew us out or we blew them out. But overall, it was a lot different and I can’t even describe the atmosphere. In Toronto, the atmosphere was unbelievable because that whole country was behind them. It was an incredible experience, and I see why people crave it and are determined to get back there and get further. I really enjoyed my playoff experience. The first game, I definitely had some jitters, but after that I was fine.”
Kennedy: You had multiple blocks in every postseason game and averaged 3.3 rejections per game in the series. What’s that feeling like – knowing that everyone is aware of your presence and, to some extent, intimidated to come in the paint?
Turner: “It only builds my confidence. And once I get going defensively, I feel like I only do better offensively and the game flows more naturally for me. Being able to establish that kind of presence early and have my team be able to rely on me if they get beat and their guy gets to the rim, that’s good for everybody’s confidence too because they know I can help back there. But yeah, it’s just huge for my individual confidence – being able to, I guess, demand that respect.”
Kennedy: You turned 20 years old in March. Do you ever think about how surreal it is that you’re repping Team USA as one of the youngest guys there, putting up monster numbers in the playoffs, earning All-Rookie Second Team honors? Does it ever feel surreal how quickly this has all happened?
Turner: “Definitely, man. I was just sitting and talking about it with one of my friends the other day when I was back home. It’s just amazing to see how far I’ve come in such a short period of time, but also how much further I have to go. Me and my dad have talked about this too: I see some players who come into the league, get all of this hype and then they start to fizzle out and stop working. I’m never going to be that type of player. My work ethic is a lot of stronger than that and I’m very driven right now. I’m really looking forward to what’s to come over these next couple of years.”
Kennedy: One question kept coming up from Pacers fans: Because you are just 20 years old, what do you think your ceiling is? When you reach your prime, what kind of player do you see yourself being?
Turner: “I can see myself being a very dominant player in this league one day – and one day soon. I mean, I don’t know what my ceiling is. With my work ethic and my drive, I feel like there is no ceiling. I can always improve and get better at all facets of the game. Like I was saying, guys like KD and Draymond and everyone on Team USA, they’re upper-echelon players but they’re constantly striving for more and striving for more. I want to put myself in that same category as far as that mindset.”
Kennedy: How is Indiana? What has it been like adjusting to the city and living there throughout your first year in the league?
Turner: “I love it down here, man. It’s good because it’s a city that’s not really flashy, it’s really blue-collar. I like that because I can just stay on my grind and work on my game and not worry about any distractions. It’s good for me because I can have my family come out here, support me and watch some of my games. It’s just a great city all around, man. Everybody loves basketball. I’m from Texas, where football is king, so it’s nice to be in a city that really appreciates basketball at every level. People love the Pacers, people love the Hoosiers, people love high school basketball. It’s really cool to be part of that environment. I’m really excited and blessed to be part of such a great organization as well.”
Kennedy: This has been a busy offseason for you guys. What do you think of the additions of Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson, and how they fit with the current squad?
Turner: “I love those moves. I think Jeff is a very aggressive point guard and one that we need to make plays for us. With Big Al, his footwork is impeccable and I’ve watched him play over the years and he’s an incredible player. Thad brings a lot of energy. He’s that ‘do-the-dirty-work’ kind of player that we need, but he’s also more than that because he’s skilled at what he does. I’m curious to see how we’re going to fit together. I also like Jeremy Evans and Aaron Brooks too. Jeremy has always been a good athletic, energy guy. And Aaron, he was one of the toughest point guards I had to guard last year. He didn’t play a lot when we played them, but when he did, some of the plays he made were crazy. He’d finish around the rim and it’s just like, ‘Wait, how did he do that?’ I really love all of the moves.”
Kennedy: You and Big Al have different skill sets, but he’s obviously had a lot of success in this league. Have you guys talked at all yet and are you looking forward to picking his brain?
Turner: “I haven’t talked to him yet, but I love how poised he is. I can learn patience from him and I want to be able to read the game the way he does. And obviously I can learn a lot from him in the post and some of the things that he does with his touches. He’s a veteran who has been in the league for awhile too, so I’m sure he can teach me some off-the-court stuff as well. I think getting him is a great look for the organization and I’m excited to partner with him.”
Kennedy: Nate McMillan will take over for Frank Vogel as head coach, obviously. What changes do you envision and what’s your relationship with Coach McMillan like?
Turner: “Me and Coach Mac are tight. We talked a lot last year during my rookie season. I’m glad that, if we did have to make an adjustment, it was with a familiar face. I’m definitely going to miss Coach Vogel; I’m indebted to him because he gave me a chance in my rookie year to go out there and play and make the most of my opportunities. With Coach McMillan, I feel like we’re going to make some changes on offense. We’re still going to be a hard-nosed, defensive team, but we’re going to run. With the group that we have, I feel like we’re going to be able to get up and down the court rather quickly. He wants to see a change of pace.”
