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In crowd of young modern centers, don’t forget about Pacers’ Myles Turner

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Myles Turner heard the coaches — on AAU teams, at camps, wherever he showed up.

He just just ignored them.

Despite frequently towering over opponents growing up, Turner often drifted to the perimeter. In positional workouts, he joined the guard groups.

Coaches kept telling him to get in the post.

Where did he gain the confidence to overrule them?

“My shots were going in,” Turner said, “so that’s all the confidence I needed.”

Turner, now the Pacers’ starting center, has reached the other side. Drafted No. 11 in 2014, the skilled 6-foot-11 big man entered an NBA suddenly eager to embrace his style.

No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves) and No. 4 pick Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks) dominate the headlines from their rookie class, and the middle ground for Joel Embiid (drafted No. 3 by the 76ers one year earlier but debuting this season) puts him in a similar spot on the growth curve. But Turner also warrants attention. He’s averaging 15.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game on a team rapidly improving its playoff position rather than heading back to the lottery.

If it weren’t for the red-hot Wizards (31-21) — Indiana’s opponent tonight in a nationally televised game — the Pacers’ surge would draw more attention. Indiana (29-23) just won seven in a row before falling to the Cavaliers on Wednesday.

In fact, Turner leads the Pacers in Real Plus-Minus-based wins (5.72, 27th in the NBA). That’s not to say Turner has become Indiana’s best player. Paul George doesn’t lag far behind in that stat (5.32, 33rd in NBA), and his track record of excellence more than makes up for the difference. There’s good reason George is headed to his fourth All-Star game and Turner will be relegated to the Rising Stars Challenge in New Orleans. The only other Pacer in the last decade to participate in that even was George in 2012, exposing how badly this team needed Turner to emerge.

“We’re just scratching the surface with what he’ll be able to do in this league,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said of Turner.

In George and Turner, Indiana has two building blocks. Remember, a report about the Pacers rejecting George trade inquiries also said Turner was the only other player they weren’t open to dealing.

Jeff Teague has been exceptional since a slow start, and Thaddeus Young is solid. But both are 28, two years older than George. Teague is also headed toward unrestricted free agency this summer. Teague and Young could remain in Indiana long-term, but neither are essential pieces.

George and Turner are, and they offer endless possibilities for roster construction around them. George is an elite two-way player who can score inside and out and guard four positions. Turner is the prototypical modern center.

It’s hard now to effectively use centers who neither stretch the floor nor protect the rim. The real ideal is getting someone who can do both — and that’s Turner.

Just three centers have ever averaged 1.5 3-point attempts and 1.5 blocks per game over a full season: Anthony Davis (last year), Rasheed Wallace (four times, though he also did it as a power forward) and Raef LaFrentz (thrice). This year, six centers are on pace to do it:

  • Joel Embiid (3.2 3-point attempts, 2.5 blocks per game)
  • Brook Lopez (5.1, 1.7)
  • Al Horford (4.5, 1.7)
  • Karl-Anthony Towns (3.4, 1.5)
  • Anthony Davis (1.6, 2.5)
  • Myles Turner (1.7, 2.3)

Kristaps Porzingis and Serge Ibaka have also met the statistical thresholds in previous seasons and are again on pace to reach them this year, but both are primarily power forwards. In the new NBA, though, they could become centers in the coming years.

Of the bunch — including Porzingis — the 20-year-old Turner is the youngest. His potential is just so high.

He’s already much more comfortable beyond the arc than as a rookie, when he popped 2-point jumpers freely but hesitated to venture further out. He’s making 37.9% of his 3-pointers this year, topping any other 1.5/1.5 center.

The next step for Turner is defending the rim better when he doesn’t block shots. Though his rejections are helpful, he still allows opponents to convert at a middling clip when he’s protecting the paint. His defensive positioning should improve with time.

But don’t lose sight have how much Turner has already progressed in only a year. He would have established himself as a legitimate contender for Most Improved Player if Giannis Antetokounmpo weren’t going to run away with the award.

Turner already has more win shares this season (5.3) than last season (3.1). The only players who’ve surpassed their previous career high in win shares by more this season — Lucas NogueiraSam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell — barely played in previous years. Turner started half his games as a rookie. He’s taking a bigger role this season and playing even better within it — the holy-grail combination of improvement.

