May 20, 2013, 9:23 AM EDT
After enduring three years of absolutely vexing basketball from their former #2 overall pick, the Philadelphia 76ers are about to reach decision time with Evan Turner. The Extraterrestrial’s rookie contract is in its final year next season, meaning that unless they ink him to an extension at some point before November, Turner will become a restricted free agent at season’s end. The Sixers will then be able to match any offer sheet ET signs with another team, or have the right to let him walk to another team for nothing.
[10 Biggest Questions: 10. What are we now and where are we going? | 9. Is Thad Young untouchable? | 8. Is Spencer Hawes good enough for our starting Center? | 7. Are any of our mid-level FAs worth re-signing? | 6. What players are worth trading for? | 5. Free agent targets?]
If you’ve followed this blog with any regularity over Turner’s three years, you’ll know all about the mixed emotions we feel with any big decision regarding Evan. This decision–possibly the final one the 76ers make regarding their young wing–will be no different. There’s nothing we here at the Level would like more than to see Evan turn the corner as a basketball player next season, prove that he can be an extremely valuable starter on a good NBA team, and be an important core player on the Sixers for years and years to come. The amount of personal investment I’ve put into Turner’s success borders on the unhealthy, to have him part with the team at this point would be an extremely unsatisfying resolution.
But you probably don’t need me to remind you at this point that Turner hasn’t done much to encourage the team to show him any kind of long-term faith. If you look closely enough, you can find minor, gradual improvement in his numbers over the years–his three-point percentage, his assist rate, his scoring volume–but the bottom line is that in three seasons, Turner has still yet to display any efficiency as a scorer, shooting under 45% every season, never getting to the line even three times a game, and annually posting a PER lower than 13. According to the Offensive Win Shares stat, Evan continues to be an outright negative on that side of the ball, his usage rate far too high for a player who needs about 13 shots a game to score about 13 points a game.
As miserable as his scoring numbers are for a guy whose scoring is supposed to be one of his biggest assets, Evan does continue to provide value in other ways. He still finished second on the team last year in assists and third in rebounds, providing a versatility that, especially when combined with his career-best three-point shooting, allowed the Sixers to use him in different roles in different lineups and never lose that much in any one area in the process. ET’s still not great at any one thing, which can be distressing at times, but he’s above-average in enough different fields that it’s hard to see him ever being a complete washout in this league.
Unfortunately for us, Evan still has that #2 pick shine to him, so even though he’s not providing the value of an eight-mil-a-year-type player right now, that still might be the kind of contract he gets in the off-season. DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors is the most frequently cited comp for Evan, a similarly high-touted prospect who also struggled to score efficiently his first few seasons, and without Evan’s high rebound or assist rates, but nonetheless commanded a four-year, $38-million extension from the Raps before he would hit free agency this summer. If ET gets that kind of contract in free agency, we can only hope it’s not from us, since such a move would essentially strip the team of any remaining cap flexibility moving forward, for a player who doesn’t seem particularly likely to take the Sixers to the next level at this point.
This is where getting Sam Hinkie as our new GM should be a difference-maker. As an analytically minded guy, and one with no personal connection to Evan Turner and his first three years as a Sixer, it’s borderline-impossible to see him making his first act as Philly’s new ship-steerer a four-year, $36 mil ET extension. Advanced stats have always been down on Turner, and during Hinkie’s time with the Rockets, maintaining cap space for maneuverability’s sake has always been a priority; he’s not going to throw a lot of money at ET just to maintain the status quo with a middling asset. The hiring of Hinkie might have been the death knell for Turner’s time with the 76ers.
For this upcoming season, though, the Sixers are actually in a pretty good place with ET. They can ride it out with him and see if he can’t jump a level or two as a player, maybe mesh better with the team’s yet-undetermined new coach or some new player personnel (possibly a re-signed Bynum?), then evaluate his value moving forward at season’s end. There’s a small chance that if he really improves that much, they’d have to pay more for him at season’s end than they would by extending him now–as they certainly would have with Jrue Holiday after his breakout season had DiLeo and co. not extended him at the beginning of last year–but it’s a small risk compared to the risk of locking him in for big money now, and at the very least, they’ll always have the choice of letting him walk if the price tag is just too high.
Of course, if they don’t feel like waiting until the end of the movie with Turner, they could also package him in a trade this off-season. Some team desperate for upside and in love with Turner’s college numbers and continued versatility will undoubtedly still value him, and his contract has the benefit of being beefy enough to work as a valuable expiring deal as well, giving any team that acquires him a ripcord should they sour on Evan after a season’s time. I’m still enamored with the idea of packaging ET with Spencer Hawes–as the Sixers supposedly did at last year’s trade deadline, nearly landing Josh Smith from the Hawks–as the core pieces of a deal, parting ways with their tantalizing flashes of greatness, and getting a more stable contributor of some sort in return. I’d still be an emotional wreck letting ET go, but practically speaking, it might be time.
If I had to guess, though, I’d say Hinkie takes a wait-and-see approach with ET. Maybe he lets Evan play up his trade value with one of his patented early-season hot streaks, then sells high and lets another team deal with his inevitable regression to the mean. Maybe he lets him play out the season with no promises of return, makes him a reasonable offer in the off-season and encourages him to go let another team beat it. Maybe he just wishes him luck and sends him on his way, offering to write a glowing recommendation for his future employer. All are in play for Hinkie and Turner, and all could very conceivably be the smart long-term play for this team.
The one thing he probably won’t do is extend him now for too much money out of some irrational insecurity that he’ll end up breaking out this season and make him look silly for not having locked him up while he had the chance. That’s all we can really ask for right now with our new GM and his inherited frustrating prospect, and that’s really not something we could have taken for granted in previous years.
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