It was a rough stretch for the Indiana Pacers' defense without Myles Turner in the lineup, but that period is over. He made his return from a four-game absence during their 131-97 win over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday.
While they were facing off against the lowly Suns, the Pacers' defense looked like it was back to its regular self. They were flying around as a unit making things difficult on the opposition and their defensive anchor made his presence felt in the middle.
Indiana now has a 2-3 record when Turner does not play. They have allowed their opponents to score an average of 117.6 points per game while shooting 51.4 percent from the field and 44.2 percent from deep. While it may just be five games, the results are telling.
Not only were the Suns held to just 97 points, they shot only 42.1 percent from the field and 29.6 percent from beyond the arc while also committing 19 turnovers. While Turner’s conditioning wasn’t where it normally would be in the opening quarter, his impact was still quite noticeable and he ended with 18 points, six rebounds, and a pair of steals and blocks through three quarters.
“It was definitely some rust, man,” Turner said to Fox Sports Indiana’s Jeremiah Johnson after the game. “I was a step behind. I felt like my timing was a bit off. Overall, it was a great team performance and that’s all that matters.”
“I got a little winded that first quarter but second wind kicked in so I was all good. I will be good when I play more games.”
Before Turner began his four-game absence, the Pacers were allowing an average of just 101.4 points on just 43.7 percent shooting from the field and 32.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc. That figure for opponent points per game during that period was the best in the NBA and their 102.5 defensive rating trailed only the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The difference in production that the Pacers experience on defense with Turner on the court compared to when he is on the sidelines is telling. When he is on the floor, the Pacers allow 2.8 fewer points per 100 possessions and their opponents shoot 2.1 percent worse from the field compared to when he is not.
“It makes me feel important,” Turner said when asked how it feels that his teammates have been highlighting his importance to the team’s defense. “The fact that my team places so much trust into me to hold it down on the defensive end. I know I bring a lot to the table on that end and I’m glad we were able to get it done [Tuesday] night.”
There is a greater level of freedom and margin for error that Turner's teammates are afforded because of his interior defensive presence. His shot blocking is an asset in itself because it often creates easy scoring opportunities for his team on the other end, but the contests that he makes are valuable too.
In addition to averaging a league-best 2.8 blocks per game, Turner defends an average of eight shot attempts from within six feet of the basket (third most) and forces players to shoot -8.8 percent worse from the field on those attempts compared to their regular production.
"He's the best shot blocker in the league," Darren Collison said about teammate Turner. "Consciously, as the opposing guard, you're always worried about where he’s at on the court. Myles has been there for us all season long."
It goes beyond just the defensive end of the floor. The Pacers need Turner to continue to be an impactful scorer and the performance that he put together in his return was certainly intriguing. He is coming off a month of December with averages of 15.7 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.2 blocks while shooting 50 percent from deep.
Turner started out his performance against Phoenix by scoring only two points on 33.3 percent shooting from the field in the first quarter but he didn’t allow that slow start to hold him back. He stayed aggressive and added 16 more points over about the next 18 minutes of action.
“Nate and the whole team has confidence in me,” Turner said about his team after his slow start.” D.C. keeps telling me to shoot. He told me I was passing up too many shots.”
With the way that Turner has taken his defensive impact to the next level and has hit his stride as a jump shooter, the Pacers appear to have a unique stretch-five talent as one of their building blocks. He may be turning the corner as a player and it’s important that the team continues to provide opportunities for him to continue to grow.
It doesn't seem like long ago that many were saying that Turner was overpaid after he signed his four-year, $80 million contract extension. Fast forward to now and he is a serious candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.