(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The narrative surrounding the trade which brought Hedo Turkoglu back to the Orlando Magic held that Orlando, which let Turkoglu leave in free agency following its defeat in the 2009 NBA Finals, realized it had made a mistake in not retaining him, a mistake it hoped to rectify by re-acquiring the veteran forward, along with Jason Richardson and Earl Clark, from the Phoenix Suns. That's not entirely true--the Magic wanted Richardson, and the Suns agreed to part with him if Orlando agreed to take on Turkoglu's outsized contract--but it made for a nice story. After all, Turkoglu enjoyed the best year of his career in Orlando just three seasons prior, a season in which he won the league's Most Improved Player award and stood as the biggest All-Star snub, at least according to TNT analyst Charles Barkley.
Turkoglu turned 32 in March, and his skills have declined in age, even though very little of his game is based on athleticism. His role didn't change from its previous iterations in coach Stan Van Gundy's offense, as he served as a secondary ballhandler who created matchup problems at 6-foot-10, particularly when running pick-and-roll with Dwight Howard. No, instead what changed is the extent of his involvement in the offense. His usage rate dipped from a high of 17.8 in his MIP season to 13.5 this go-round, which masked how well he played at times.
The key phrase there is "at times," because Turkoglu was as maddeningly inconsistent as ever.
|Points Per Game||Rebounds Per Game||Assists Per Game|
|Points Per 36||Rebounds Per 36||Assists Per 36|
|PER||Rebound Rate||Assist Rate|
All statistics in this table from Turkoglu's player page at basketball-reference. Career-high statistics highlighted in gold; career-worst statistics highlighted in silver.
Turkoglu can be a fun player to watch, what with his uncommonly good passing skills and impossible fadeaway jumpers, heaved from his chest, as though he's an 8-year-old trying to shoot a regulation ball on a 10-foot hoop for the first time.
He can also drive you to pull your hair out with some of his decision-making, and I'm not really talking about his passes here. Van Gundy lamented Turkoglu's shot-selection soon after his return, and never did really get Turkoglu to curb his bad habits. Van Gundy explained the issue thusly after a playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks:
"Right now, I have not been able to get Turk to shoot the ball when he's open," Van Gundy added later. "I can't get him to do that. I think he fairly consistently passes up very good shots to take very tough shots, which is what he did at the end, too."
Apart from the reluctance to take good shots--which, in turn, prompted Turkoglu to take bad ones--he actually enjoyed a solid return to Orlando, all things considered. It comes down to passing: nobody on Planet Earth has ever delivered the ball to Howard in better position than Turkoglu has in his career, be it on the pick-and-roll, a lob pass, or a simple post-entry feed. He and Howard complement each other well.
The brilliant passing doesn't limit itself to Howard, as the pick-and-roll between the two men also produces good looks for their teammates, particularly whichever power forward happens to share the court with them. Brandon Bass flashes to the open mid-range space created when his defender sags to help on Howard, while Ryan Anderson can scoot out to the three-point line. That high pick-and-roll is the Magic's bread-and-butter play, and it works so well in part due to Turkoglu's proficiency in running it. Indeed, Turkoglu's passes out of the pick-and-roll produced 1.295 points per possession and led to scores 54.8 percent of the time. Both those figures rank first in the league among players who made 150 such passes this season, according to Synergy Sports Technology. One can make a pretty compelling argument that Turkoglu, not Jameer Nelson or Gilbert Arenas, is Orlando's best passer.
There's also the shooting. Quietly, Turk led the three-point-driven Magic in three-point shooting this season, connecting on 40.4 percent of his 3.8 triple attempts per game. That sort of perimeter marksmanship makes his free-throw-shooting woes all the more bizarre, as he shot just 66.7 percent on freebies with Orlando this season; previously, he had shot no worse than 70.8 percent on foul shots in his career.
If all Turkoglu did, in terms of shooting, was take threes, he'd have had a brilliant year. But his poor decision-making inside the arc, plus his shoddy foul shooting, costs him in our evaluation. There's also the matter of his inconsistency, as he often struggled to string more than two or three good games together before turning in a 3-for-14 stinker or two. Finally, we can't forget his miserable playoffs against Atlanta (9.2 points per game on 37.1 percent True Shooting), however much we'd like to.
If Turkoglu maintains his three-point accuracy, picks his shots more judiciously, and bounces back at the foul line, he'll continue to be a solid starter for Orlando. Not worth the more than $30 million he's still owed, but solid enough. Because of his overlooked playmaking, I'm less down on Turkoglu than most other folks are, I gather.