Ed. Note: Stephane Hardinger is the newest staff writer here at The Sixer Sense. He also writes for the DDLOE blog and can often be found in the Daily Dime Live. Please join me in welcoming him aboard.
Let’s hop in the DeLorean and take a trip back in time to May 18th, 2010. The Sixers beat the odds to secure the #2 overall pick in the draft, meaning they would get one of the consensus two best prospects in the college game that year: John Wall or Evan Turner. They were polar opposites in many ways: Wall was the flashy freshman who came into the season with all the hype and played on a talented Kentucky team with a group of outstanding teammates: DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson, and Daniel Orton. Turner, meanwhile, was the quiet, understated senior who carried his Ohio State team on his back. Both had spectacular seasons, but Turner won the Player of the Year award. For me, the season was defined by one moment for each player: for Wall, the dance he did at Kentucky’s Midnight Madness that became a nationwide phenomenon. For Turner, it was the leaning 35-footer he hit to beat Michigan in the 2nd round of the Big Ten tournament. There was an argument to be made that Turner was substance while Wall was style, and Turner should be the #1 pick. He was versatile, and had the size to score and rebound while also having the court vision to be a good passer. I even remember one ESPN draft expert saying that Turner might be a better fit for the Wizards to share the backcourt with Gilbert Arenas, while Wall would be better for the Sixers because there were questions about Jrue Holliday’s ability to be a consistent NBA point guard. However, by draft day Wall was the consensus #1 overall pick and the Sixers happily grabbed Turner at #2.
As Bob Dylan once sang, “The times, they are-a changing”. Gilbert Arenas is no longer in the league, let alone on the Wizards, and Jrue Holliday has proven himself to be an above-average point guard. But aside from that, looking at Wall and Turner’s stats so far shows a divide that no one could have expected would be this large on draft night. However, once the NBA Summer League started, the rumors that Turner might be a bust began to swirl. He looked slow, unathletic, and overmatched against the players in the league, many of whom weren’t NBA-caliber. In their rookie seasons, Wall averaged 16.4 PPG, 8.3 APG, 4.6 RPG, and 1.8 SPG, albeit with 3.8 turnovers per game. Meanwhile, Turner averaged 7.2 PPG, 2.0 APG, 3.9 RPG, and 0.6 SPG with 1 turnover per game.
While some of the differences in their numbers has to be chalked up to Wall’s 37.8 MPG compared to Turner’s 23.0 MPG, the truth was that Wall played a lot better than Turner, and it was clear as day to anyone watching. Wall would have been a shoo-in Rookie of the Year winner if it wasn’t for that Blake Griffin fellow out in Los Angeles, while Turner often looked lost out on the court. But if you looked past the numbers and just watched the games, you could see the major difference between the two players: Wall had it. Sure, he turned the ball over too much and needed to work on his jumper, but those things are fixable with practice and coaching. You could see the potential oozing out of his pores. He exuded confidence, and played with what can only be described as “swag”. Wall was the kind of guy you wanted to build your team around.
Turner, meanwhile, did not have the kind of rookie campaign that Wall did. Some of the explanation for that has to be the Sixers’ unexpected success. Doug Collins couldn’t afford to let Turner develop like Flip Saunders could with Wall because the Sixers were playing in a lot of close games that eventually ended up in a playoff berth. But, in Turner’s limited playing time, he didn’t look good very often. He seemed timid and lacked trust in his jumper. On offense, he didn’t seem to be very good at any one thing: not a good shooter or explosive to the hoop. He didn’t seem to have a go-to way to get the ball in the basket, and it showed. When I watched Turner play, I was reminded of another oft-criticized Sixers’ swingman: Andre Iguodala. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Turner is Iguodala. Iggy is much, much better than Evan at this stage of their careers. I saw Turner as a poor man’s Iggy: same kind of offensive game, complete with the frustrating lack of a consistent jump shot (though Iggy is more explosive), and same size and length on defense (although Iggy is taller/longer, and thus far better on D than Turner). After last year, Turner’s ceiling seemed low. He didn’t seem like he could grow into much more than he was due to his limited offensive game and age (already 24!). The dreaded label of “bust” was being tossed around pretty frequently.
Fast-forward a year and, while not dramatically, things have changed. Wall is averaging 16.9 PPG, 7.5 APG, 4.9 RPG, 1.3 SPG, and an alarming 4.1 turnovers per game in 36.8 MPG. Meanwhile, Turner is averaging 8.6 PPG, 2.7 APG, 5.7 RPG, 0.5 SPG, and 1.3 turnovers per game in 24 MPG. While Turner’s minutes haven’t really increased, his PPG, APG, and RPG have all increased. Meanwhile, Wall’s scoring has stayed about the same while he has decreased his APG and increased his turnovers per game. But, again, watching the games illustrates the change even more thoroughly. Turner seems to have found an identity on this surprising Sixers team with the bench unit (affectionately nicknamed “The Night Shift” by new color analyst Malik Rose) and is playing with more confidence on the offensive side of the ball, particularly shown in his newfound trust in his jump shot. Meanwhile, Wall looks disinterested and is quietly having a bad season. While it’s tough to blame a young player like Wall too much for regressing in a toxic environment like the one in DC, it’s still troubling to not see him taking a leadership role. Wall should be leading the Wizards, not guys like “Captain” Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee. It seems like Wall has lost control of the team, and that has to be worrisome. The fact that Wall seemingly hasn’t grown at all from his rookie season should also be a red flag. His ceiling seems noticeably lower this year than it did last year.
I’m not saying that Evan Turner is better than John Wall. I’m not saying Turner will ever be better than Wall. What I am pointing out is that often we as fans make rash judgments about players. Last year, Wall was a future perennial all-star while Turner was a complete bust. Both of those things could still come true, but we should cross that bridge when we get there. Wall is doing his best in a bad situation that, to put it lightly, is not conducive to developing a young point guard, while Turner is contributing valuably for the Sixers off the bench. I know comparisons between Wall and Turner are inevitable due to the draft’s linkage of them, but think about it: who would you have rather had out of that consensus top 5? Derrick Favors? Wesley Johnson? DeMarcus Cousins? Turner’s shown improvement in his second season, and it’s only logical to assume he will keep getting better to a certain extent. Where is Turner’s ceiling? I’d say it will settle somewhere around 13-15 PPG, 4-5 APG, 6-7 RPG with good perimeter defense in 30-35 MPG. But, unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll ever know where Turner’s ceiling is until Andre Iguodala is no longer on the team. The players are so similar that it’s tough to play them at the same time since neither one can shoot very well from outside. So, Sixers fans, I ask you this: let Evan Turner grow as a player, and we’ll see what he can truly be if (when?) Andre Iguodala is no longer a Sixer. Till then, keep the bust label under wraps. It’s for the good of the team, the fan base, and Evan Turner himself.