Commentary

Turner struggles to find his place

Updated: December 31, 2010, 1:18 AM ET
By Peter May | Special to ESPN.com

Evan TurnerJesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesEvan Turner, the No. 2 pick in the draft, has had difficulty adjusting to life in the NBA.

Christmas could not have been a very happy occasion at Evan Turner's household. His team, the Philadelphia 76ers, was well below .500 in the Eastern Conference. In the Sixers' last outing before the holiday, Turner had sat on the bench for the entire game, watching his team lose to the Boston Celtics. It was his second DNP of the season, the other having come three games earlier against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Was this the same guy who had draftniks drooling in June? The same guy who won just about every major individual award in college while putting up flossy numbers at Ohio State? The same guy whom the Sixers gleefully took with the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft?

Yes, yes and yes.

To say Turner's introduction to the NBA has been a rocky one is to state the obvious. No one knows that more than Turner, who three days before Christmas stood in a near-empty visitors locker room at TD Garden in Boston, unable to contain his disappointment.

"This is rock bottom,'' he said. "It can't be any worse, in my mind. I've just got to keep working. I feel like it can't get any worse. The only way it can go is up."

He's pretty much on target about that. If Turner's shooting was as sharp as his powers of observation, there would be nothing to worry about. Despite his enviable length (6-foot-7), which makes him a terrific rebounder for his position (7.4 rebounds per 40 minutes), and his obvious resilience and tenacity (in his college days, he missed only a handful of games in his junior season as a result of two fractured vertebrae), the one constant for Turner since he turned pro has been an inability to make shots.

It started during summer league in Orlando, where Turner shot 33 percent from the field. Sixers coach Doug Collins said shortly afterward that he wasn't alarmed, chalking it up to Turner not being in shape because he avoided pre-draft workouts for fear of injury.

But the poor shooting continued into the exhibition season, when Turner connected on only 31 percent of his shots. This from the same player who was a career 50 percent shooter at Ohio State over three seasons.

Heading into Wednesday night's game in Phoenix, Turner was shooting 38.4 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from 3-point territory (albeit, on 14 attempts) while averaging a mere 6.3 points a game, 11th among NBA rookies. As a result, the Sixers have chosen to go with the likes of Andres Nocioni, Lou Williams and Jodie Meeks, a 2009 second-rounder, ahead of Turner in the rotation.

"He hasn't made enough shots for us for him to play," Sixers president Rod Thorn said.

"I think that any kid who is drafted that high, and has not had a chance to play as much as other kids who were drafted below him, I am sure that is something he thinks about."

The one bright spot on Turner's otherwise bleak résumé: In November, he started five games for an injured Andre Iguodala and averaged 12.8 points (on 45 percent shooting), 8.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 37 minutes. When Iguodala couldn't go against the Warriors on Monday, Nocioni drew the start instead. But Turner played 29 minutes, and he played 30 in Phoenix on Wednesday and scored a career-high 23 points.

The Sixers are still trying to discover what they have in Turner. He seems to be more comfortable and confident when he has control of the ball and there is playmaking ability in his game (he averaged six assists a game his last season in college), But Jrue Holiday and Williams appear to have nailed down the point guard slots, making Turner confront the unthinkable: After almost 30 games, where does he belong?

"I'm adapting, trying to fit in somewhere, trying to find a niche,'' he said. "Every day is a learning experience for me. I don't know what to say. That's life. You have to bounce back and keep working. I've been patient and understanding of the situation. I've overcome a lot of stuff."

Thorn and the Sixers are still optimistic that Turner, a late bloomer in college, can turn it around.

"If you look at his history, both in high school and college, he started out slow and got better," Thorn said. "That is certainly what we're hoping for here -- and I think he is too."

Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.

Peter May

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com