Turner's comfort zone is growing larger all the time
Now in his third season with the 76ers, swingman Evan Turner appears to be overcoming the major obstacle that has prevented him from being a more consistent professional. That obstacle is Turner himself. Though Sixers fans have been quick to judge whether taking Turner with the second overall pick was the right choice, Turner and coach Doug Collins knew the process would take some time for the former Ohio State star.
Not that Turner has reached his peak as a professional, but where he is now, compared with his first couple of seasons, is as different as the college and pro games. Heading into the weekend, the Sixers had won five of their last seven games. Not coincidentally, Turner has played some of his best basketball during that time.
In that seven-game span, Turner shot 45-for-92 (48.9 percent) from the floor and averaged 16.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.0 assists. The numbers, both player and coach insist, are just a byproduct of Turner's being in the right place mentally.
"With Evan, it's never about his physical approach. It's always with him, it's mentally being in a good spot," Collins said. "He's so hard on himself and he's such a perfectionist that you have to make him understand that there are going to be mistakes made, and that's OK, because he wants to play the perfect game. We're kindred souls in a way, because I was very hard on myself as a player. Evan is getting much better at that."
Not many times over the past few years would people equate Collins and Turner as kindred souls. Mortal enemies may have been more believable, as the two often seemed to be at odds. But Collins handed Turner the starting keys and ample playing time in last season's playoffs and Turner responded. He also found the much-needed confidence that had drifted from him since being named the consensus college player of the year after his final season as a Buckeye.
"I think I'm getting more comfortable and calming down a little bit," Turner said. "I'm taking and making good shots and playing hard. I'm just starting to get my feet wet. In preseason, I was so anxious, and now I've calmed myself down, and now I'm focused into my job and doing what I have to do."
The calming comes with familiarity, and now that he not only is cemented into a starting role but also considered a team leader, Turner has finally started to settle in.
"My freshman season in college, I was a little wacky, just being away from home and being in a new atmosphere and stuff. I had my eyes wide open," Turner said. "I'm a person that needs to take my time to get comfortable, whether it be on a court or at school. I ease my way into stuff. I understand that life is up and down and you have to ride a wave. Right now, I'm riding a wave and playing well and I'm trying to be consistent. There's going to be some off nights, but I think being mentally confident will help out."
With consistency comes trust from a coach. Gone are the days of Turner coming off the bench or playing limited minutes. His coach's trust is solidly rooted now.
"With him, when he's in that good [mental] place, he's really a good player," Collins said. "He's rebounding, he's making plays, his defense is good. I'm really proud of Evan. As this season is going on, he and Jrue [Holiday] and Thad [Young], the ownership of this team is those three guys. We lost E.B. [Elton Brand], we lost Lou [Williams] and we lost Dre [Andre Iguodala]. Those are three guys that had a real ownership of this team. Those three guys are gone now, and you don't just pass the keys to somebody overnight. It's a growth period.
"I think it's great Jrue and Evan really enjoy playing with one another. All I ever heard about him was he was a guy who struggled with change. We have nine new faces to start this year, so Evan goes through, 'Who's my teammates, what's my role, where do I fit, how does this all work?' When he gets in that [good mental] place, he's really good.
"The one thing as a coach is consistency. When I was a player, I played 82 games and if I could give my team 70 good games, and then I'm going to have about six clunkers and six off the charts. So for [Collins' former coaches] Gene Shue or Billy Cunningham, if they knew this is what they were getting, that's what a coach lives for. Coaches struggle with inconsistency, whether it be effort, whether it be mental approach, whether it be execution, whether it be a guy who gets 20 one night and 10 the next. I don't want that kind of a 15-point scorer. I'd rather have 15 a night than 20, 10, 20, 10, 22, 8. You want that consistency, because then you can start building a team, and Evan is doing a good job with that."
For Turner, the two previous seasons and the many struggles that they presented are starting to fade in the rearview mirror.
"Everything is different," Turner said. "I think the big thing is, you have to pay your dues before you break out. Everybody has to. Sometimes you have to mess up before you start perfecting things. In my case, that's a big deal."
Asked whether he thinks he is breaking out, Turner laughed heartily and said: "With my luck, I say I'm breaking out and then I'll go 0-for-80. I feel like it's coming. I feel like I can start building a consistency that will be every night. I'm more comfortable and confident there will be a lot more bright days."