It’s easy to label NBA players as “busts” when they fail to meet pre-draft expectations, but what’s often overlooked is how much a player’s situation influences their success. In order for a player to take steps towards reaching their potential they must receive an opportunity, but not all opportunities are created equally.

Top draft picks like Mike Dunleavy, Jr. and Shaun Livingston were once labeled as busts but have since carved out significant roles on competitive teams. It only required patience and the right environment for them to become “late bloomers.”

The same could happen for Evan Turner, who hasn’t met expectations after being drafted No. 2 by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2010 NBA Draft.

Turner was projected as a star go-to scorer after being named the National Player of the Year at Ohio State, but after four years in the NBA he has career averages of 11.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game. With an underwhelming 44.8 eFG% and 12.0 PER, many NBA writers and fans consider the 25 year-old Turner a bust.

In a 2012 interview with Dime Magazine, Evan Turner explained that being labeled a bust so early in his career was extremely frustrating. “I was looking at my NBA career as a sprint, and now I know it’s a marathon,” Turner told Dime. “Everything wants to rush everything, but I’m just not like that. I’ve always been a little slow to warm up.”

Turner got off to a paltry start and succumbed to the “franchise savior” expectations that were placed on him, but he has never really gotten the chance to play a full season in a system that preaches efficiency or maximizes on the positive attributes of his game.

In fact, it might be too soon to label him at all considering he will get a fruitful chance with the Boston Celtics, finally free of the stress that burdened him in Philadelphia.

Turner started his career under Doug Collins, whose motion-based system was a fit on paper, but was supported by a disastrous offensive philosophy. Over Turner’s first three seasons, the 76ers ranked in the top three of mid-range attempts and near the bottom of the barrel in both three-point and restricted area attempts. This prehistoric style of play ultimately led to Collins’ dismissal and the hiring of the progressive Brett Brown.


Under Brown, Turner started 54 games, and during that time Philadelphia’s offense ranked 1st in restricted area attempts, 12th in 3-point attempts, and 29th in mid-range attempts—a drastic evolution from Collins’ offenses.

“Sometimes I think he’s a victim of the fact he was so skilled at beasting college basketball and just being able to get a foot and shoulder by people and hit uncontested jump shots that he hadn’t had to really rely on or need the 3-point shot,” Brown told the Boston Herald. “He became sort of a long 2-point shooting type of guy.”

 

Shot Type Usage 2013-14 (PHI) 2012-13 2011-12 2010-11
In The Paint 47.3% 38.9% 42.4% 42.0%
Mid-Range 36.8% 46.1% 49.3% 49.7%
3-Pointer 15.9% 15.0% 8.3% 8.3%

 

Turner began to heed Brown’s advice by attempting less mid-range shots, instead opting to drive the ball to the rim or just launch a three. Even though he saw only a slight uptick in efficiency, it’s a positive sign that it didn’t drop despite taking on a large bulk of the offense.

Turner’s agent David Falk said Boston was his top destination, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering coach Brad Stevens’ versatile motion-based system accentuates his strengths. Instead of playing chiefly out of inefficient isolation sets, Turner will likely be asked to spot up from three with the Celtics, where he is a productive 39.2% shooter the past two seasons.

But Turner should still see work as a ball handler when pure shooters are on the floor with him. Instead of being relied on to score, Turner will be asked to attack and facilitate or get to the rim, not pull up from mid-range.

Boston will look to improve on the 2013 version of Evan Turner, and while he’ll never live up to the hype of a top draft pick, it doesn’t mean he can’t transform into a high-end role player by seeing his role evolve with the Boston Celtics.

After all, an NBA career is a marathon, not a sprint.


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