As John Wall approached, Philadelphia 76ers second-year guard Evan Turner got down in his defensive stance, and waited for Wall to make a move. Turner bit as Wall dribbled left, then stumbled as Wall crossed over and drove right. Wall blew past the frozen Turner, then elevated for vicious one-handed jam over Craig Brackins.
Turner went back to the next play, as Wall hooted and cursed, and had to deal with another reminder of the explosiveness and athleticism that led the Wizards select Wall over him with the No. 1 overall choice in June 2010. But since Wall’s dunk merely brought the Wizards within 38 points during an eventual 103-78 loss in the preseason opener on Friday, Turner also left Verizon Center with a victory.
There never was much debate within the Wizards’ organization when it came time to take Wall, but there was speculation from outside surrounding Turner, who had won nearly every college player of the year award as a junior at Ohio State.
Wall wound up runner-up to Blake Griffin for rookie of the year, MVP of the Rookie Challenge game, and a near-unanimous choice for the all-rookie team. Turner, the No. 2 pick, was left off nearly every rookie squad as he came off the bench for the 76ers.
“I think John’s a competitor an NBA starter, whatever he is, and honestly, until I put up or shut up, I wouldn’t even compare us,” said Turner, who averaged 7.2 points and 3.9 rebounds as a rookie. “It’s kind of disrespectful to John, to tell you the truth. I don’t want to be going through that stuff the rest of my career. I’m worrying about myself and getting myself right.”
Turner had a difficult adjustment his rookie season in Philadelphia. He was the primary ball-handler and playmaker at Ohio State and the Buckeyes relied on him in the clutch. But when he joined the 76ers, Jrue Holiday was the primary ball-handler and Andre Igoudala was the primary playmaker and he was forced to back up Jodie Meeks.
Unlike Wall, Turner wasn’t given the freedom to play through his mistakes. Philadelphia Coach Doug Collins had no problem sitting him, focusing more on wins than development. Turner was heavily criticized because of an inconsistent jump shot and his confidence was shaken.
“I think at first I was down, because it was a culture shock to me. but you’ve got to keep living, keep fighting and I’m a fighter, so it motivated me,” Turner said. “I mean, not starting and dealing with all the stuff. You go from being loved to being called this, called that. I just had to get in where I fit in. Growing up, I kind of had a system around me and when I started playing here I just had to fit in and do stuff I never did before.“
Turner may not have had the acclaim as Wall, but he already has something that Wall desires – a playoff appearance. Although he struggled through the regular season, Turner was a solid contributor during the 76ers’ five-game, first-round loss to the Miami Heat. He improved his scoring and rebounding numbers from the regular season, and had 17 points and six rebounds in the 76ers’ 86-82 victory in Game 4 of that series.
“I played well in the playoffs, which I hear a lot of people don’t do. But I just want to stay hungry and play well and keep competing,” Turner said. “I think, every time I get an ample amount of minutes, I feel I can make the best of this minutes and play well.”
As he approaches his second season, Turner has again been asked to come off the bench, but he is better prepared for what’s ahead. He worked on improving his jump shot and is expected to have a more expanded role as Philadelphia attempts to improve upon a surprising campaign.
“It’s a long season, you’re going to have a lot of ups and downs,” Turner said. “You keep preparing and move on to the next game. I think that’s the most important thing. It’s always moving on to the next game, the next play. That’s pretty much it.”