Evan Turner Perspectives vol #1: A Prayer for young Evan

Over the next month, GrowthPlates will take on the daunting task of shedding some light on the Gordian Knot of the 76ers, the positionless enigma that is Evan Turner.

While it may seem strange for a player as insignificant as Turner to be the subject of such extensive pyscho analytical treatises (and such vitrolicly opposed internet opinions on the quality of his game), the fact remains that the future of the 76ers may hinge on the battle between Evan Turner and his childhood demons…

Turner comes in for a lot of criticism here at GrowthPlates. I have to say I’ve been a longterm doubter; his doleful distance, his near pathological belief in his own greatness, his shrill partisans, and  his stubborn refusal to understand who he is an NBA player. He is perhaps the most frustrating player I’ve seen in a Sixers uniform.

But Bob Cooney’s soul bearing profile in the Daily News last Friday, has brought Turner’s psychological landscape into sharp relief for me.

Funny looking, learning disabled, severely speech impediment-ed, relentlessly teased, HUGE BackStreet Boys fan. By all accounts, Turner had it rough growing up. His emotional shelter, his place of solace, was the basketball court and his unquestioned greatness on it. Turner was the rare mix of star athlete and  awkward social pariah.

Here is Turner in his own words:

“When it came to speech impediments and learning disabilities and things like that, I already started behind most kids because of that. Every kid wants to be normal, not different. I always started behind. But when it came to [basketball] I didn’t start behind”

“It sucked because kids made fun of how I spoke, or sometimes I would do things and say things that in my head I thought were normal but the other kids would think were dumb. Sometimes that would bother me. I had a brother who would keep me calm about it. But I look back at how much I got made fun of for stuff I couldn’t help. I couldn’t control that, but I knew that when I got older I could control things and I would have the last laugh. When I see those kids nowadays, I could say things to them about how they bothered me, but it’s not their fault. They were kids. They didn’t know what they were talking about.”

Turner wasn’t just good at basketball as a kid, he was the best. A star since the age of 12 in hoops obsessed Chicago. As a teenager Evan Turner would battle his high school rival (and future NBA MVP) Derrick Rose in front of thousands.

Turner’s dominance (and childhood demons, more on this later) continued in college. Overcoming a broken back to win a near unanimous College Player of the Year award his junior season.

Here’s a propaganda video…

And the still defining moment of his basketball career…

Turner was the best college basketball player in America, and expectations of greatness continued with Turner selected by the Sixers with the #2 pick in the 2010 draft. But a rude awakening was looming… Turner was not great when he got to the NBA, in fact, he frequently wasn’t any good. For the first time in his life he was coming off the bench with the substitutes, sometimes barely playing. Just another guy on a team.

Stripped of his armor “Evan Turner: great basketball player” he frequently seemed adrift. Lashing out at his coach (the frequent target of criticism for Turner supporters), sullen depression, ill-conceived heroics in a bid to re-prove his greatness.

We’ll get into a comprehensive analysis of his game later, but the broad reasons are fairly obvious. Turner’s size and athleticism are NOT exceptional in the NBA. Just middling. The short pullups and below the rim layups that defined Turner’s high school and college game simply don’t exist at this level.

For instance, THIS happens to you in the NBA, not in college…

and THIS…

He has some clear and curious NBA talents (for instance, he is the greatest, per-minute, defensive rebounding guard in the history of the NBA, for what that’s worth). He belongs on this stage, The question will be whether he can accept being a supporting actor.

“I went from standing out to fitting in, and that’s the hardest thing. How do you get good at fitting in? It’s tough to fit in. You walk around and try to figure things out sometimes and you might look around at other players and say, ‘This person did this and that person did that’ but you really have to be comfortable with yourself, you know?”



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