Kennedy: What are your expectations for next season – as a team and then also individually?
Turner: “As a team, we want to finish top three in the East and I feel like we’re very capable of doing so. On paper, we’re very talented, but it’s about how we put stuff together. I do feel like the East will be a lot stronger next year with some of the moves that have been made in our conference, but I feel like we can go out there and get the job done and finish in the top three. That’s the goal, and then we want to go make a deep playoff run. And obviously, we’re all chasing rings and that’s a big goal of mine. I don’t see why we can’t do it next year. I know that ‘sounds good’ and anybody can just say that, but I’m a very confident player and with that confidence comes ambition. Individually, I feel like I can put up big numbers for this team and help in any way necessary. I’d like to see myself put up 15 to 20 points per game. That may seem like a long shot, but I feel like I’m very capable.”
PODCAST: Lonzo’s Shot, How To Cut Luol Deng and More
Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and Senior NBA writer and salary cap guru Eric Pincus talk about Lonzo Ball and the unreasonable expectations some have had about his rookie campaign, what the Lakers could do with Luol Deng, teams that have cap exceptions and could likely use them, which teams are for real and more.
Johnson Is Leading By Example In Philadelphia
Amir Johnson may not be a star player, but his impact on the locker room is a constant in Philadelphia.
After every home win, the Philadelphia 76ers have a miniature liberty bell in their locker room that gets rung by a selected player, usually the who had the biggest impact on the game.
On Monday night, Amir Johnson got to the ring the bell after the Sixers beat the Utah Jazz 107-86 to secure their ninth win of the season. Johnson turned in his best performance since joining Philadelphia this offseason, with eight points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in 21 minutes of playing time as Joel Embiid’s substitute.
Up until about 45 minutes before the 7 p.m. tipoff, Embiid’s status was unclear due to knee soreness. Johnson would’ve been tasked with the starting role had his teammate been unable to perform. Instead, he fulfilled his backup role to perfection, which has been the status quo for Johnson so far this season.
When the Sixers signed Johnson to a one-year $11 million deal in July, it was for the purpose of shaping a young roster with some veteran leadership. Management wanted to ensure there would be a professional in the locker room to help navigate the likes of Embiid and Ben Simmons through a full NBA season, with hopes of making it to the playoffs.
“When we looked to build our roster and sort of identify people we started talking about Amir Johnson,” Brett Brown said. “And Bryan was way more familiar with Amir — this is to Bryan’s credit — than I was, because of his Toronto background. And I started digging in and calling his teammates. I’ve been in the league for a long time, so you follow him, and you speak to people like Evan Turner. You know, tell me about Amir when you were in Boston and so on.”
While Brown was doing his research on Johnson, he came across an impressive level of continuity when it came to how others viewed the center.
“It’s amazing to a man how consistent the reviews were,” Brown said of Johnson. “People skills, work his butt off, could handle swinging a towel or coming in and making a difference. He’s a good person and he’s a pro. To be able to bring him in the game and now worry about is he happy, is he fresh, is he in shape, does he need 10 shots? It isn’t ever on my mind with Amir.”
The Sixers’ head coach seems honest in his assessment, and Johnson’s fluctuating level of productivity and use reflects that. Prior to his big night against Utah, Johnson logged a combined 21 minutes over the team’s previous four games — including two DNP’s, both coming against the Golden State Warriors.
Still, just barely over a month into this new season, the Sixers are trying to iron out the kinks in their lineup. With injuries to Richaun Holmes, Markelle Fultz, Jerryd Bayless and Justin Anderson over the course of the season so far, finding a set group of guys and defining their roles has been a tricky situation to maneuver.
Last season, Johnson started 77 games for the Boston Celtics during their campaign that ran all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. His one start in 14 games this season, with a cut in minutes per game, is a far cry from the level of use Johnson experienced just one year ago. But coming into this season, that was known. Johnson’s role would be to help guide his junior counterparts and chip in where he could.
So far, the deal is paying dividends on both ends.
“It’s huge for us,” Simmons said. “Having a guy come off the bench and play a role like that. As a vet, he’s one of the leaders. He comes in, plays hard, doesn’t ask for more minutes or anything like that. He’s a great player.”
In a game that featured the absence of Jazz star center Rudy Gobert, Johnson was able to make his presence more prevalent during his reserve minutes. Along with his four blocks, Johnson had a game-high 15 contested two-point shots. As a team, Utah shot just 35.3 percent from the field.
