INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner had an unremarkable game Saturday, one that will inevitably be lost to history. His final stat line of 13 points, six rebounds and one block is tepid personified, business casual in a league of super stars.
But as the second-year center sat at his locker after the Pacers’ 105-84 victory over the Detroit Pistons, he focused not on his run-of-the-mill evening, but on a teammate’s portable speaker blasting the rapper Kyle at top volume.
He was also mindful of the success of others. Teammate Lavoy Allen celebrated his birthday in style with an 18-point outing in place of the injured Thaddeus Young. Paul George scored 21 points on 14 shots. He praised both during his post-game interview while leaning back in his chair, wearing moccasins and glasses with tortoise shell frames.
Good job, good game.
Turner was also aware of a budding sense of cohesion that’s alluded Indiana for much of the season. The Pacers are winners of six straight, 12-4 since the New Year, sixth in the Eastern Conference and primed to make a run up the standings.
For Turner, it’s stats and personal glory be damned. He’ll just take the W.
It’s that kind of selflessness and win-at-all-costs demeanor that endears Turner to teammates and fans. He pumped his fists after CJ Miles sunk a desperation heave from downtown. He shimmied his shoulders off the bench after a Monta Ellis spin move created an easy bucket for Al Jefferson. Turner toots his own horn -- celebrating an and-1 with a 19-point lead -- but his self-serving congratulations seem muted compared to the joy he has when others succeed.
“He wants to get the win,” Turner’s father David said. “He could go scoreless, but as long as the team wins you’ll see that same enthusiasm.”
Though Turner’s zeal for the game is ever-present, he’s still is finding his voice as a leader, a tricky task for a youngster to manage in a Pacers locker room lined with veterans who have paid their dues and built their egos.
But Indiana got a sample of Turner’s leadership the day before during a 107-97 win over the Brooklyn Nets. The Pacers blew a 19-point third-quarter lead only to see the Nets rally to a two-point advantaged in fourth quarter. Indiana was on the ropes, unable to solve the worst team in the league.
That’s when Turner spoke up. As coach Nate McMillan and his assistants discussed matters among themselves during a timeout, Turner prophesied to his teammates in convincing fashion. Indiana found its resolve to hang on for the win. What did Turner say?
“I don’t know,” Turner said Saturday. “To be honest, I don’t remember.”
Damn the faulted memory of youth.
Although Turner can’t recall his court side TED Talk, McMillan is nonetheless glad it happened.
“I think you have to be yourself,” McMillan said. “He’s a very spirited young man, and he brings that to the court. He brings that to the game. We’ve had that conversation. He shouldn’t be afraid to speak up, especially when you're trying to lift up or motivate teammates. I was a captain my first year in the league, so even though you have veterans on the team and you’re saying stuff, if they know that it’s right, they’ll listen.”
The stakes are high for Turner, a new-age center whose size and shooting touch mesh perfectly with a modern NBA addicted to pace and space. He’s a shot-blocking, 3-point shooting double threat who is Indiana’s best bet to compete now with Paul George under contract. His burden is to improve and expand his already impressive array of skills while meeting the win-now mantra dictated by team president Larry Bird.
That’s quite the objective for a man who can’t even order a beer from the concession stand. Still, Turner is succeeding and more, anchoring the Pacers’ surging defense, expanding his shooting range and carrying himself with the confidence and poise of a seasoned pro.
But Turner is only 20, the youngest player on the team.
And that’s the best part.
Turner is playing the most consistent basketball of his young career, a trend rightly overshadowed by the excellent play of George. But Turner is making noise, too. Since January 1, he’s averaging 16.5 points, 7.6 boards, shooting 54 percent from the field and 46.4 percent from long range.
“He’s understanding the game a lot more now on this level,” the father says of the son. “He’s always been a student on the game. In fact, when he was younger and playing AAU, and even some in college, I always had to tell him to stop thinking and just play. He’s processed all that, and I think now he’s getting the information to his fellas. He sees everything so he’s able to verbalize all that because he sees what’s going on. He just understands the game better.”
If Turner’s offense is blossoming, his defense is an evergreen tree. After a rookie year largely spent playing power forward, Turner’s move to the five has been met with relatively few speed bumps. Opponents shoot a measly 42.9 percent when guarded by Turner, the fourth best mark in the league among centers who contest 10 attempts per game. No coincidence Indiana’s four best defensive lineups involve Turner, too. For McMillan, defense and leadership are connected at the seams.
"I like hearing his voice, because a lot of times he’s the anchor for our defense,” McMillan said. “When we need to pick it up, he’s not afraid to say that. And you gotta be able to back it up. And he backs it up.”
Indeed. Turner is putting his money where his mouth is. If he keeps it up, this Pacers team will follow him anywhere.