By Steve Lansdale
After a single season at the University of Texas, Myles Turner became the 15th Longhorn to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft when he was chosen 11th overall by the Indiana Pacers.
The Big 12 Conference Freshman of the Year, who also earned third-team all-conference honors, was understandably excited, but also said he understood what it means to be chosen by the Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird.
“It feels great, man,” Turner said. “You know, I’ve got family in Indiana, (and) Indiana’s basketball country. I mean, I’m just very excited to be a part of the organization. I went on my workout, (and) I felt like I had a good showing. You know, they expressed some interest, but I had no idea who else they were considering, but they did definitely express their interest in me.
“(On getting drafted by Bird) It’s amazing, man. It’s one hell of an opportunity, and I’m just excited to get to work.”
In the 6-foot-11-inch, 240-pound Turner, the Pacers got a player whose potential vastly exceeds the 10.1 points (third among Texas players last season), team-leading 6.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocked shots (first) per game. In his press conference, Indiana head coach Frank Vogel balanced his optimism about Turner’s immediate contributions by acknowledging that at just 19 years old, Turner might be a couple of seasons away from playing a major role in Indianapolis.
The Pacers are a team in transition. Center Roy Hibbert, 28, officially opted in to the final year of his four-year contract worth more than $58 million, about $15.5 million of which will be guaranteed in the 2015-16. But numerous published reports indicate the Pacers have made a concerted effort to trade Hibbert, and veteran power forward David West reportedly chose not to exercise his $12.6 million option for the upcoming season, making it likely he will depart via free agency.
The thinking is that the Pacers will build a more athletic version of their team around star swingman Paul George, who played in just six games at the end of the 2014-15 season after suffering a gruesome broken leg last August in a USA Basketball scrimmage. Bird said that Turner will play “a lot of four (power forward),” meaning Turner is seen as a center, not as a power forward, as some had speculated.
“We do want to play faster, and (Turner) does fit that style of play,” Vogel told NBA.com. “On top of trying to run more, we’re going to try to play with more spacing on the offensive end. To have a guy that can fill the role, on the defensive end, of a rim protector and can shoot the ball as well as he can shoot it, you know, he’s just going to be a great asset for us.”
Bird stopped short of designating Turner as Hibbert’s eventual replacement as the Pacers’ starting center, saying only that “I expect him to challenge Roy — there’s no question about it.”
Bird echoed Vogel’s contention that Turner’s immediate impact should be exceeded by his long-term potential.
“Just watching his growth in the last nine months is pretty impressive, and we think (that) around the All-Star break, he’s going to be a lot better than he is now,” Bird said. “He’s very active — sometimes he plays a little too quick — but, you know, he just turned 19 years old. We just feel there’s so much growth there, it’s going to be fun to watch him develop as a man and as a player. His ability to protect to protect the rim is off the charts. We feel very good about it. We’re very high on him. We think he’s going to improve a lot in the next six or eight months.