How Evan Turner stopped running himself into walls

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

For oft-criticized former No. 2 pick Evan Turner of the Philadelphia 76ers, patience is a virtue he was never afforded until this season.

TORONTO -- "Sometimes, they forget you're human," Evan Turner said. Critics, that is. "And you start being looked at as an object more than as a person."

It used to bother Turner, that people saw him as an object -- a draft pick, an investment, a cog in a machine. A contract.

"You almost forget how people perceive you," he said.

People perceived static strengths, weaknesses, averages, tendencies. He heard he was a disappointment, a draft dud. He heard he shot from the wrong places, passed willingly but not well. He heard he couldn't help a team win, couldn't adapt to the NBA game. It used to get him down.

"We used to say that he plays with the world on his shoulders," said Philadelphia 76ers teammate Thaddeus Young.

Coming out of Ohio State as the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft, Turner's potential promised production. No one promised patience, least of all Turner. In his first two seasons, Turner averaged eight points in 24.5 minutes a game. From Year 1 to Year 2, he became slightly less efficient, failing to quiet those who said he couldn't coexist with Andre Iguodala on the wing.

They said he needed a three-point shot. He believed them.

"I think one thing that I did, where I messed up at, was [thinking], ‘Alright, I'm not good because I can't shoot threes,'" said Turner, who made just 22.4 percent of his three-point attempts last season. "It's like, no -- it's something I can get better at. I can do a lot of stuff that other people can't do. And I feel like people put thoughts in people's heads and sometimes people don't slow down and dissect what's really going on."

Dissect the fact that he's shooting a career-best 39.4 percent from three-point range this year, the year he stopped practicing them.

"I was putting too much pressure on myself," he said. "[Now], I just let the threes come to me and take the threes. I feel like before I was trying to go out and take threes and please people wanting me to be a three-point shooter."

Landry Fields heard his name 37 spots after Turner did on June 24, 2010. While Turner was supposed to be selected second, some were surprised Stanford's Fields was even selected in the second round. But you could find only one of them in the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend and on the All-Rookie First Team: Fields.

Under Mike D'Antoni's offense in New York, the game was easy for someone with Fields' skillset. "I've never been the kind of guy where I need a ton of plays run for me," said Fields, now a glue guy for the Toronto Raptors. "I just try to let the game come to me, pick and choose where I can be most successful. And under that system I was in in New York, it was all about ball movement and you're reading what other guys are doing and that really favored my game. I think that's why I had the kind of success in that system."

Ed Davis, drafted 13th by Toronto that same year, saw that the Sixers' system didn't set Turner up for success straight away. "No. 2 pick, you want that person to come in and change that franchise around," Davis said. "I don't think he had the opportunity to do that his rookie year. They didn't keep the ball in his hands like he was used to, so he had to develop a new role. That was just the difference in college and the NBA."

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Things are different this year, with Iguodala in Denver and the ball in Turner's hands more. The numbers might not have shown tremendous growth in Turner's first two years -- or even now, aside from three-point shooting and minutes -- but he learned lessons in the locker room. Turner saw how criticism drained Iguodala, how his teammate and mentor made the All-Star team and All-Defensive Team and it wasn't seen as enough -- not with his contract. He vowed to not let those on the outside get inside his head.

"It's a marathon, not a sprint," he said. "Never lose faith in yourself because at the end of the day that's all you've got is yourself."

Before going up against Turner's Sixers for the third time this season, Davis said he has noticed a change.

"I see he's more confident and he's having more fun out there," he said. "I thought his rookie year, he was kind of more like, ‘Oh, man, I don't know if I'm liking this right now, especially with the pressure.'"

Now, Turner's making threes, but not making concessions. He's playing better, not playing into preconceived notions of what type of player he has to be.

"I've never been a three-point shooter," he said. "I don't ever want to be labeled as a three-point shooter at all because you're disposable. I've played with tons of ‘three-point shooters' who couldn't make threes [and] might not play for weeks or months. And that's only one part of the game. They couldn't guard, they couldn't pass, they couldn't dribble, they couldn't defend. I can do all that, fortunately enough."

To be clear, Turner's not mad, he's just more mature. He's not saying he's never rushed to label anyone, to judge anyone against an arbitrary notion of how things are supposed to be. "We've all made that mistake," he said. "It's ignorant, if anything."

Philadelphia head coach Doug Collins has repeatedly referred to Turner as "ultra-competitive", "emotional" and "hard on himself". The challenge, Collins has said, is to keep him calm when things aren't going his way. Turner is keenly aware of this. He knows he can't be casual, won't be perfect and must be patient.

"My patience is coming," Turner said. "At the same time, I think what makes me who I am is wanting it more. I could be too laid back and that could hurt me the same. I think the most important thing is finding a balance. Growing up and becoming a man and playing in a sports atmosphere is finding balance and understanding sometimes you're going to have good moments, sometimes you're going to have bad moments."

The perception is that premium prospects are the most prepared for the pros, but Turner's story shows something: pressure can be paralyzing.

"When you try to please people, you end up just running yourself into a wall," said Turner.

For Turner, it's about running as hard as you can, but not running into walls. Most importantly, it's about running the best route for you, ignoring those trying to dictate your destination.

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