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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.”

Jayson Tatum’s NBA 2K19 rating is pretty eye-popping

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Boston Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum had an excellent first season in the NBA. Here at PBT, we talked about how if the Celtics wanted to challenge in the East early on — especially without Gordon Hayward — they would need their young wing rotation to step up in a big way. They did, and Tatum was a big part of the reason the Celtics made the Eastern Conference Finals this year.

Now it appears that he is being rewarded by the folks over at 2K Games.

The people over at 2K Games release some of their ratings today, and Tatum came in at a whopping 87. If you aren’t familiar with the structure of the game, or what that means, the total score is out of a possible 99, making Tatum an excellent player.

Via Twitter:

Of course players like Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James scored a 98, so Tatum still has some room above him. As a general observation very good players rate somewhere between 79-85 during their rookie seasons.

Now the wait is on to see how fellow Rookie of the Year candidates Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons score when 2K Games releases their ratings.

Dallas’ Liz Cambage sets WNBA single-game scoring record with 53-point game (VIDEO)

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When you score more than half your team’s points, you’ve owned the game.

Dallas Wings’ center Liz Cambage scored a WNBA single-game record 53 points — on just 22 shots — in the Wings’ 104-87 win over the Liberty Tuesday. The previous record had been Riquna Williams with 51 points in 2013. Cambage hit 17–of–22 from the field including 4–of–5 from three (she was 5-of-23 from three in her NBA career before today), and knocked down 15-of-16 from the free throw line. She also had 10 rebounds and blocked five shots.

It was a monster performance. How big:

Cambage, an Australian native, had two interesting seasons with Tulsa in the WNBA back in 2011 and 2013 — she was an All-Star in 2011 but did not return to the NBA after the 2012 Olympics. She had a strong 2013 season, but then walked away from the WNBA (she had said when drafted she didn’t want to be in Tulsa).

She sat out of the WNBA for five years, until returning this season and is putting up big numbers in Dallas — 19.9 points per game on 57 percent shooting plus pulling down 9.1 rebounds per game. She’s a 6’8″ physical force in the league that few if any teams have an answer for.

But nobody saw this huge breakout game coming.

What a great showcase for the WNBA, especially leading up to the league’s All-Star Game July 28.

Lakers’ Josh Hart wins Summer League MVP

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The Lakers wanted to test Josh Hart this summer: What would happen if they gave him a more substantial role? He was solid as a backup point guard last season (a good showing for a rookie), averaging 7.9 points per game and shooting 39.6 percent from three, but with Lonzo Ball and Rajon Rondo in the fold point guard minutes will be hard to come by next season.

What happened if they put the ball in Hart’s hands and made him the leader of a team on and off the court?

Hart responded by winning the NBA Las Vega Summer League MVP, averaging 24.2 points a game and leading the Lakers to the championship game. He dropped 37 on the Cavaliers and Collin Sexton in the semi-finals.

The award was announced Tuesday, in advance of the title contest between Hart and his Lakers vs. the Portland Trail Blazers.

Hart is the second Laker in a row to win the award, last year Lonzo Ball won it in leading the Lakers to a Summer League crown.

It’s an honor, but don’t assume Summer League MVP means NBA success. Sure, Damian Lillard won the award, but he was co-MVP with Josh Shelby. Glen Rice III won the award. The MVP list includes Kyle Anderson and Tyus Jones and other good but not All-Star players.

Hart also made the All-NBA Summer League first team. (Both the MVP award and All-NBA Summer League teams were voted on by a select media pannel.)

Here are the Las Vegas All Summer League teams:

All-NBA Summer League First Team

Wendell Carter Jr. (Chicago)
Josh Hart (Los Angeles Lakers)
Kevin Knox (New York)
Collin Sexton (Cleveland)
Christian Wood (Milwaukee)

MGM Resorts All-NBA Summer League Second Team

Deandre Ayton (Phoenix)
Wade Baldwin IV (Portland)
Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis)
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (Los Angeles Lakers)
Trae Young (Atlanta)

Report: Jahlil Okafor, still trying to land contract, works out for four teams in Vegas

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Jahlil Okafor was never going to find a new home early in free agency. Once the big names — and second tier, and third tier— names shook out, then some team was expected to step forward with a minimum contract and see if the former No. 3 pick could find a role on their team. Something he could not do with the Nets last year.

He’s still waiting.

Okafor did work out for teams in Las Vegas, to show that he is healthy and can contribute, reports Sean Deveny of The Sporting News.

According to sources, Okafor, the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, worked out for four teams last Wednesday in Las Vegas, and remains hopeful of signing with a team ahead of training camp next fall.

Okafor averaged 17.5 points per game as a rookie in Philadelphia in 2015-16. He has spent the last few months working out in Miami with trainers David Alexander and Idan Ravin, fueling speculation that he could land with the Heat, especially if Miami finds a trading partner for Hassan Whiteside.

First things first, it’s unlikely the Heat will find someone to take on Whiteside right now, and any team that does is going to want a treasure chest of sweeteners the Heat may not want to surrender.

In addition to the Heat, the Bulls and Pacers have been rumored to have some interest, although both of those should be taken with a serious grain of salt.

How much is any team interested? Enough to even offer a fully guaranteed contract for next season?

Maybe not. Okafor — with his old-school, below the rim, back-to-the-basket offensive game, not to mention a serious lack of defense — does not fit the direction the NBA is trending with bigs. He may need to accept a non-guaranteed invite to training camp somewhere and prove he deserves a roster spot. Humbling, to be sure, but reality.

At some point, some team will give him a shot. Probably. But Okafor has a lot of work to do to find a role in the modern NBA.