Thanksgiving week is upon us, which means the first month of the 2016-17 NBA season is nearly in the books. Given that 10 teams are entering Monday’s action within one game of .500, it’s best to hold back from making any damning judgments. Still, the sample size has grown large enough that problematic areas and weak links have begun to show.
With that in mind, here’s a look at five notable players off to rocky starts after changing teams this summer.
Evan Turner, Trail Blazers
Well, let’s go ahead and start at the bottom. Evan Turner’s four-year, $70 million contracthas probably incited more second-guessing than any other deal from the record-setting summer of 2016, and it’s easy to see why. Turner ranks 407th out of 407 eligible players by ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus metric (-5.97), he ranks dead last in raw plus-minus (-131), and he’s shooting an anemic 35.2%. Portland tapped Turner as the leader of its revamped second unit with the hope that his playmaking might consistently alleviate pressure on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Instead, the Blazers (8-7) have a bottom-five bench in terms of scoring and efficiency differential, per HoopsStats.com, creating wild swings in night-to-night performance and contributing to an unimpressive -5.7 point differential.
The fit concerns that arose immediately after Turner’s signing this summer have largely played out to the worst-case scenario. While Turner’s lack of perimeter shooting has been a major issue, perhaps the larger concern is his preferred pace of play. Blazermaniacs have become accustomed to the “Flow” style under coach Terry Stotts, where bodies move off the ball and the ball in turn moves to find them once they’re open. Turner is a “groove” player, most comfortable when he’s rocking defenders with the dribble and looking for openings in one-on-one situations. There might come a time when the flow and groove meet to produce magic, but so far they have rubbed like sandpaper. This friction, no doubt, is exacerbated by a lack of familiarity with his new teammates. Cue up tape of Turner’s turnovers, and there are passes to cutters who never cut and kick outs to teammates who aren’t there. Not to mention the clips of guys standing around confused as Turner over-dribbles through defensive traffic without a clear exit strategy.
Portland’s blowout win over Brooklyn on Sunday provided a blueprint for a more functional Turner, as he found his shooting stroke from the mid-range (an absolute necessity) and struck a better balance as a playmaker. Even if Turner gets going offensively, though, a larger question will remain: Shouldn’t his money have been spent elsewhere addressing other areas of concern? Given that Portland currently ranks dead last in defensive efficiency and rebound rate and that defensive-minded center Festus Ezeli remained sidelined due to injury, the answer to that question looks like a resounding yes. Al-Farouq Aminu’s absence has submarined the Blazers’ defensive numbers, but even at full strength this group has been overmatched inside. It’s still (very) early, but the Blazers’ hopes of making a repeat trip to the second round might very well hinge on the front office’s ability to make a roster-balancing trade before the February deadline.