Evan Turner killed it on Sunday night. The numbers: 20 points (on 9-15 shooting), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, 1 memorable moment after a frantic sequence, and 1 undeniably endearing postgame soundbite.
It was a great watch. Sure, he made some mistakes – a few botched defensive possessions, a couple of turnovers, and one airball I’d like to forget – but this game was exactly what Sixers fans were waiting for. He made aggressive moves and quick decisions, just like he did when dominating at Ohio State. It was what we could easily call a breakout performance, but we won’t.
Turner followed this up by scoring 10 points on 3-8 shooting last night. He started strong, hitting a corner three, a midrange jumper off a hard dribble to his right, and a second midrange J after a spin that made Clark Kellogg exclaim, “My goodness!” But after taking a flagrant foul from Dahntay Jones, he basically disappeared. He played meaningful minutes in a good win, but those minutes felt nothing like those he played on Sunday. And that’s okay.
This Pacers game reminds us that Evan is still a rookie, one who was correctly described as “shamefully gun shy” in December. And while it would be convenient to see modest showings like this eliminated rather than limited, it’s rewarding to catch a few flashes of brilliance before brilliance becomes the norm.
We should celebrate inspiring games and promising stretches. We should cherish all the firsts in bright young careers. But if we believe our guy’s got stardom in him, we should treat each impressive night as evidence, not proof, that he’s going to let it out.
The potential star in my hometown is DeMar DeRozan, which means I sometimes find myself in discussions about what his peak might be, whether or not he can be a franchise player, and what we should reasonably expect from him next season. His scoring totals warrant these questions, but it’s foolish to act like we’ve seen enough to answer them. What we have seen, though, is progress. We’ve seen the results of a willingness to work and a very obvious increase in confidence.
A year before reading articles with “Turner” and “problem” in their titles, I was yelling at my laptop whilst reading about the Raptors’ apparent need to start Antoine Wright over DeRozan. Now, I’m enjoying his emergence as a go-to scoring option. Seeing him break out the Kobe spin I saw him testing in Summer League could not make me happier, and when I hear that he wants the ball in crunchtime, I’ll admit that I’m a little proud, as someone who’s believed in him from the day he was drafted. But, what’s DeMar proven this season about his place in the league? Has he “turned the corner?” With a PER of 13.9 and a long way to go with his handles, defense, rebounding, and three-point shooting, I can’t say he has. But I can question what exactly “turning the corner” means.
A partial list of players/teams who came up when I searched my RSS reader for “turned the corner,” along with the aforementioned Turner and DeRozan: J.J. Hickson, LaMarcus Aldridge, Roy Hibbert, Rodney Stuckey, James Harden, the Lakers, the Magic, Darko Milicic, the Pacers, and the Heat.
The fact that the word “inconsistent” could be applied in most instances here should be instructive. It sounds great to say players or teams have “made the leap” but in reality they’re jumping around until they’re (hopefully) somewhere near their desired destinations. And as for the one guy on that list who does seem to have transformed himself overnight, we must note that the shift took place years after we thought it would.
Development in anything is a product of more reps, more responsibility, more opportunities to screw up and learn from those screwups, and, eventually, more confidence. Improving in the NBA is about slowing the game down, thinking less, and fearlessly doing the things that have been practiced thousands of times. In Lee Jenkins’ phenomenal SI feature that you’ve likely read multiple times by now, Derrick Rose is described as having turned the corner to superstardom. By embracing the challenge of being the MVP, ceasing to defer to others, and finding his killer instinct, Rose has become, in Brian Scalabrine’s words, a motherfucker. All the moves he used on his buddies at 1 A.M. at the Bulls’ practice facility are now being unleashed on the poor, helpless point guard defenders in the pros. But does that mean he’ll play like an MVP every night? Do the thousand of threes a day in the summertime and the much-improved three-point shooting we saw for most of this season mean that his game has changed forever? Evidently, no, as he’s made just 12 of his last 68 three-pointers and still routinely has nights where he only attempts three or four free throws.
I point this out not to put a damper on Rose’s unbelievable season – he’s unquestionably evolved from where he was in his first two years – but rather, to emphasize that he’s still, as writers and players line up to declare him the league’s Most Valuable Player at age 22, very much a work in progress. And this is the way it should be, for just as some of us don’t want the game to be too easy for anyone, climbing the ranks of the league’s elite shouldn’t be easy, either. We don’t want to miss any of the steps along the way.
If you’re a fan of Evan Turner, realize that if Rose is allowed to have rough nights, your rookie is definitely allowed to have rough nights. Perhaps what we saw Sunday was a glimpse of what’s to come as he gradually matures into the all-around Villain Philly envisioned when it picked him second in the draft.