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Turner Makes Himself at Home

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

February 25, 2014

Evan Turner has Danny Granger's locker, he has his minutes and he has the respect Granger had from his teammates. Perhaps more.

That quickly, Turner made himself at home in the Pacers' 118-98 win over the Lakers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Tuesday, scoring 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting. Although he admitted to being nervous before making his debut, he showed no fear in a new offense, which now will bend to accommodate his skill set. He didn't hesitate to shoot and he even got to run an isolation at the end of the third quarter.

This could get interesting. Nobody in the Pacers' locker room means to knock Granger, the former face of the franchise who was traded for Turner and Allen last Thursday, but it was immediately clear what Turner adds to the second unit: more mobility, creativity and shot-making ability within the three-point arc.

With Allen adding a presence most often described as “solid,” the Pacers appear to have deepened their bench. It didn't matter against a team like the Lakers, who dropped to 19-38 with the loss, but it should matter as the season wears on and starters can use rest. It should matter most of all in the playoffs, when manufacturing points can be like seeking water in the desert.

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“We went through a little struggle (scoring) last season with the second unit,” Paul George said. “It's just tough. You try to give your all and guys like to play 48 minutes, but it's almost impossible to play that consistently. It's going to be huge for us going forward, deep into the playoffs.”

Do the Pacers now have the NBA's deepest bench?

“I thought we already had it,” David West said. “We just got a little bit stronger. We got a little more heady, IQ-wise. ET's a high IQ guy in terms of his basketball sense. It's just (getting better) for us.”

Everything that happened Tuesday merits an asterisk, because of the opponent. The Lakers have nothing in common with their great teams of the past beyond the uniforms. They're the second-worst defensive team in the NBA, as they showed in the third quarter when the Pacers plugged in and outscored them 34-16, and their frontline is no match for a team like the Pacers, who dominated the boards 62-42.

Still, it was an NBA game, and there was a lot to like about Turner. His 13 points came in 26 minutes. (Granger scored that many or more five times in his 29 games with the team this season.) He played with confidence and he was played with confidence by coach Frank Vogel.

“I was kind of shocked how many times he called my play,” Turner said.

Such as that play at the end of the third quarter. When Jordan Farmar missed a three-pointer for the Lakers with 23.9 seconds left, Turner grabbed the rebound. And kept the ball. Dribbling out front to let the clock wind down, he made his move, drew a defender, and found C.J. Watson in the left corner, in front of the Lakers' bench, for a three-pointer that stretched the lead to 21.

This was with Paul George on the court. In a quarter in which George had scored 12 points.

And George didn't mind a bit.

“He's another playmaker for us,” George said. “We were just communicating on the court and decided who had the mismatch.”

Said Turner: “I've done it so many times, I kind of get surprised when I don't.”

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect about Turner's play will be how he meshes with Lance Stephenson on the second unit, when Stephenson departs from his starting role. Stephenson tends to run that offense from the “two” position, and now Turner can do the same from the “three” spot. They appear to have developed an instant chemistry, two guys who play off one another instinctively. Vogel had identified that as a highlight of their two practices together. Somehow, it seemed appropriate that both of them scored 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting on Tuesday.

“He's a creator, just like me,” Stephenson said. “When we play together, something's going to happen. I like the second unit like that.

“He got a little shake and back in his package. It's going to be fun. There's going to be a lot of highlights. As long as we do it within the game and we're winning, Coach is all for it.”

“Lance does a great job distributing,” Turner added. “He helped me out a lot. We looked for each other.”

It's too early to declare any certainties about last week's deadline deal, the most drastic of all in the NBA. As David West pointed out, Turner has to learn how to fit in with the starters when he's with that group. He's never been surrounded by this much talent, and he'll have to defer more than he did in Philadelphia, where he was the leading scorer of a 15-win team. He also has to get on the Pacers' defensive page. The Pacers are the NBA's best defensive team. Philly is the worst.

“Absolutely,” West said. “There were a few breakdowns. It's going to take time. Practices and film sessions. Figuring out what we do and some of the things we call non-negotiables.”

One game, however, was enough to show the potential of what Turner can bring. And one game was enough to revive his spirits. He and Allen hadn't been in a winning locker room since Jan. 29, when Philadelphia squeaked out a one-point win at Boston. They took a nine-game losing streak into the trade deadline.

Now Turner has a new role on a new team. And he feels like a new man.

“You go from wearing sweaters to wearing blazers,” he said. “So it (pumps) you up a lot.”

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