Backing up a superstar in the making in Embiid, Johnson has limited time to let it be known that he’s still around. That situation is magnified on nights that Holmes is seeing extended run as well. But in his 13th season in the league, Johnson knows a thing or two about finding ways to be effective and efficient.
“Finding my way on the floor, knowing the amount of time I have, just finding ways I can help my teammates,” Johnson said. “I watch a lot of film. Just for me to find open spots, set screens, and the biggest part that I can help this team out, is just play defense and grabbing rebounds.”
On the nights where Johnson doesn’t get his number called — a la games against the Warriors and other small-ball teams — the veteran just continues to do what he was brought in to do in the first place, lead by example.
“Just sticking to my routine,” Johnson said. “Being mentally prepared, getting my teammates ready, just being a professional, doing all kind of things to prepare for a game.”
After being around the come up in Boston, Johnson knows there are bigger things at stake for the Sixers than a few minutes here and there on the court. To him, winning is the only thing that matters.
“When you don’t play and you win, man it’s like and that’s all that matters,” Johnson said. “We’re here to try and do one goal, and that’s win games and make the playoffs, and go from there on.”
Whether he’s on the bench waving a towel, or on the court making a play, Johnson will continue to lead a young group of talented players by example, hopefully culminating in a trip to the playoffs.
“He is a legitimate pro, on and off the court,” Brown said. “He’s a wonderful teammate.”
NBA PM: Marcus Morris’ Return Bolsters The Celtics
With the Boston Celtics riding high with a league-best 16-game win streak, the return of forward Marcus Morris has provided a lift.
Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge made a huge personnel gamble this summer that changed four starters from a roster that reached the Eastern Conference Finals. One of the less-heralded among the new starters — forward Marcus Morris, who arrived from the Pistons in a surprise trade for starting shooting guard Avery Bradley — has proven to be a key component in Boston’s early success.
After missing the first eight games of the season due to lingering knee soreness, Morris has scored in double figures in six of nine appearances. Following Saturday’s win over the Hawks in Atlanta — the 15th of the current 16-game win streak — Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Morris’ contributions have been vital, even as Stevens continues to monitor his minutes.
“We need Marcus quite a bit,” said Stevens. “We’re still managing his minutes appropriately as he comes back. Hopefully, that continues to be more and more and more.”
Morris was plus-18 against the Hawks, 10 points better than any other starter, despite being the only starter with single-digit shot attempts. Stevens added that Morris’ offense has been a boost despite few plays being run for him.
“He brings us scoring, he brings us defense [and] he brings us toughness,” said Stevens. “I think we really need his scoring, like his ability to shoot the ball both off broken plays and off movement.”
Morris’ emergence as an offensive threat was noted in the offseason by an Eastern Conference forward in an anonymously-sourced piece on underrated players by HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy.
“I think Marcus Morris is really underrated,” the forward told Kennedy. “He can play multiple positions and he went from being a role player to someone who scores the ball really well. When other players have made that leap, they got more attention. Take Chandler Parsons, for example. When Chandler made big strides, he got a ton of attention and a huge contract. Marcus hasn’t gotten the recognition or the payday that he deserves.”
While some questioned the wisdom of trading Bradley, a starter for a team that had a lot of success and remained on the rise, Celtics center Al Horford — the sole remaining starter from last season — said he was looking forward to playing with Morris once the trade was announced.
“He’s one of the guys that really excited me once we got him this offseason, just because of everything he’s going to be able to bring,” said Horford. “I don’t think he’s at his best yet. He’s doing okay. But he’s just going to keep getting better. So that’s a good thing for us.”
With the knee injury that lingered after the start of the season, Horford said the team is still getting accustomed to the diverse set of tools Morris brings to the court.
“Marcus is great,” said Horford. “Defensively, his presence is felt. On offense I think he’s finally starting to get into a rhythm. He’s getting more comfortable [and] we’re getting more comfortable with him. It’s a matter of time.”
While Stevens and Horford both feel that we haven’t seen Morris at his best, his return to action was timely as it bolstered the lineup during the current win streak. Horford, who was part of a 19-game win streak for the Hawks during the 2014-15 season, was asked how Boston is approaching its current prosperity. Horford said that, like his former Hawks team, the Celtics are avoiding the subject in the locker room.
“We’re not honestly really talking about it much,” said Horford. “That winning streak here was pretty special. We were playing at a high level. We didn’t talk about it here either and we’re taking that type of approach. We’re just playing and enjoying the game out there.”
With Boston carrying the current streak into a Wednesday visit to Miami, Ainge’s surprising trade for Marcus Morris is looking more and more prescient. If his best is yet to come, as his coach and teammates maintain, the recognition that has elluded Morris could be just around the corner.