Evan Turner was never supposed to struggle like this. Selected with the second pick in the 2010 draft, Turner was considered to be a sure thing.
He lit college basketball on fire as a 21-year-old junior at Ohio State, displaying the sort of full-fledged offensive arsenal that drew comparisons to Brandon Roy and Grant Hill. Turner was a stout 6'7 guard who could act as a team's primary playmaker. He could handle the ball, pass it, finish inside and hit threes. To boot, he averaged over nine rebounds per game his final year in Columbus.
These weren't empty stats, either. Turner almost single-handedly destroyed the field in the Buckeyes' run to becoming champions of the Big 10 conference tournament. In the first round, Turner hit a 37-foot buzzer-beater to shock Michigan that survives as the most memorable play of his career. He dropped 31 points on Illinois in the next round, including 12 in overtime. In the title game, he scored 31 again against Minnesota.
The 76ers essentially had three players to choose from after the Wizards selected John Wall with the first pick in 2010. They could swing for the fences with DeMarcus Cousins or Derrick Favors, talented-but-raw freshman big men ... or try to hit a double with Turner. For a franchise in desperate need of a solid, near All-Star level contributor, Philadelphia chose to play it safe.
Three years later, Turner's progress might not even amount to a single, let alone a double. Entering his fourth year, Turner has a career PER of 11.9. He's still something of a jack-of-all-trades, but he's also a master of none.
With franchise hopes resting squarely on his shoulders last season, his first year as an entrenched starter, Turner mostly proved himself to an inefficient scorer. He took more shots from 16-23 feet than anywhere else on the court and connected on just 36 percent of those attempts, per HoopData.com. While his 36.5 percent mark from three-point range was a career-high, his shot from deep was maddeningly inconsistent. In March, Turner went 0-for-13 from three-point range in 11 games.
Now Turner and forward Thaddeus Young are the only pieces remaining from Philadelphia's overnight offseason rebuild. The 76ers didn't ship away 22-year-old All-Star guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans because they wanted to give Turner more responsibility. No, the team is hoping to bottom out entirely as a method of finding its way to one of several purported franchise-altering talents available at the top of the 2014 draft.
Turner was once thought to be that type of prospect just three seasons ago. As he enters his fourth year, however, Turner isn't only playing for his next contract on an expiring deal, but also for his reputation. Right now, he is, to a certain extent, a draft bust.
Fortunately for Turner, time is still on his side. He'll be 25 this season; old compared to his draft peers but still young for an NBA player. With Holiday out and now surrounded by a cast that was never trying to compete in the first place, Turner will essentially be working with a blank canvas. The floor will be his own and he can do with it whatever he chooses.
Basketball is a team game, of course, but the 76ers' situation will place a heavy emphasis on him individually. This is likely Turner's last chance in Philadelphia, his last opportunity to win over the same fans who have largely turned against him.
Pressure bursts pipes, but it can also turn a young player into a veteran in a hurry. Rookie Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten, a second round pick in 2012, are projected to get most of the minutes at point guard, meaning Turner should have the chance to showcase his ability as facilitator that once made him so intriguing out of college. The lack of talent around him could kill Turner's assist numbers, but no one is expecting Philadelphia to score much anyway.
As long as Turner improves his efficiency, shows ball handling and playmaking skills and continues to be a sound defender and rebounder, there should be another contract waiting for him somewhere.
And if Turner finally fully turns a corner in year four? The 76ers' rebuilding plan will have received an extra jolt from a player they've always been counting on anyway.