A potential small forward who cannot shoot behind the arc. Is that really what the New Orleans Pelicans need? That is the first question that will be asked if the Pelicans are connected to Boston Celtics free agent Evan Turner. A better question in my opinion, is why are we only focused on offense (and shooting threes) when talking about adding a free agent? New Orleans was not a great offense last year (16th in ORtg) but defense (28th in DRtg) is what is really needed. Defensive versatility and filing in the cracks is what Evan Turner could provide; exactly what New Orleans lacks on the wings right now.
The primary weakness for Turner is his outside shot and he has shown little improvement over six seasons in the league. Last year he shot 24.1% behind the arc including 23.3% when wide open. The year before he shot 28.9% when wide open. Evan Turner is not going to stretch the floor and is likely to cramp the spacing when he does not have the ball in his hands. New Orleans is already well antiquated with running an offense without a shooter on the floor; Dante Cunningham and Alonzo Gee logged 3,603 minutes last season. While Turner cannot shoot, he can do plenty of other things.
Ball movement and defense, just what Alvin Gentry wants
Over his last two seasons Evan Turner has averaged 8.8 assists per 100 possessions with a solid 2.20 assist-to-turnover ratio. Tyreke Evans, for a comparison, has averaged a little over 10 assists per 100 possessions and a 2.15 assist-to-turnover ratio while dominating possession at a far higher rate.
Alvin Gentry has been requesting unselfishness and ball movement, a wing who is capable of driving and kicking without needing to pound the air of the ball at the top of the key would be a welcome change. Tyreke Evans possessed the ball 20% of the time last season, Turner did just 12.2% of the time.
"I think we need that 6-7 athletic guy that can also be somewhat of a facilitator," Alvin Gentry said at his press conference at the conclusion of the season. Evan Turner is 6-7 and one of six players at least that height to average at least seven assists per 100 possessions last season.
There are ways to space the floor without being a superb shooter. Court vision, in this respect, can be used as a rough substitute. Turner's fit is far greater on the other side of the ball.
Evan Turner can defend 1-3 with relative ease and some power forwards in a switch as well thanks to a thick 6-7, 220 pound frame. He's a plus rebounder on the wing and unafraid to go get rebounds. For comparison sake, Turner collected 74.9% of available rebounds while Harrison Barnes posted a less inspiring 63.7% mark. That SportVU stat takes into account deferring rebounds to fellow teammates. Turner's mark is comparable to Kent Bazemore (also 74.9%), Chandler Parsons (75.6%), and Nicolas Batum (78.1%).
Connection, fit, and cost
Like other free agent targets I've written about (Kent Bazemore and Jared Sullinger) Evan Turner has a connection to the Pelicans organization. Darren Erman was an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics during the 2014-15 season, just when Turner arrived.
One last point, Turner offers a welcome change from the reams of coach speak and non-answers that typically flow out of the Pelicans front office and locker room. He is a well-known quote around the NBA and regularly provides beat writers with a smorgasbord of content in a typical interview. Beat writers perform in a largely thankless profession, those in New Orleans more so than other thanks to how the franchise is run. Evan Turner would be a welcome presence in the locker room that lacks, for a better word, much personality.
How much is Evan Turner going to cost in free agency? Probably too much in this market. I've read estimates as high as $15 million in the first season, which should run the Pelicans far, far away in the minds of most. Is that really the correct path to take? I hold my reservations. A small forward who can shoot would be nice, and I certainly would prefer Batum, Parsons, or Bazemore over Evan Turner.
However, let's not act as if Turner doesn't check a number of boxes this team needs. The focus, almost always, falls on offense and offensive stats. This team, despite waves of injuries, was about league average on offense last year. The problem is defense and that is an area Turner will provide significant improvement. Evan Turner is a compromise candidate. Not the primary target. If Dell Demps strikes out on the big fish in the small forward pool, do not be surprised if Turner becomes a welcome alternative to the current situation on the wing for the Pelicans.