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It has been an outright disaster watching Turk clumsily and weakly contribute to the demise of this Orlando Magic team’s playoff life. More than that, though, it’s sad. For Magic fans who remember just two seasons ago when the Turkish Michael Jordan posted decent numbers en route to a championship berth, this is just painful.
Somewhere between the summer of 2009 and April of 2011, Hedo fell from grace, and it’s hard to say exactly when that was. While some evidence points to his tenure in Phoenix, it seems that his demise began the moment he was dealt from Orlando in a sign-and-trade.
Turk’s effective field goal percentage at the moment is .332 percent, a far cry from the .481 percentage he posted in the 2009 playoffs. To make matters worse, he’s only hitting 16.7 percent of his shots from three-point range, and is scoring about half as many points per game as he did in 2009 (7.8 versus 15.8) even after recognizing the fact that he’s playing roughly five minutes less per game this time around.
Even his free throw percentage is at an all-time low of 50 percent for the playoffs.
So the real question is “why?” Why the huge drop off? Why the train wreck of a series so far from an individual standpoint? Why is Turk’s PER for the playoffs 5.2 compared to the 13.2 it was in 2009.
A big part of the Turkoglu equation that does not get mentioned enough is the impact of his hiatus in Phoenix. All non-basketball related hardships aside (moving three times in less than two years), Turk became a different player in Phoenix with an entirely different role. The Suns put up with him as more of a spot up, perimeter player. It changed his game, or at least his approach.
Turk was an impact player for the Magic before the sign-and-trade to Toronto. He ran the point, was responsible for seeing the floor, and much of the Dwight-centered offense ended up running through Turkoglu at the top of the key.
Of course, Turk’s output in the 2009 playoffs was not foreseeable by anyone, but the way he commanded the ball on offense, created difficult matchups for opponents, and basically took over in many ways made Orlando a very difficult team to beat.
Turk then used his playoff performance to leverage a bigger contract, which Otis was simply not having. Magic basketball writers sided with Otis at the time of the trade on the basis that Turk’s play was good, but probably not worthy of the type of money he was asking for. In fact, Eddy Rivera pointed out at the time of the trade that Vince Carter might have been a better overall fit for the pick and roll machine. In short, the Magic basketball world was optimistic about acquiring Carter, and not regretful in bidding Hedo goodbye.
Since there are no playoff statistics for Turk during his time in Toronto, we can look at his season stats to see that they were not far off from his 2009 playoff performance in Orlando. His PER was just above 13, and he had an eFG% of .490, though his usage rate dropped from 23.0 percent with the Magic to 18.1 percent. Kind of a wash, though, as the Raptors were not going to do anything, and again, in the summer of 2010, Hedo moved.
This time, it was a vacation to Phoenix.
I call it a vacation not just because guys like Phil Mickelson are from Phoenix, but also because his responsibilities diminished. Alvin Gentry already had his floor general in Steve Nash, so Turk’s role shifted. At arrival, Gentry wanted to use Turk as a secondary floor general, to relieve some the pressure that Nash dealt with.
That never happened, though, and very quickly Turk’s role became something entirely different.
Turk gets over 34 percent of his offense out of the pick and roll in Orlando. While in Phoenix, only about 11 percent of his game was through this design. Instead, he got over 32 percent of his points while spotting up, and over 17 percent in the isolation. Those stats should not misrepresent Alvin Gentry and his system, because, as mentioned before, Turk was supposed to be a facilitator. This begs all kinds of questions, the biggest of which is when exactly Turk started his decline.
Turk got close to 30 percent of his offense in the pick and roll in Toronto, which is why I am focusing more on his stint in Phoenix. Not a ton about Turk’s game changed in Toronto aside from a lower usage rate, although maybe his approach changed when he showed up for camp overweight.
To spell these percentages out—Turk became the recipient in Phoenix instead of the creator. Then he got used to it.
I did not get to watch the FIBA World Championship last summer, but in talking with Michael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns, I found out that Turk’s new role as a spot up shooter had already developed by then (Turk took more three’s than two’s in the tournament). It’s a curious problem, and can probably be linked to the early stages of Turk’s time in Toronto when he began to be utilized less. Either way, I’m careful not to discredit Alvin Gentry or the Suns for Turkoglu’s demise.
Actually, Phoenix enjoyed moments where Turk would get hot and, in the words of Schwartz, act more like “an overpaid three-point shooter.” He was undersized in the post in most of his matchups, and ended up providing decent minutes off the bench as a role player. His shooting percentage was up, though, while he was in Phoenix. But it seems like most of the habits he developed there came with him when he returned to Orlando.
Since returning, adjectives like “indecisive,” “passive,” and “useless” have been thrown around to describe Turk. Maybe that should not be surprising given the nature of his role in Phoenix. So perhaps these habits that developed at some unknown time matured in Phoenix, and now Orlando has the corpse to deal with.
This all brings us to the 2011 playoffs, where Turk has struggled to get anything going offensively, and is driving Magic fans crazy with his lack of productivity. When he shoots, he misses. When he drives, he misses. Nothing good is happening when he touches the ball. Is it not possible that the re-calibration to Stan Van Gundy’s offense might take a bit longer than half a season? Turk looks flat out uncomfortable with the ball in most situations right now. Well, maybe he is uncomfortable. After all, he is plugging back into a system with new players after spending a year doing something entirely different.
This is certainly not an attempt to defend Hedo for his abysmal play, but perhaps a perspective of hope in the future (so long as Dwight stays in Orlando).
There are not a ton of similar stories to compare this with. Turk was traded at his prime, after a solid performance in the 2009 playoffs, did not get worse in Phoenix, but came back to Orlando and has been terrible. Sure, players have fallen from grace upon returning home, but usually because of an injury or old age.
It sort of happened with Jason Williams in Memphis, or Vlade Divac in LA, or even Billy Knight with the Pacers. But these were stories more built on injury, or as in the case of Jason Williams, the fact that that his career was already pretty much over.
So, in a sense, the Hedo demise is a first in the NBA, at the very least because it involves a player who was at his prime when he took a turn for the worse. Maybe in twenty years we will look back and use this as a cautionary tale. Maybe owners will cough up a little more dough for guys like Hedo after playoff performances like he had in 2009. You can’t blame Otis, though. He made the right move in dealing Turk at the time. All you can do is hope Turk will re-acclimate in SVG’s system.
As for this season, well, who knows? I suppose we could see Turk get hot. We did see Gilbert Arenas get hot, after all. There may be some magic left. My guess is that the best thing to do is look forward to the seasons to come. Hedo Turkoglu is still capable being the 2009 version of Hedo Turkoglu. It’s just a bit painful to watch him lethargically morph back from the role-playing monster that Toronto created, and Phoenix empowered.