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NBA Daily: Evan Turner Helping to Stabilize Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers have struggled with key injuries this season, but Evan Turner has done whatever it takes to fill the void, writes James Blancarte.

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The 2018-19 Portland Trail Blazers are a talented team seeking redemption. Even though they were able to secure the third seed in last season’s competitive Western Conference, they still found themselves on the wrong end of a four-game sweep at the hands of the feisty New Orleans Pelicans. In fairness to the Trail Blazers, the Pelicans were a particularly bad matchup despite the homecourt advantage for Portland. Now near the midway point of this season, the Trail Blazers are again angling themselves for the best seed possible and are currently fourth in the Western Conference, just behind the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Now in his third season with the Trail Blazers, veteran forward Evan Turner is proving as valuable as ever in this season’s campaign. Turner serves primarily as a key role player coming off the bench as a scorer, wing defender and back-up point forward. Turner spoke to Basketball Insiders recently to share his thoughts about coming off the bench and his role overall.

“The biggest thing [coming off the bench] shows is your value with how the unit does,” Turner said. “We really just have to keep it consistent and not give up the lead the starters built.”

This season, Turner has almost exclusively come off the bench. He is arguably the team’s most important bench player and serves much more as a point forward for the second unit compared to years past in Portland. Turner’s effectiveness in this role hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates. When asked which teammate has been critical to his own success, reserve guard Nik Stauskas immediately brought up Turner.

“It’s been really good playing with Evan Turner. He’s the point guard of the second unit. It’s been really cool to play with him. He’s a really great point guard. He gets guys involved. He just keeps the rhythm of the game going,” Stauskas said.

When asked about the emphasis on playing point with the other reserves, Turner made it clear that he is quite comfortable with it.

“Yeah, I guess this year we just went full force with it. I grew up doing it throughout my whole playing since I was a kid. You know, in Boston I played that position a lot, in that situation,” Turner said.

Of course, the NBA season is a grind and injuries do occur. In what has become a recurring theme, the health of starting small forward Maurice Harkless is an ongoing issue. Harkless has been in and out of the lineup as he continues to deal with issues relating to a knee injury suffered last season. In the last 11 games, Harkless has only been able to play in four. The injury puts the team in a difficult position as it again positions itself to be a contender.

Despite his health issues and any ensuing instability to the team, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts made his support for Harkless clear.

“He’s our starting small forward. He has been for two years so yeah, very comfortable with him in that spot,” Stotts said.

With the ongoing knee issues for Harkless, Turner said he would be ready to enter into the starting lineup if that’s what the Stotts decided, but expressed some hesitation about being pulled from the second unit.

“I would be comfortable playing anywhere on the court, you know I play basketball. I accept my position. It’s about what molds well for the whole team. You know, I step into the first unit, what happens with the second unit? Who’s going to distribute? Things like that,” Turner said. “Right now, I guess my perk is versatility so it is whatever it is. I’m all about whatever makes sense, in that moment.”

A few weeks ago, Harkless missed two random games and both times Turner had to step into the starting lineup. Both games resulted in a Portland win. However, during a more recent five-game Harkless absence, the Trail Blazers went back to third-year small forward Jake Layman. Layman had been the team’s starting small forward before Harkless was able to ease back into the lineup and his normal starting role.

With the starting position in flux, Turner’s versatile role and consistent play have the Trail Blazers well situated to not drop off too much. When asked what matters to him personally, Turner turned his attention to his team’s success.

“I’ve always been big on, as long as we win, whatever I can do to help, trying to be the consummate pro – that’s all that matters,” Turner said. “When you’re in the locker room, you’re around what really matters, those 15 people in the locker room, along with what your coaches ask you to do. And that’s all I really focus on and that’s what you get paid for.”

When asked about how the general fans often think about the Trail Blazers, Turner had strong words about how the rest of the team is overlooked in favor of the team’s two stars.

“In the overall scheme, when you think about Portland. There is the Dame [Lillard] and C.J. [McCollum] effect and the rest of us are the dead weight.”

Regardless, Turner’s priorities are supporting his teammates and fighting for the team’s overall success. Whatever happens with Harkless, Turner is ready to do whatever is necessary to help his team, which is again angling for a deep playoff run in a stacked Western Conference.

James Blancarte is a writer for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney based in Los Angeles, California.

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