After a disappointing 11-16 start to the season, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that the Indiana Pacers – often regarded as the league’s most directionless franchise – were finally setting their eyes on a shore to sail to. On December 8th, Kevin Pritchard, the President of the Pacers, and Rick Carlisle, their head coach, met with Caris LeVert, Domantas Sabonis, and Myles Turner to inform them that they could be on the move.
For a while, the stylistic fit between Turner and Sabonis has been in question. While most of the league has shifted towards employing “small-ball” lineups, with the extremity of that philosophy residing North of the border with the Toronto Raptors, the Pacers have opted to maintain traditional ideologies.
Sabonis, a two-time NBA All-Star, is at his best when he has room to operate in the post where he can leverage his burly 6’11, 240-pound frame to create space and either find open teammates, or finish around the rim. Turner, on the other hand, is at his best when he can operate in the pick-and-roll with a playmaking guard.
Due to the floor-spacing needs of the modern NBA and the emphasis that has been placed on taking a healthy number of three point attempts, it has become difficult to cater to both Turner’s and Sabonis’ strengths without sacrificing the efficiency of the team’s offense. As a result, Turner was asked to take a back seat to Sabonis, and over the past couple seasons, Turner’s offensive role has been limited to taking spot-up threes or finding baskets off cuts.
In Turner’s own words, he says, “It’s clear that I’m not valued as anything more than a glorified role player here, and I want something more. I’m not valued as more than a rotational role player, and I hold myself to a higher regard than that.”
With frustration on Turner’s side mounting and the Pacers finally deciding to stamp a sticker of availability on some of their prized assets, there will be a long list of teams calling to inquire about the trio’s valuations. Among those teams should certainly be the Toronto Raptors.
Although the Raptors deliberately entered the season with nobody on their roster taller than six-foot-nine, the disadvantages of their unheralded strategy are already beginning to surface. Despite having the fifth highest two-point field goal frequency in the league, the Raptors have the fourth lowest two-point field goal percentage, meaning that they are not finishing inside the arc even though its their favourite shot to take. On the other side of the ball, the Raptors rank bottom-ten in blocks per game. Having a center like Turner on the roster would help tremendously in each of these departments.
On the season, Turner is shooting 78% within five feet of the iron – a figure almost double as efficient as Precious Achiuwa – and he ranks first in the league in denials by a wide margin, with 2.8 blocks per game. Having a presence like Turner in the paint defensively would give the Raptors much more freedom to play aggressively on the perimeter, and would allow players like Gary Trent Jr. in particular – who is a strong on-ball defender, but weaker off the ball – to take more gambles when he is playing in gaps. Similarly to how the Raptors used Serge Ibaka when he played in Toronto, allowing Turner to sit in the paint defensively would give Nick Nurse the liberty to run a funnel scheme, whereby the Raptors wings aggressively chase opposing shooters off the three point line, but invite them to take a contested shot at the rim if Turner is there waiting.
The idea of deploying a five-man unit including Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, and Turner should be enough to deter teams from even wanting to step on the court against the Raptors, and acquiring the Texas product would exacerbate the team’s defense-first identity. It would not be an overreaction to expect the aforementioned five-man lineup to have among the best defensive ratings in the NBA over a large enough sample size. If the potential of the fit is so promising, how exactly would the Raptors go about acquiring Turner?
The Pacers will be looking for young players and picks in return if they are looking to rebuild, but matching Turner’s $17.5M salary will also be an tough. Because of the latter factor, it’s a near-certainty that Goran Dragic would be included in the outgoing package. Given that Dragic does not actually provide much asset value, the Raptors would likely also have to add Malachi Flynn, as a sweetener. Still, a disgruntled veteran who has fallen out of the rotation and a former first-round pick who is struggling to make any impact in his sophomore season will not be enough to put Turner in red and white. It’s probable that Pritchard would demand one of Precious Achiuwa and Dalano Banton, in addition to some draft compensation.
Although losing Achiuwa as the centrepiece of this deal seems like a hefty price to pay, especially given how high he has proven his ceiling can be given his pseudo-wing esque skillset, Turner is simply much further along in his development curve, and it’s possible that Achiuwa never becomes a more impactful player than Turner currently is. To add to where their statures currently rank in the NBA, Turner is still only 25-years-old, despite being in his seventh season in the league. As solace for losing Achiuwa, it’s also reassuring to know that Achiuwa likely would fall out of the rotation – or at least have his minutes severely reduced – if he were to be on the roster simultaneously with Turner. For the sake of this exercise, we will assume that the trade framework will look as follows:
In addition to helping the Raptors make some noise in the playoffs this year, the Turner would also be able to grow along the same timeline as Toronto’s young core. Turner has shown that beyond being a world-class defender, he is capable of asserting his dominance offensively as well. Even in a limited role with the Pacers this season, Turner is just one of eleven players to drop 40 or more points in a game this season. In a separate event, he also hit seven long bombs against the Knicks to finish with a total of 25 points. If Turner indeed becomes a Raptor and is granted a similar echelon of offensive liberty that was given to Achiuwa, it wouldn’t be asinine to expect that he could become a consistent double digit scorer in the starting unit.
Ultimately, the greatest factor that will determine whether Turner finishes his seventh season in a Raptors uniform will be Indiana’s asking price, and whether they can generate a bidding war for the big man. In the mean time, fans can enjoy the following tweet from Turner, where he acknowledged a fans joke that he would become “Kilometers Turner” if he played in Canada.