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Q&A: Myles Turner on Pacers, Centers, Playoffs, Texas Longhorns

Myles Turner talks to Michael Scotto about the Pacers, playoffs, his development and the Texas Longhorns.

Michael Scotto

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Myles Turner of the Indiana Pacers was recently a guest on the Basketball Insiders podcast on January 24. Michael Scotto interviewed Turner and the Q&A transcription can be found below. To listen to the podcast in its entirety, click the play button above.

Michael Scotto: If you look at the way you’ve played individually in January, you’re shooting 51 percent from the field, you’re shooting 56 percent from three-point range, 80 percent from the foul line thus far. You’ve got about nine rebounds, two blocks a game and 16.6 points. What’s been the biggest factor for that, in terms of your individual play, to start off the new year here in 2017?

Myles Turner: I think the biggest thing is just getting comfortable. I’m more comfortable with the guys on the floor. I’m more comfortable with our system and just playing the right way. I’m really excited to be out here on the floor with these guys, we’re doing a good job.

Scotto: In terms of your own individual development, I know we’ve spoken previously about the level that you want to get to ultimately at some point in your career, where do you feel that you are on that road to becoming the player you ultimately want to be?

Turner: To be honest, I feel like I’m not even close. I feel like I’m just scratching the surface right now and, hopefully, I can get there soon but I’m working hard every day trying to get there.

Scotto: What is that, I don’t want to say ‘ceiling’ because I don’t think that’s the correct word, but where is that type of level that you think that you can be as a player?

Turner: I feel like, one of these days, I can be top five in the league, if not the best. That’s the sights I set for myself, those are the goals that I have and that’s where I’m trying to get to. But, I know I’m a long way from getting there, so I can’t view the long term. I’ve got to take everything day by day.

Scotto: Nothing wrong with striving to reach your full potential, certainly don’t mind that. I’m also curious, you’re one of the few big guys that’s a five, a center, that can shoot the three ball, we’ve seen that with Brook Lopez a little bit more. I’m just curious if you think that, with the way both you guys are transitioning, I don’t want to say a full stretch-five because you guys can both post-up on the block but adding that element to your game with the ability to be a stretch-five, do you think that we could see that as a bit of a trend in the league with the way the floor spacing has been so prevalent?

Turner: Undoubtedly. I think a lot of guys coming in are just working on all aspects of their game. I know that’s what I did and I know that’s what, I think, is being taught throughout a lot of the college programs and even in high school. Guys are just starting to be basketball players, not be just defined to one position. I know that’s what I did with my pops, he really worked hard with me every day after practice and even before practice some mornings just to work on all aspects: dribbling, shooting. He just made it possible for me to get here.

Scotto: Now, I’m going to take you away from yourself, individually, and we’re going to talk a little bit about the Indiana Pacers overall. In the month of January, you guys are six and three thus far. Just curious, what have you seen, so far, since the calendar has flipped to 2017 from the core group, collectively?

Turner: We had that stretch where we won five games in a row and we were just playing well together and the ball was just rolling the right way, but we’ve had a little bit of a downfall these past couple games. There’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to get it back, it’s just, I think, coming back from this London trip and having to go to the West Coast right away messed with our bodies a little bit, but we’re starting to get back in rhythm.

Scotto: Now, I’ve joked with you about this before, but it seems like, with the team, you guys do a little bit of a cha-cha. You guys take a step forward, you guys take a step back. I’m just curious, why do you think it’s been, at least to this point in the season, a little bit inconsistent thus far, almost half-way through, or a little bit over, actually, half-way through the season?

Turner: I think it’s mostly because we’ve got new guys on this team so we’re all trying to figure each other out. We’re at the halfway mark of the season so we need to start figuring it out soon, but, like you said, we have stretches where we look like we’ve finally turned that corner and we just fall back a little bit and a lot of that fall back comes on the road. We really need to figure out what’s going on on the road and get these road wins back up to par and I know we’re at the bottom of the league in that aspect but I still have all the confidence in the world in this team. We have so many great players and so many great playmakers that the sky’s the limit for us once we figure it out.

Scotto: Now, I remember earlier in the season you had mentioned to me when we did an interview for a feature story that you thought the team could be, potentially, a top-four team. As it stands right now, when you look at the Eastern Conference, the number 6-11 seeds are only separated by about 3.5 games. What have you seen just from this conference overall and how clustered it’s been through the halfway mark in the east thus far?