If not Most Improved Player this season, Turner is on track to receive plenty of accolades in the year ahead. Without altering his approach, Turner has come so far simply because the mindset about big men has changed around him. But he says a greater appreciation for his style doesn’t mean much to him.

“I never really cared what people thought,” Turner said. “I mean, I kind of just played my own game.”

After Kyrie Irving trade, here are five biggest threats to Warriors

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Let’s be honest: The blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade to the Boston Celtics likely means the NBA Finals goes five games instead of four.

The Golden State Warriors can be that good. They won 67 games last season with the NBA’s top offense and second-ranked defense, now they have been in the system for a year as a unit, know each other better, and made some good offseason additions. The Warriors will be better. And they still have Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. The Warriors are the clear favorites to repeat as NBA champions.

But life rarely follows the script. So who are the biggest threats to the Warriors? Here are the top five.

1) The Houston Rockets. Houston won 55 games last season with the NBA’s second-ranked offense and a style of play that can hang with the Warriors — then they added Chris Paul to the mix. Plus GM Daryl Morey added quality veteran wing defenders such as P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, guys picked up in part to match up with the Warriors firepower. On paper, Houston is the NBA’s second best team and the one best poised to challenge the Warriors. It’s fair to wonder if Chris Paul and James Harden can share the backcourt and the ball — and if they can find a tempo that works for them — but coach Mike D’Antoni isn’t worried. It’s also fair to question if this team can be good enough defensively, even though they added good defenders. Still, the Rockets are a threat and a contender.

2) The Cleveland Cavaliers. The reason they are here is not the trade, it’s LeBron James. He remains the best player on the planet (although Durant is close). But the trade helps. In terms of pure offensive production, Isaiah Thomas matched or even bested Irving last season, IT is an All-NBA player for a reason. Also, the Cavaliers pick up the kind of “3&D” wing they have desperately needed in Jae Crowder. And if another player they really want/need comes available, they have assets in Ante Zizic and that Brooklyn first round pick to get him. Cleveland gets this spot because they are the clear favorite to win the East again, and if they are back in the Finals they have a shot despite an aging roster. The Cavs have beaten the Warriors in the Finals before.

3) The Boston Celtics. Admittedly, there is a bit of a drop off after those first two. I see Boston as more of a threat in two seasons (2018-19) and beyond, but after this trade they have quality players at key positions — Irving at the point, Gordon Hayward on the wing, and Al Horford in the paint. Boston also has one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens, who will put Irving in better situations (so long as Irving buys in and doesn’t just force isolation action, as he did at times in Cleveland). What Boston needs is guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to develop, and Marcus Smart to step up, to become real contenders. They also need to show they can defend, they traded away some of their best defenders this summer. That and a stronger defensive presence in the paint. All that said, Boston has a legitimate shot to beat Cleveland and come out of the East, and if they reach the Finals, then the Celtics at least have a puncher’s chance against the Warriors.

4) The San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs won 55 games last season, had the best defense in the NBA, and with Kawhi Leonard they have their own superstar. The Spurs are going to execute and make plays. They will miss the depth that Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons brought, but they added the scoring punch of Rudy Gay off the bench. What we know is the Spurs will not beat themselves, that they will be in the hunt, and we should know by now not to sleep on them.

5) The Oklahoma City Thunder. I think this is a dark horse contender. What we know is that the Thunder should be a top five defensive team — they were 10th in the NBA last season, they brought back their core guys (Andre Roberson and Steven Adams are key here), and they added an excellent wing defender to the mix in Paul George. The Thunder will get stops. If George and Russell Westbrook can figure out how to play well together on the offensive end — last season the Thunder were middle of the pack offensively with the Westbrook show — and get in the top 10, they become a team that could surprise some people.

Thon Maker, all 7’1″ of him, sat in economy class to get flight going

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If you are six-foot or taller, economy class on a modern airline feels cramped. But at least the airlines make up for it with a delicious full meal a bag of peanuts and a free movie.

Can you imagine a 7’1″ guy in economy?

