BOSTON (CBS) — Danny Ainge has always been a fan of reclamation projects. Whether it’s an over-the-hill veteran like Stephon Marbury or a young prospect who has failed to fit with other teams, such as Jordan Crawford or Nate Robinson, he’s usually willing to kick the tires on a player with question marks.
Last summer, Evan Turner became the latest name to fit that bill on the C’s roster. Fresh off a disastrous stint with the Indiana Pacers, the Celtics bought “low” on Turner, signing him to a modest two-year $6.3 million pact. As a 25-year-old, Ainge likely believed there was enough untapped potential for Brad Stevens to work with to take a flier on him.READ MORE: Maura Healey Announces She’s Running For Massachusetts Governor
As was the case with Crawford, the 6-foot-7 guard/forward surpassed low expectations during the 2014-15 season. He started 57 of 82 games and delivered solid all-around play with 9.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. His defense remained a question mark, but Turner gave Stevens a valuable shot creator on a team that lacked viable scoring options for much of the year.
Despite the respectable performance, Turner’s overall style of play is not exactly ideal for a team like Boston that is predicated on pace-and-space. He takes a ton of mid-range shots, he’s overall a low percentage shooter (42.7 percent in his career), and he’s not reliable from beyond the arc (31.5 percent in his career). Turner fails to get to the free throw line regularly as well, making him on the whole, a rather inefficient scorer.
As he enters his sixth NBA season, it’s fair to assume you won’t see Turner make considerable strides to improve these parts of his game. He is what he is, a largely average NBA player, who can hurt your team on the defensive end and during off-shooting nights. He’s still a useful player on most teams, but on a squad like Boston, loaded with young talent in the backcourt, Turner’s presence next season creates a challenging conundrum for the front office and coaching staff.
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Should Stevens keep Turner starting at small forward in what was a largely offensively ineffective starting five last year? Or do you move Turner to the bench and let a more defensive-minded small forward (such as Jae Crowder) get a chance with the first unit?
You can make a decent case for each side, but both scenarios have their problems. If Turner starts, he’s going to hurt your spacing on the perimeter. Additionally, he handled most ball handling duties last year, a role Marcus Smart is now being groomed for. Should the team be taking away that experience from Smart by starting a 26-year-old who will be a free agent next summer?
If Turner heads to the bench though, you have another issue: Isaiah Thomas. The speedy point guard is a superior playmaker to Turner, which limits the former Ohio State star’s effectiveness. Turner’s not a great catch-and-shoot player, as he prefers to have the ball in his hands. When sharing the floor with Thomas, he’s not going to get many opportunities on that front.
These realities make Turner a candidate to depart in a trade before the start of next season, as he’s not a perfect fit for either role given the state of the team’s roster. With that said, the team shouldn’t just give the swingman away. He’s a functional player who has a knack for coming up big in late-game situations. If Ainge clears out some of the team’s logjam in the backcourt, he may be a long-term fit as a bench player.
Until Ainge clears out the roster jam, Stevens has quite the challenge on his hands, balancing the role of a player like Turner and developing the team’s young core. Doing all of that while also trying to help an improved Celtics roster take another step forward in the Eastern Conference is a task with no easy answer for the head coach.MORE NEWS: It Happens Here: There's A Lot To Learn At Animal Adventures In Bolton
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.