Despite being just 20 years old and a sophomore in the NBA, Indiana Pacers big man Myles Turner is having a terrific season and showing why he’s already one of the league’s best two-way centers.
Turner is filling the stat sheet – averaging 15.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks (the third-most in the NBA behind only Rudy Gobert and Anthony Davis) – while shooting 54 percent from the field, 41.1 percent from three-point range and 80.6 percent from the free-throw line. To put this into perspective, consider these numbers:
- Over the last decade, only three under-21 players have averaged at least 15.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and two blocks while shooting 50 percent from the field: Chris Webber, Shaquille O’Neal and Davis. Turner is on pace to join that group. Out of those players, Turner easily has the best three-point shooting percentage (shooting 40.6 percent, next-best was Davis at 22.2 percent) as well as the best free-throw shooting percentage (80.7 percent).
- In his career, Turner has blocked 100 shots and knocked down 28 three-pointers. This season, he is the only player in the league with at least 100 blocks and 25 threes. He has a chance to become just the third player in NBA history to record 200 blocks and 50 three-pointers in the same season (the others were Raef LaFrentz and Andrei Kirilenko).
- Turner is one of just eight players in NBA history to record 1,200 points, 650 rebounds and a 50 percent field goal percentage before turning 21, joining Webber, O’Neal, Davis, Dwight Howard, Thaddeus Young, Andre Drummond and Karl-Anthony Towns. Turner is the first player to reach these marks while also shooting above 35 percent from three-point range (his career percentage is 36.9 percent).
In other words, Turner is incredibly productive for his age and has an extremely unique skill set that allows him to impact games in a ton of different ways. He’s exactly what today’s executives and coaches want in a big man since he protects the rim, shoots out to three-point range, scores in the paint and cleans the glass.
Because of Turner’s maturity, it’s easy to forget how young he is when talking to him. Pacers president Larry Bird is looking very smart for stealing the big man with the 11th overall pick in last year’s draft, just as he stole Paul George with the 10th overall pick in the 2010 draft.
HoopsHype recently sat down with Turner to discuss his monster season, long-term goals, experience playing football growing up, relationship with George and much more in this exclusive interview.
With your versatility and skill set, you’re the prototypical big man in today’s NBA. How does it feel to be in this new wave of very talented bigs? You could be making an impact on the next generation of players too, since some kids will want to play like you, Kristaps Porzingis, Karl-Anthony Towns, etcetera.
Myles Turner: It’s really an honor to be an ambassador in that aspect. Growing up, my dad and my coaches were always telling me, ‘You don’t want to just limit yourself to just one position; you’re a basketball player.’ So I always worked on all aspects of my game and I would encourage any kid coming up to do that as well, just so you can be multi-dimensional.
What would it mean for you if you were someday selected to be an All-Star?
MT: Listen man, that’s obviously a huge goal [of mine] and it would be an incredible honor to even be considered. It’s kind of something that you dream about and talk about when you’re younger, but it would be unreal if that came to fruition. I try not to get too into it because, obviously, the team is more important, but to add that to my resume and be in that elite group of guys who made the game would honestly mean the world to me. That’s something I’ll definitely be shooting for throughout my career.
What advice has Paul George given you, and how has he helped you as you try to take the next step in your career?
MT: He’s really helpful, man. The best advice he has given me is ‘never settle.’ He’s made the All-NBA 3rd Team and been successful, but in his mind he should’ve been 1st Team and I agree with him. That’s kind of the way he approaches it. That’s obviously an honor, but he says to never settle and never be satisfied with things you’ve done – you can always strive for more. Off the court, he has told me to just balance everything. That’s obviously hard with all of the travel and stuff, handling your outside business and thrive in basketball as well. But he’s made sure that I stay balanced with everything.
One thing that you and Paul have in common is you were both drafted later than you should’ve been. I know he used it as motivation for a while, remembering the teams that passed on him and the players picked ahead of him. Do you use that for motivation or did you let it go?
MT: I never let it go, to be honest with you. It’s always in the back of my head. But my biggest motivation was wanting to just go out there and prove to myself that I could play at this level. I’ve always been very confident, but actually doing it was huge for my confidence. I really thank Coach [Frank] Vogel for that. He gave me a chance to play really early. I definitely have those guys [picked before me] in the back of my mind, though. Another for me was to prove the people back home wrong. I had a lot of doubters back home because nobody has really made it out of there by going to the NBA. A lot of people would say, ‘Oh, you’ll just go to the D-League’ or, ‘You’ll just fizzle out.’ I just wanted to prove all of those people wrong, the people who weren’t supportive of what I was doing.
You’d think they’d be the ones supporting you and rooting you on most, but it doesn’t always go that way. You mentioned your confidence. From the beginning of last year to now, how much more confident and comfortable are you on the court?
MT: A lot of people say that the jump from year one to year two is where you make your biggest gains and I definitely agree with that. I know so much more this year than I did last year. I improved in so many areas of my game that I worked on this past summer and it’s really helped me. I watched film of my defense and made a lot of improvements, which has really boosted my confidence a lot. I’ve always been confident in my game, but to go out there and see results was huge. And I’m only hoping to continue my growth from here.
Every time we talk, I’m struck by how mature you are. Have you always been mature for your age, or did that happen because you realized you had to grow up quickly and be mature in order to achieve your dream of playing in the NBA?
MT: I’d say it was a little bit of both. But it’s always been part of my personality, and it definitely has to do with how I was raised. My parents raised me to always shake hands, say ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir,’ hold the door open for people, make eye contact when you’re having a conversation, just the little stuff like that. That never got away from me. Growing up, I’d see a lot of my peers goofing off or on their phones when we’re in meetings or when we had to meet important people; I’ve never been that kind of guy and I always wanted to leave a lasting impression. There’s ways of overdoing it, of course. I just always tried to do the little things. Whenever I did interviews, I wanted to make sure that I thoroughly answered questions and not mumble and things like that. My parents are huge when it comes to that, and I’m representing my family. After basketball, or even during basketball, I want to be a businessman. I want to be an ambassador in my neighborhood and other communities that I take on. I need to be able to speak well and represent my family in the best way possible.
What are your long-term goals? You’re young and the sky is the limit; what do you hope to accomplish throughout the course of your career?
MT: The biggest thing for me is championships. I definitely want to be on a championship team, multiple championship teams. I want to be a guy who is remembered as a glue guy, a great teammate. Anybody can be the scorer or the rebounder or this guy or that guy – I want to be the glue guy who brings everyone together to win a championship. I want that on my resume. Going back to the All-Star question, I want to make multiple All-Star teams. I want to be one of the top-tier big men, or players [overall], in the league. I really want to get a lot of Community Assist Awards too. That’s something that I started doing and I kind of have my sights set on that. Obviously, it’s not for the award, but I think that’s a really cool one to have and it’s something that I take seriously. I’ve always taken that seriously, even back in high school doing in community service and helping around the neighborhood. Now, I have my W.A.R.M. (We All Really Matter) Initiative and I’d like to be remembered for stuff like that too.
Speaking of which, it seems like you really love Indiana and they’ve really embraced you too. What did it mean to you to be welcomed with open arms by those basketball-loving fans?
MT: Coming from Texas, where everybody loves football, it’s kind of refreshing to come to a state where everybody loves and appreciates basketball. Now Texas has done great at basketball these past few years and gotten some recruits and they’re coming into their own, but Texas will always be known as a football state. Coming to a historical basketball state, where the fans love the game, is incredible. You have diehard fans. Shoot, we had guys this year who waited outside in negative-high-degree weather to tell us, ‘Good game!’ There were 20 people out there to cheer us on before our flight to London! Having those people really means a lot to us and we appreciate it. I don’t even think the fans realize how appreciative we are sometimes. It really does mean a lot. It’s pretty incredible. I’ve adjusted really well here in Indiana; the community has taken me as one of their own and I’ll always make sure I reciprocate that love.
Did you ever consider playing football? Or, being in Texas, were you pressured to play football? I’m sure with your athleticism and size, the football coaches were drooling over you and picturing you at defensive end or tight end.
MT: I went to a high school that was dominant in football, Trinity High School in Euless, Texas, so they won every other year. They won the state championship in 2005, 2007 and 2009. They wanted me to play, but I played one year of football in seventh grade and it was the absolute worst athletic year of my life. It was awful. At the time, I was pretty uncoordinated since I was growing and I didn’t have the best hands so they couldn’t put at receiver or tight end or anything. They ended up putting me on the offensive line. I’m skinny, skinny as hell – probably, like, 120 lbs. – going up against all these huge offensive linemen. We had a big population of Tongans – people who immigrated here from Tonga – and they’re like warriors, man. They love football and they are incredible athletes. I was going up against them all the time and they were just kicking my ass night in and night out. One day, we had a drill and I was going up against one of my good friends – Habram Rosario, who passed away and was the reason I wore No. 52 in college. It was me against him in the Warrior Line Drill, where you run up and try to tackle each other. We both managed to get to full speed and he literally picked my feet up off the ground and slammed me down. I knew right then, from that day forward, I was never going to do that again. Football is not for me.
