The $70 Million Question: How Much Is Evan Turner Really Hurting Portland?
Dec 20, 2017; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Evan Turner (1) shoots over San Antonio Spurs guard Danny Green (14) during the first quarter at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Turner is mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore. In an interview with CSN Northwest, the Blazers guard went off on the amount of criticism he takes from fans about his play relative to the size of his contract ($70 million total over four seasons). Turner made more than $17 million this season and has two years and $36 million left on the controversial deal he signed in 2016.
He is, however, no longer open for conversation about his value to the team in that regard, and his teammates, predictably, have his back. From CSN Northwest:
“First off, let me say one thing: Everything I have done, I have earned,’’ Turner said. “My contract – that’s my bread, and I earned my bread. So, kiss my ass. Dead serious. Write that. I earned that (expletive) money.’’
In Portland, his teammates call him one of the smartest players on the team. And his coach says he is invaluable both for his defensive versatility and for his array of offensive weapons, from posting up, to shooting mid-range to passing to running the offense. And above all, they all say he is team first, all the time.
“All I’m doing is what my coach asks,’’ Turner said. “I’m trying to help the team, truly and genuinely help the team. Because I’ve been on teams where I’m putting up 20, and nobody gave a damn because we were losing.’’
“He doesn’t get enough credit, but we know what he does, and that’s all that matters,’’ Maurice Harkless said motioning around the locker room.
Let me start off by saying that Turner is 100 percent correct, especially when he later notes that he “came from nothing” and therefore shouldn’t feel at all bad. He didn’t force the Blazers to offer him that deal two years ago. It’s not his job to manage the Blazers’ cap considerations. He was offered what was then a market-value deal, and he wisely signed it.
Turner didn’t hide information about an injury from Portland. He hasn’t failed to live up to his contractual obligations. In truth, fans don’t truly care about players’ contracts. If a player struggles, fans rag on him because he plays badly, not because he plays badly on a bad contract.
It’s true that Turner’s contract is cap prohibitive and is going to give the Blazers issues (we’ll talk more about that in a second). But Turner himself shouldn’t receive any criticism whatsoever for signing that deal, especially when any vocal critic would do the exact same in his situation, and he’s acted in best faith to live up to that deal whether he has or not.
Now, that said …
He hasn’t lived up to that deal, based on expectations.
Last season, Turner had one of the worst raw plus-minus stats in the entire league. The Blazers were outscored by 180 points with Turner on the floor in 2016-17. Plus-minus is a tricky stat that often doesn’t reflect a player’s performance, but it does honestly reveal the team’s performance when that player is on the floor.
And the Blazer’s performance with Turner on the court last year was garbage.
Turner has been better this year. The eye test backs that up. And yet, still, the Blazers, despite being currently the 3-seed and 14 games over .500, have been outscored with Turner on the floor by 13 points this season.
It’s not uncommon for good players to have those kinds of numbers. What’s concerning with Turner is the amount he plays with lineups that seem specifically built to cover for him. Turner has played just 44 minutes this season with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum both off the floor, compared to 677 with both of them on-court. The Blazers moved Turner into the starting lineup at times this season, and while that may have been to provide another playmaking rebounder on the wing, it also served to provide him with some cover.
And in that regard, it’s notable that while the Blazers’ net rating with Lillard-McCollum-Turner is in the black, at +2.3, they are even better when Turner is not on the floor at +4.9 per 100 possessions.
This even extends to the Blazers’ nine-game win streak. With Turner on the floor in this streak, the Blazers are +7.2, which is terrific. However, with him on the bench, in more minutes, they are +14.1. In other words, even when things are going great for the Blazers … they’d be going even better without Turner.
It’s also hard to pinpoint areas of strength with him. That playmaking factor the Blazers like to cite? The Blazers’ assist percentage goes up by 3 percentage points with Turner on the bench.
The offense gets better statistically, the defense gets better statistically, the shooting gets better statistically. Points in the paint allowed and created, points off turnovers allowed and created, fastbreak points allowed and created — all of these metrics improve without Turner.
Mo Harkless singled out his post-up contributions, and that’s certainly accurate. Turner ranks in the 78th percentile in the post via Synergy, shooting 52 percent. He’s only created 14 assists all season from it, however.
This is a whole lot of bad data. In truth, I tried to find something, anything, to counteract it. The best I can really say is that Turner isn’t actively dragging the team down as he did last year. Terry Stotts has found ways to play Turner in lineups, mostly with his best players, where they come out ahead more times than not.
The point here isn’t to tear down Turner; again, that contract isn’t anything he needs to apologize for. Blazers are the 3-seed now, but they’re still very much in a mess with the rest of the West. One bad week and they’re back in the muck with the other eleven hundred teams in that group.
And going forward, $36 million over the next two seasons with a cap situation that hasn’t risen much since the 2016 surge presents a real challenge. The Blazers have his back, and that’s a great sign of their culture. Turner is immune to people’s criticism, as he should be.
However, it’s impossible to look at the situation overall and be convinced Turner is doing more good than harm to a team that is fighting to keep its core together and to discover a path to serious contention.
Photo via Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports