When a player joins a team, regardless of sport, there’s always a period of acclimation. For some, adaptation can take just a few games. For others, fitting into a system and learning teammates’ tendencies can take the better part of a season.
Signed as a free agent in the summer of 2016 to be the Trail Blazers tertiary ballhandler alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Evan Turner is starting the 2017-18 season with a fresh mindset after a year of acclimating to a new environment.
“Any time you go to a different team, you have to get used to it,” Turner said, having spent his previous six seasons in Phildelphia, Indiana and Boston before landing in Portland.
“Coming in and having your own identity, but the biggest thing is the unit.”
As the Blazers struggled to begin last season, Turner was still feeling out his new teammates and learning head coach Terry Stotts’ playbook. But just when Turner started to get in a rhythm, the 6-7 playmaker fractured the third metacarpal in his right hand on February. Turner missed the next 14 games before returning to finish the final 15 games of the season the best he could with a brace on his right hand to help Portland’s comeback from sub-.500 to clinch the eight seed in the Western Conference. The Ohio State product then averaged a respectable 10.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists in the playoffs while emerging as one of Portland’s best backcourt defenders versus the Golden State Warriors.
“I think Evan was starting to look very comfortable with us last year, before he hurt his hand,” Stotts said. “He came back, and played well, but I thought he had turned the corner right before [the injury]. Really, I think he’s picking up where he left off last year.”
Without the worry of learning a new playbook or fitting in with new teammates, Turner is entering the Trail Blazers’ 2017-18 Training Camp with a more focused approach than he did a year ago as ‘the new guy.’
“I think it’s easy when you just focus on basketball more than sometimes worrying about the plays or worrying if you’re in the right situation,” Turner said. “You kinda have your wheels turning a thousand miles per minute because when you get here, the most important part is fitting in and doing what they do, but at the same time playing the right way.”
Turner’s teammates have noticed a difference as well. With Lillard, McCollum and center Jusuf Nurkić gaining most of opponents’ attention, Turner’s creativity and playmaking will be paramount in the Blazers’ success this coming season.
According to Lillard and McCollum, that starts with a more ‘comfortable’ Turner in Training Camp.
“I think it’s a huge difference [between 2016 and 2017],” Lillard said of Turner. “You can already see it. Even when we’re doing 5-on-0, him improvising and doing things the coached aren’t telling him to do just for his own comfort. Things that he does that’s a part of his game that is within our offense, but nobody else does. The fact that you see him doing stuff like that and you see him doing it when we’re playing live action, you can just tell that he’s not trying to figure it out anymore. He’s not out there guessing and taking a backseat to me or CJ or anybody else. He’s just doing what he does through the natural offense that we run.”
Added McCollum: “I think he’s a lot more comfortable running our offense, understanding how he’s gonna get shots, understanding how he’s gonna put us in certain positions to succeed. He has a lot more familiarity with our team and organization… He’ll be able to be himself. He’ll be able to do what he wants to do out there: initiate offense, post-up, spot-up in the corner, come off pick-and-rolls and I think he’ll have success because of the spacing.
“Everything will be in his favor.”