The Bucks’ Thon Maker did it on a recent United flight and the passenger next to him Paul Kuzma posted about it on Facebook (hat tip to onmilwaukee.com).

Well, a missed #United flight found me on a rebooked one. After ending up in an upgraded Economy Plus (yay!) middle seat (not so yay!), volunteers were asked one by one, row by row, if one would relocate to the last row of the plane, middle seat….

My heart leapt again when I came to the last row and BOTH the middle AND aisle seats were open! I stowed my gear in the middle seat area but sat in the aisle seat, hoping.

Alas, it was too good to be true! Moments later, a 7’1″ tall young man who could not even stand completely straight in the aisle of the plane made his way our direction. My heart sunk, not for me, but for him! I saw him emerge from an Economy Plus window seat!

I told him I was so sorry, knowing this would be uncomfortable for him. He nonchalantly said it was worth it to get this delayed flight going. He had practice to attend in the morning and had a 2+ hour drive to get where he was headed after landing….

I had to ask how in the world he ended up in the last row. He also had missed a flight and was rebooked on this one. He was assigned his original FIRST CLASS seat. He had settled in there when a flight attendant told him the person who had paid for that seat on THIS flight had shown up, albeit very late. They had to move him to Economy Plus.

Once there for a while, his story mirrors mine. Requests were being made for someone to move to the last row and no one was volunteering. So he volunteered, wanting the flight to begin.

He couldn’t even fit his knees into the Economy seat! Every time the snack cart came by or someone had to use the restroom, he had to get up and move out of their way.

The entire flight, there was not a hint of resentment in his voice. He was even happy to allow me a picture with him and an autograph. Class act, Thon!

Somewhere a cranky old NBA player is saying “we always used to have to fly commercial…” and sorry old man, but that doesn’t make it easy or right. There’s a reason NBA teams moved away from that (and it wasn’t to save money).

Good on Maker for being willing to sacrifice when plenty of other normal-sized people couldn’t be bothered.

And if the name Kuzma is familiar, the author says his is the second cousin once removed of the Lakers’ rookie Kyle Kuzma.

PBT Podcast: Breaking down the Kyrie Irving trade

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Is LeBron James more likely to stay in Cleveland now?

Are the Boston Celtics contenders? Are they better set up for the future?

There are a lot more questions that come out of the surprise Kyrie Irving trade to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the 2018 Brooklyn Nets pick. It’s a deal that is a big win for Cleveland, they got more than they should have expected in return. However, this is in no way a bad deal for the Celtics.

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break it all down in this latest PBT Podcast.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Report: Clippers reach deal with Michael Winger to be new GM

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We knew this was coming, now it’s about to be official.

Former Oklahoma City Thunder assistant GM Michael Winger is about to take over as the general manager of the Los Angeles Clippers. They offered him the job last week, now the sides have agreed to terms, and he will sign a deal soon, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Oklahoma City Thunder executive Michael Winger has reached an agreement in principle to become the general manager of the LA Clippers, league sources told ESPN on Wednesday.

Doc Rivers is no longer the guy with the hammer in Los Angeles, he will just be coaching the Clippers (and still getting $10 million a year paychecks, in case you think he’ll just walk away). The power structure now has Lawrence Frank at the top as the President of Basketball Operations, with Winger doing to work under him. The Clippers are expected to hire Trent Redden, one of David Griffin’s former right hand men in Cleveland, to work under Winger as an assistant GM. The Clippers also are expected to hire another assistant GM soon.

Frank, Winger and crew take over a team in transition. Chris Paul is gone, but the Clippers locked up Blake Griffin on a max deal this summer, they got a good veteran point guard in Patrick Beverley from Houston, and they signed Danilo Gallinari. They picked up some good young players in the CP3 trade such as Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker (who they now need to develop). The Clippers should be in the mix for one of the final three playoff slots in the West next season, but that doesn’t answer the bigger picture questions. Are the Clippers a team rebuilding for the future on the fly? Are they looking to stay good and relevant until they can get their new building in Inglewood constructed? Are they a year or two away from a total rebuild?

Steve Ballmer ultimately gets to make that call. It will be up to Winger to execute it.