If nothing else comes from this Indiana Pacers season of transition, they have added an important piece in rookie forward Myles Turner.
That reality can be ignored when this team loses so many close games, but so many people live in a sports world of immediacy that demands satisfaction here and now, and it doesn’t usually work like that.
If anything, the Pacers are ahead of schedule after improving to 27-24 with a 112-104 home victory Saturday over the Detroit Pistons at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Some will argue that, but it’s not written to inspire debate. It’s my opinion.
For the moment, let’s get back to Turner. The confident, 19-year-old kid showed he could score with a 31-point effort at Golden State and is continually improving as a rim protector — the first of two blocks on LeBron James last week should make the season highlight reel.
Remember that block as proof of 6-foot-11 forward’s potential. Don’t dwell too much on how in the same game Turner became an absent-minded teenager and failed to set a screen in the final possession of regulation as the Pacers eventually lost in overtime to Cleveland. A rookie who missed 21 games due to thumb surgery is still learning a lot, but the positives sure outweigh the growing pains.
Head coach Frank Vogel has been so encouraged, he’s started the 11th overall pick in the past six games. Turner has speed to go with size to score inside, the shooting touch to step out and knock down the mid-range jumper, he rebounds and he blocks shots.
In other words, Turner is giving the Pacers precisely what this team needed after losing center Roy Hibbert and forward David West in the offseason. And more than that, Turner’s enthusiasm has provided a spark to a team that has at times seemed like it is wheezing into next week’s All-Star Break.
When Vogel assures, “It’s all coming together” after a Monday loss to the Cavs, some folks can’t help but sigh and shake their heads. Those same people are ripping three-time Paul George for not doing everything every night.
Again, it helps to have a reality check every now and then. George was named to his third All-Star team and is having the best season of his career. Yes, he’s had some off games at times, but evidently some fans and media don’t realize it’s difficult to miss all but six games last season and come back the next year without some ill effects. In truth, he’s been better than I expected.
Folks want to gripe because that’s our sports culture, but how quickly they forget how bleak last season became. The Pacers fought their asses off only to lose out on a playoff spot by a tiebreaker. This team is much, much better. And the future is promising.
George will get stronger. After building up his strength in 2015-16, just imagine what he could be next season.
Turner will be better, too. He’s scraping the surface. Every night he plays, regardless of the numbers, he contributes a hustle play or two. He fires up his teammates. Just wait until he’s more consistent.
Shooting guard Monta Ellis can score when needed, and although his outside shooting percentage can be a disaster at times, he attacks the rim and has proven to be much more unselfish than anticipated. He can play team ball. He will improve the more he is familiar with playing alongside George and Turner, among others.
Point guard George Hill has another year on his contract and is the team’s best 3-point shooter. The only thing holding him back is the Pacers don’t get him more shots.
So the Pacers have several key players to build around. Presuming they don’t stick with centers Ian Mahinmi and Jordan Hill, they need another big. Maybe he’s out there in free agency or perhaps this team can add him in the draft.
Try to remember the big picture the next time you’re screaming at the television because the Pacers blew another fourth-quarter lead and let another game slip away that should have been won.
Just like Turner, the Pacers are going through a lot of growing pains. But I’m buying what Vogel is selling. This could come together quite well down the road.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.