Stardom doesn’t arrive quickly for Turner
Turner popped in a DVD and studied one of his greatest collegiate performances: a 31-point, 10-rebound, six-assist effort during which he led Ohio State past Illinois in double overtime in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. Watching the game helped restore Turner’s faith that he’ll eventually realize the potential he showed when the Sixers made him the second overall pick in the 2010 draft.
“I think that guy is still there,” Turner said. “I think, as time goes on, I’ll get better. You can’t rush that kind of stuff. I understand that.”
As Turner has learned, it’s not always easy to stay patient in Philadelphia. The Sixers haven’t made it past the first round of the playoffs in seven years. After winning just 27 games last season, they were fortunate to move up in the draft lottery, where they selected Turner – widely considered the obvious No. 2 pick after the Washington Wizards selected Kentucky guard John Wall(notes).
New Sixers coach Doug Collins thought the same after his first predraft workout with Turner. So did Philly fans, who cheered Turner’s selection at a draft party that included franchise legends Julius Erving and Moses Malone.
After the draft, Collins told Turner he understood the pressure that comes with being a high pick in Philadelphia. Collins was selected No. 1 overall by Philadelphia in 1973 and averaged eight points as a rookie. He ended his eight NBA years, all with the Sixers, with a career average of 17.9 points per game.
“I started planting seeds the moment he was drafted,” Collins said. “We talked about the adjustment from college to pros and what goes with it. Coming into Philadelphia, I came in as a young player to a team that was 9-73. Right now with Evan, we’re trying to figure out where his best spot is going to be.
“He’s really not a prototypical [shooting] guard that you can run off screens because he’s not a great shooter. He’s really more comfortable with the ball in his hands.”
The first sign that Turner wouldn’t be an overnight success came when he struggled in the Orlando summer league. He averaged 9.4 points while shooting 33 percent and averaged more turnovers (3.4) than assists (2.8). It was expected that Turner would slide into the Sixers’ starting backcourt with Jrue Holiday(notes) at the start of the season. The reality: Turner has had to fight for his minutes and will receive an occasional start only when someone else is injured.
Ten other rookies are averaging more points per game than Turner’s 6.3. He’s also shooting just 38.4 percent and has missed 12 of his 14 3-point attempts while struggling to play without the ball in his hands.
“I can’t really say what’s it’s due to,” Turner said of his struggles. “I’m just trying to adapt.”
Turner often raises his hand for the ball on the perimeter, but his new teammates don’t appear to be looking for him. While there’s still considerable pressure on him to live up to expectations, he’s trying not to let it smother him.
“It’s not about what people expect out of me,” Turner said. “It’s what I expect out of myself. I’m missing shots right now I usually make. Sometimes I’m not playing my best. I’m not thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m the No. 2 pick.’ ”
Collins, however, thinks Turner has been too hard on himself, internalizing his struggles when he needs to relax.
“Our guys have been very supportive,” Collins said. “I think the coaching staff has been very supportive. We are trying to take the pressure away from him as much as possible. But still, when you walk up, put that hat on and you’re the No. 2 pick, that’s always going to be there.”
Said Sixers forward Elton Brand(notes): “It’s not like you’re a second-round pick where everything you do is a bonus. They’re looking for you to come in and help the team get victories when you’re a top-five pick. It’s a lot of pressure. He’s up and down just like any rookie is. Some days, he’s dealing with it well. Some days, it’s tougher than usual. But I think he’s going to fight through it and grow as a player from it.”
Turner is optimistic he will eventually make a bigger impact. Until then, he can watch his collection of Ohio State game film whenever his confidence wavers.
“I’m not giving up hope,” Turner said. “I know I can still play. I look back at my freshman year, and it took time for me to get warmed up, to get going.
“Everything is a process. The biggest part is patience. Sometimes people don’t like to wait.”