Whether you're at the gym playing pickup or on the national stage at the NBA Draft, no one likes to get passed up when teams are picking players. But rejection, in the long run, can have its benefits.
Just ask Myles Turner, who fell to the Indiana Pacers at No. 11 in the 2015 NBA Draft. Now, he's a key contributor on a potential playoff team. Turner's story is phenomenal, but the fact he slipped should serve as an example of how important a prospect's college situation is when assessing their potential.
As the No. 5 high school recruit in the country, Turner passed on other elite programs to stay home and go to Texas. His choice made sense, since Rick Barnes finally appeared to have a roster that could beat Kansas for the first time in years. But then sophomore guard Isaiah Taylor got hurt early on and Barnes never figured out how most effectively to use his freshman star.
Turner averaged only 10.1 points and 6.5 rebounds in just over 22 minutes per game, which dragged down his draft stock. NBA teams that passed on him failed to realize that his struggles were largely due to him sharing the floor with ball-dominant guards that couldn't shoot and other big men that clogged the lane.
Turner was put in a position that highlighted his weaknesses, not his strengths. He played only about 20 percent of his possessions as the long big man alongside the only true shooting forward on the roster, Jonathan Holmes. When Turner and Holmes shared the court up front, the Longhorns outscored their opponents by an extraordinary 26 points per 100 possessions, per HoopLens.com.
But those opportunities were slim because the Longhorns had other quality big men in juniors Cameron Ridley and Connor Lammert. They gobbled up most of the minutes because of their seniority. When Turner did play, he wasn't put in advantageous situations.
That clouded the picture for Turner, and ultimately hurt him in the eyes of NBA teams. Teams asked themselves a simple question: if he couldn't dominate in college, how would he survive in the pros? As a raw teenager, would he ever get to the point he'd carve out minutes on a veteran team?
Nobody is asking that question now. Turner has already fought his way into the Pacers' starting lineup, where he's provided desperately needed shooting, rim protection and athleticism for a quality team that's trying to win now. In 18 starts, he's averaging 12 points and nearly seven rebounds per game.
This goes to show just how much context matters when scouting prospects.
In an alternative universe, maybe Turner chose Duke and Jahlil Okafor went elsewhere. Maybe Duke would've been even better with Turner patrolling the paint instead of Okafor. Maybe Turner would've benefited from the spacing provided by Justise Winslow and Duke's talented perimeter players. If that happens, he would've been a slam-dunk top-five pick at worst. Turner can play inside and out, but he rarely, if ever, got the space to go to work down low at Texas. He was instead relegated to standing on the perimeter to space the floor, since no one else on the roster could.
That's all theoretical, of course. The reality is Turner went to Texas, they underachieved, Barnes was fired and Turner slipped to the Pacers. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Turner and the Pacers.
But there's a lesson for teams to learn as they make draft decisions going forward. This season, it applies to Kentucky's Skal Labissiere. Though Labissiere was given opportunities he squandered, he plays for a coach in John Calipari whose aggressive, vocal style might be too much for the young Haitian refugee to handle mentally. Labissiere's background suggests he'd fare better with a coach that can allow him to play through his mistakes.
Labissiere's struggles don't help, just like Turner's awkward running motion played a factor in his drop last year. But in both cases, the player's situation negatively impacts their draft stock more than anything else. NBA teams would be wise if they take that into account when assessing Labissiere, an intriguing, rare big man that can stretch the floor, play on the low block and protect the rim.
That sounds a lot like the player Pacers fans are falling in love with right now. Turner is having one of the best shot blocking seasons for a teenager over the last 20 years. If he finishes the year with a block percentage of over five, he'll become just the ninth player to do so in NBA history.
Turner still has plenty to learn as a team defender, but he's just 19, so these errors are forgivable. With an enormous wingspan and good lateral quickness, Turner only needs experience to be one of the league's best rim protectors.
Rookie big men like Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis understandably get more hype than Turner since they put up bigger numbers. Turner cannot touch Towns, who is an emerging transcendent star, but he may end up besting everyone else in the future. Okafor's style of play is a relic -- he can't stretch the floor and also doesn't play a lick of defense. Turner is similar to Porzingis, in that both are shot-blocker that can also shoot threes, but he might be better in the end.
Those threes aren't there yet -- Turner's only attempted eight all season -- but they will come someday. Turner already makes nearly 49 percent of his spot-up two-point jumpers from more than 16 feet, per NBA Savant. That's one of the most accurate percentages in the league. It's only a matter of time before he extends his range.
Best of all, Turner is doing this for a winning team that had incentive to bring him along slowly. He's broken through at such a young age even though a lot more is at stake for the Pacers. None of the other premier rookie big men can say that.
But it doesn't always work out this well for elite high school prospects that are misused in college. Keep that in mind the next time a player like Turner comes around.