Turner: Well to say it’s competitive is an understatement. Guys are just winning and dropping games but, once we play each other, it’s just like a dogfight. We’re all fighting for those three positions and it’s just interesting to see how it just volleys up and down throughout the season. You’ve got a team that has a bad loss or a really big win like Miami beat Golden State last night, the Pelicans beat Cleveland, stuff like that just happens. It really just messes with the entire thing. You can go from the No. 3 seed to the No. 6 seed just like that. It definitely makes it a lot more interesting and I feel like it makes things a lot more fun, knowing that you have to go out there and win some key games.

Scotto: What do you think is in store for you guys as a team overall and yourself individually for the second half of the season?

Turner: Well, like I said, I’m nowhere where I want to be. I feel like I still have more strides to make and I feel like I can make those strides throughout the rest of this season. I had a decent start to the season, not necessarily where I wanted to be, I wanted to be contributing a little bit more, but I think this team could really make the right steps. Jeff [Teague] is really starting to come into his own, PG [Paul George] has had a pretty good past couple of games and we’re all figuring each other out day by day and that’s just our biggest thing.

Scotto: Now, I’m going to take you off the court for a little bit and, for those who may not know, you’re a pretty active guy within the community and doing charity work. Do you have anything, in terms of that for Indiana specifically, coming up over the next few months?

Turner: Not anything coming up over the next few months here in Indianapolis that I know of right now. I’m still planning that stuff out. It’s hard to just get here, get in and get out, throughout the rest of the season. I know that around All-Star, I’m trying to get out to the community as much as I can. I think I might visit a high school and talk to the kids about giving back to the community, how important that is and how good it’s going to be for their futures. But, anytime I can help out the community, I try. It’s not even necessarily events that I plan, I just try to get out there on my own and make a difference.

Scotto: As a 20-year-old young man, did you ever foresee yourself having that type of impact not only just in the community for yourself individually and trying to help out others but just having that platform?

Turner: To be honest with you I did. I really thought that … with some kind of voice. I think I was that voice in my community growing up in high school. I tried to carry or transition it to Austin, Texas and, bringing it to Indianapolis, it’s just who I am, it’s a part of how I was raised and you’re never too young to have a voice. I encourage any younger guys that listen to this, to be that difference to their community. You’re never too young to start.

Scotto: Now you being a 20-year-old young man, for a lot of people they’re still in college at this point and you’re living a grown man’s life and having a lifestyle of your own off the court. What has that been like for yourself, adjusting into the real world, more or less?

Turner: It’s had its ups and downs. You still want to be that college kid you were, just hang out with your friends and just live the life, but it’s definitely work. Every day, day in and day out, you have something to do, you have certain responsibilities. It’s not college and that’s the biggest thing I had to learn last year. You can’t just do the same stuff you were doing, make the same decisions you were making. Everything you do is now looked at as a business. The organization that drafts you, you’re they’re multi-million dollar investment, that’s how you have to view it. You’ve just got to take care of your business and, obviously, you have fun while you’re doing it, but that’s the biggest thing that I learned.

Scotto: Certainly a good head on your shoulders from that regard and knowing you personally. Before I let you go, obviously, being a guy that went to Texas [the University of Texas at Austin], I’m curious what you think of them adding, I don’t know if you still follow them as much, but they did add a pretty good point guard in Matt Coleman and they’ve got some young pieces there at the program. What do you think of Texas’ future going forward as a program?

Turner: We’re just so young right now. I think we’re the seventh or eighth youngest team in the NCAA. They had such a great win over OU [University of Oklahoma] yesterday and I can see them growing real well. I’m actually really impressed by this Coleman kid. I watched a couple of highlights of him after he committed and I’m really glad that we got him. He’s the kind of guy that can come in and make a difference right away. We’re going to have a lot of sophomores next year, a couple juniors and that’s a young team. The sky’s the limit for them, for sure. I really think they can make a big difference and, hopefully, they play Kansas [the University of Kansas] in the Big 12. I’d love to see for that to happen.

Michael Scotto is a Senior NBA Writer for Basketball Insiders in his sixth season covering the league. He also works for The Associated Press focusing on Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks game coverage.

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Reviewing the Nurkic Trade: Denver’s Perspective

The Denver Nuggets have been on a miraculous run this postseason, but that doesn’t mean that they’re infallible. Drew Maresca reviews the 2017 trade that sent Jusuf Nurkic from Denver to Portland.

Drew Maresca

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The Denver Nuggets are fresh off of a 114-106 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, pulling within three wins of the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals. But what if I told you that the Nuggets’ roster could be even more talented by acting more deliberately in a trade from three years ago?

While Denver won on Tuesday night, they lost a nail bitter on Sunday – for which most of the blame has been pointed at a defensive breakdown by Nuggets’ center Mason Plumlee, who was procured in the aforementioned 2017 trade. What did it cost Denver, you ask? Just Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick.

