By MICHAEL MAROT
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Myles Turner embraces his new role with the Indiana Pacers . This is now his team.
The veterans around him believe the 21-year-old Turner is ready, willing and more than capable of becoming the long-term face of the franchise even at his young age.
“He’s got time,” point guard Darren Collison said. “But he’s got the mindset ‘I can pretty much do it’ and that’s not a bad thing. I think he’s going to be great and I think it’s great for this franchise to build around him.”
Turner spent his first two NBA seasons demonstrating why he was such a prized draft pick in 2015. Despite taking on a secondary role behind Paul George and George Hill and later George and Jeff Teague, the 6-foot-11 Turner managed to earn a starting job midway through his rookie season and finished the season averaging 10.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. He made the league’s all-rookie second team.
Last season, as an established starter, Turner’s numbers improved to 14.5 points and 7.3 rebounds, he was second in the league in blocks (172) and saw a slight dip in fouls per minute.
All are promising indications Turner could be on the verge of a breakout season. And when president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard was forced into dealing George, Turner became the logical cornerstone in a major rebuilding project. He’s eager to get started.
“For me, it’s important to step up into that leadership role,” Turner said.
He will have help making the transition.
Former Indiana University star Victor Oladipo, the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft, returns to his adopted home state. After being acquired from Oklahoma City in the George deal, Oladipo will be asked to do more than just provide a second option. Pritchard thinks Oladipo can become an All-Star.
Forward Thaddeus Young anticipates playing a more significant role on the court and acknowledged he’s willing to help Turner thrive in his new role, too. Collison takes over at point guard in his second stint in Indiana and the Pacers are hoping Bojan Bogdanovic can help them stretch the floor.
In the Eastern Conference, it’s a combination Turner believes will be good enough to make the playoffs. Turner’s teammates expect nothing less from their new leader.
“I think he didn’t really have to be the man before,” Collison said. “Now, I think he’s more confident and comfortable to lead his team and he seems like he wants to lead this team.”
Here are some other things to watch this season:
If Turner is the top option, Oladipo is a clear No. 2. The 6-foot-4 guard played a huge part in the Hoosiers’ resurgence with his energetic style and his penchant for playing defense. That will make him an instant fan favorite. Bur the Pacers think he can do even more for them.
“He’s very dynamic,” Young said. “He can guard the basketball and he can score. He has a chance to be an All-Star in this league and brings a very different dynamic to this team.”
Pritchard did more than revamp the starting lineup. He’s also strengthened the bench. Talented point guard Cory Joseph, 2016 first-round draft pick Domantas Sabonis and former starter Lance Stephenson will all start the season on the bench. In all, the Pacers have seven first round draft picks on the roster, five of whom were top-20 picks.
First-round pick T.J. Leaf should get quality minutes this season and should become a solid scorer once he gets acclimated to the league. It’s unclear exactly where the other two draft picks - center Ike Anigbogu and guard Edmond Sumner - fit in. But getting all three to become productive players this year would add depth and give coach Nate McMillan even more options than he had last season.
With only six players left from last season’s roster, McMillan knows he must be patient. It doesn’t mean he’s willing to lower the expectations.
“We’re in the business of winning and that’s what we’re focusing on,” McMillan said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty as a group and our style of play and all that. But we’re in the business of winning.”