Myles Turner and the challenge of promise

  • Pacers
  • This article, written during Turner’s rookie season, can be read from a different perspective now. Then, he was so full of promise that team president Larry Bird predicted he would become the greatest Pacer ever. Perhaps that was meant as a motivational ploy, but it was heady praise nonetheless. 

    With the hindsight of 2020, five seasons into his NBA career, Turner is regarded by some as a disappointment. Fans and media members are calling for him to be traded, as if he was the reason the Pacers were just swept in the playoffs. It’s hardly that simple, but that’s where we are at the moment. 

    It’s instructive to look back on a promising rookie’s season and realize that potential often runs into roadblocks. Turner has a long way to go, however. He’s just 24 years old, has maintained his work ethic and maturity, and no doubt will continue to improve. The praise given here for his post-up game, however, has proved to be premature. He needs to keep working on that to fulfill his potential.


    Donnie Walsh has seen more than a few prospects work out before the NBA draft in his decades as a general manager, president and consultant. But this kid walking through the door to the practice court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse last June? This kid got his attention.

    “Holy —-,” Walsh muttered.

    “What’s wrong?” a few people sitting near him asked.

    “I had no idea this guy was that big a presence,” Walsh said.

    Walsh had just taken his first up close and personal look at Myles Turner, one of the draft candidates to be viewed, tested and analyzed that day. Frank Kaminsky, who had completed four seasons at Wisconsin and earned national Player of the Year honors, was there, too, for the specific purpose of going up against the 19-year-old from the University of Texas and helping the Pacers choose between the two.

    Turner stood out that day, not only for how he played but for how he comported himself with the coaches during practice and the media afterward. The Pacers selected him with the 11th pick in the draft after Charlotte chose Kaminsky with the ninth, and the 19-year-old from Texas has since surpassed all expectations.

    He worked his way into the starting lineup for the eight games previous to the All-Star break after recovering from a fractured left thumb. The Pacers won five of them despite an injury to center Ian Mahinmi and an overall desultory performance against Charlotte in the final game before the break. He’s averaging 12.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.75 blocks in his starts.

    He’s also single-handedly vanquished the small ball concept team president Larry Bird and coach Frank Vogel experimented with at the start of the season, because he provides the best of both worlds. His perimeter shooting spreads the floor as a smaller “power forward” would do, and his unique shot-blocking and rebounding talents strengthen the defense.

    Myles Turner is big, literally and figuratively. He only figures to get bigger. And he looms large in the future of the Pacers.

    “You would have to say he’s one of the most, if not the most, surprising players in the draft,” Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy said before Turner scored 16 points on 8-of-13 shooting against the Pistons on Feb. 6. “Everybody pretty much knew he was going to be a good player, but a lot of people thought it would take more time than this.

    “Look, this was a guy who didn’t even play big minutes in college as a freshman. To come in here in the NBA and do what he’s doing now is a tremendous testament to his ability but also the work he’s done and the way they’ve developed him.”


    Turner’s development really begins in Queens, New York, where his father David grew up within earshot of LaGuardia Airport. David was a promising football and basketball player as a kid, and was projected to grow to about 6-foot-9, but the direction and ceiling of his athletic career was altered one day when, at 10, he suffered a broken femur in his left leg while playing football in the backyard with his brother. That stunted his growth in one leg, so after a lot of family debate he had surgery to stunt his growth in the other leg to keep one leg from being much longer than the other. He wound up reaching 6-4 and was a competent but immobile center on the Martin Luther High School team.

    “I was never going to have a pro career,” he said. “I played the best I could with what I have,” he says.

    What he has is a limp, with a right leg bowed out as a result of the surgery. But the operation was a success in that the length of his legs varies only by one inch.

    After David completed high school, his father was transferred by American Airlines to Dallas. David went with him and earned a two-year tech school degree. He wasn’t fond of Texas after having grown up in New York City, but when he wound up getting a job in Oklahoma Texas didn’t seem so bad at all. He eventually moved back and settled. Landing a job at the airport, he started out driving a bus and worked his way up to a customer service trainer.

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