Nurkic was a 2014-15 All-Rookie second team member. He played 139 games over 2.5 seasons in Denver, averaging 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in approximately 18 minutes per game. He showed serious promise, but Denver had numerous reasons to pursue a trade: he’d suffered a few relatively serious injuries early in his career (and he’s continued to be injury-prone in Portland), butted heads with head coach Michael Malone and – most importantly – the Nuggets stumbled on to Nikola Jokic.

The Nuggets eventually attempted a twin-tower strategy with both in the starting line-up, but that experiment was short-lived — with Jokic ultimately asking to move to the team’s second unit.

The Nuggets traded Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in February 2017 (along with a first-round pick) in exchange for Plumlee, a second-round pick and cash considerations. Ironically, the first-round pick included in the deal became Justin Jackson, who was used to procure another center, Zach Collins – but more on that in a bit.

As of February 2017, Plumlee was considered the better player of the two. He was averaging a career-high 11 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists through 54 games – but it was clear that at 27, he’d already maximized his talent.

Conversely, Nurkic was only 23 at the time of the trade with significant, untapped upside. In his first few seasons with Portland, Nurkic averaged 15 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, while establishing himself as a rising star. As noted above, injuries have continued to be a problem. Nurkic suffered a compound fracture in his tibia and fibula in March 2019, forcing him to miss a majority of this current campaign. The COVID-19-related play stoppage in March gave Nurkic extra time to get his body right, and he returned to action in July inside the bubble.

And he did so with a vengeance. Nurkic demonstrated superior strength and footwork, and he flashed the dominance that Portland hoped he would develop, posting eight double-doubles in 18 contests. He averaged 17.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and while his play dipped a bit in the playoffs – partially due to a matchup with first-team All-NBA star Anthony Davis – he still managed 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds in the five-game series. So it’s fair to say that Nurkic is still on his way toward stardom.

But the Nuggets are in the conference finals – so all’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. To his credit, Plumlee is exactly who Denver expected him to be. He’s averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in three seasons with Denver since 2017 – but to be fair, Plumlee is asked to do less in Denver than he had in Portland. Still, it’s fairly obvious that they’re just not that comparable.

Plumlee is a good passer and an above-average defender that’ll compete hard and isn’t afraid to get dirty – but he has limitations. He doesn’t stretch the floor and he is a sub-par free throw shooter (53.5 percent in 2019-20). More importantly, he’s simply not a major offensive threat and his repertoire of moves is limited.

High-level takeaway: Defenses tend to game plan for opponents they view as major threats – Nurkic falls into this category. Other guys pack the stat sheet through putback attempts, open looks and single coverage alongside the guys for whom opposing defenses game plan – that’s a more appropriate description of Plumlee.

On to the wrench thrown in by Zach Collins’ involvement. Statistically, Collins is about as effective as Plumlee – he averaged 7 points and 6.3 rebounds through only 11 games in 2019-20 due to various injuries – and he possesses more upside. The 22-year-old is not as reliable as Plumlee but given his age and skill set, he’s a far better option as a support player playing off the bench. He stretches the floor (36.8 percent on three-point attempts in 2019-20), is an above-average free throw shooter (75 percent this season) and is a good defender. Looking past Nurkic for a moment, would the Nuggets prefer a 22-year-old center that stretches the floor and defends or a 30-year-old energy guy?

Regardless of your answer to that question, it’s hard to argue that Nurkic should have returned more than Plumlee, definitely so when you factor in the first-round pick Denver included. There is obviously more at play: Denver was probably considering trading Nurkic for some time before they acted – did they feel that they could increase his trade value prior to the trade deadline in 2016-17? Maybe. Further, Nurkic and his agent could have influenced the Nuggets’ decision at the 2017 deadline, threatening to stonewall Denver in negotiations.

Had Nurkic been more patient or the Nuggets acted sooner before it became abundantly clear that he was on the move, Denver’s roster could be even more stacked than it is now. Ultimately, the Nuggets have a plethora of talent and will be fine – while it appears that Nurkic found a long-term home in Portland, where he owns the paint offensively. Denver can’t be thrilled about assisting a division rival, but they’re still in an enviable position today and should be for years to come.

But despite that, this deal should go down as a cautionary tale – it’s not only the bottom feeders of the league who make missteps. Even the savviest of front offices overthink deals. Sometimes that works in their favor, and other times it does not.

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NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong

Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.

Matt John

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It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.

Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.

Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.

1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.

A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.

Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part.  Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.

Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.

Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.

Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.

Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.

Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.

The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.

The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.

To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.

For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.

To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.

Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.

On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.

Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?

Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.

Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.

In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.

For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.

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Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz

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We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.

With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.

The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.

He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.

Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.

He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.

Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.

He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.

One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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