Well, with less injuries and guaranteed contracts in the NBA, I think you made the right choice. Last year, you didn’t compete in the Rising Stars Challenge because you were injured. Are you excited for that, and the exposure that comes with it?
MT: Oh man, undoubtedly. I’m very excited for that game. I really want to play so I can represent myself and my team. I was pretty bummed out that I couldn’t make it last year. I had just started playing well, like, right after everybody voted because I was coming back from my injury. Now, that’s definitely something I have my sights set on and I’m really excited to be a part of All-Star Weekend. That’s always something that I’ve wanted to do. Last year, I went home and got some rest, but I’m really excited to be a part of it this year.
Since you’ve been in the league, who are some guys that you’ve played against who have really impressed you or influenced you when it comes their moves or footwork or things like that?
MT: I used to watch LaMarcus Aldridge all the time in college. I haven’t watched him as much lately, but my dad and I watched that Christmas Day game and he just went off.
He barely missed a shot in that game.
MT: Yeah! And it was just the little things that he was doing too. A lot of them obviously came off of jumpers, but he was picking-and-popping to the open spot, to the open window. That’s what a lot of bigs don’t understand about that whole pick-and-pop game; it’s not just picking-and-popping, you have to get to an area where the guard can see you and the help defense can’t recover in time. He kept finding that area, that seam, every single time. I like watching him and how he reads guards. Oh, another guy is [Nikola] Jokic. He’s a peer and I play against him now, but he has incredible vision. It’s cool the way he picks apart defenses. I’ve seen a couple games where he’s out there facilitating as a seven-footer. Another is [Jonas] Valanciunas. I actually learned a lot from him last year in the playoffs. He’s obviously a huge presence down there, but his post game is really predicated off what the defense gives him. He’s always so poised down there, he takes his time and he uses body very well. I learned a lot of stuff being on defense against him last year, and that stuff has helped me this year.
Nate McMillan coached LaMarcus Aldridge in Portland. Has he passed on any tips or things like that, since you and Aldridge do have similar skill sets? And what has it been like adjusting to having a new coach in your second NBA season?
MT: It hasn’t been too bad since he was on the staff last year and we talked a lot. He was in my ear all the time, so it was pretty easy to make that switch from within the program. Every now and then, he’ll drop little nuggets from his time with LaMarcus. He’s really committed to making me better, but he also knows that while LaMarcus and I are similar, we’re two different players. He tries to coach me like an individual, and that’s one thing that I really respect and appreciate about him.
Your Pacers are currently the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. When you guys are clicking, you look really tough to beat. How good can this team be?
MT: I definitely think we can be a Top 3 team in the East. We started off a little bit rocky because we were trying to adjust to each other, learn each other, but Jeff [Teague] is playing his tail off lately. He’s doing an incredible job of finding the open seams and setting up the offense. We’re moving the ball so much better than we were at the beginning of the year. There was so much isolation, one-on-one and end-of-clock pick-and-roll, but now the ball is moving around and it all starts with him. I think we can be a really good team, especially when we’re clicking on all cylinders. Our first unit is really strong and we have a lot of impact guys on our second unit. We have all of the pieces necessary to be a great team.
I’ve always felt like the Pacers fly under the radar – even during those Eastern Conference Finals years when they were stacked. I don’t know if that’s because Indiana isn’t a huge market or what, but it seems like your team gets overlooked. Is that something that you guys notice and use as bulletin-board material?
MT: Me personally, I just notice that this game is a business. I do notice that we’re an underrated team and we don’t get talked about a lot and we don’t play on TV a lot. But I feel like that plays to our advantage because we go out there every night knowing that we’re capable of beating any team that we play. The perfect example – it’s funny, we were joking about this – is when we played OKC and won in overtime, but the headline was, ‘Russell Westbrook gets a triple-double in a loss.’ Not that the Pacers won in overtime! It’s about Russell Westbrook’s triple-double in the overtime loss and how incredible he played and stuff. And it’s like, well, you know we won? I guess that was one little defining moment for me this year. When you’re talking about the Indiana Pacers, you aren’t talked about a super-big-market team, so it’s not going to get the recognition it deserves. There are a lot of great people doing great things in this organization and I hope that comes out one day. But I do think that it plays right into our hand, being low-key and not talked about.
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