This piece was originally published in Dime #70. Check it out in its entirety on newsstands nationwide…
A recurring theme of this issue is the weight of great expectations. After being the second overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, the Sixers’ Evan Turner is all-too familiar with the pressures that come with great expectations.
After a turbulent two seasons in the League, it appears as though Turner is finally on the verge of his own breakout. Down the stretch of the Sixers’ surprising run in this year’s playoffs, Turner found himself in Philly’s starting lineup, leading the charge and taking the Boston Celtics to a hard-fought 7th game in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. His minutes (34.5), points (11.2) and rebounds (7.5) all took a major jump in the playoffs, and he is now poised to do big things in 2012-13.
I caught up with Evan to discuss how he is working to improve his game, taking command of the Sixers and dealing with his own lofty expectations.
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Dime: We’re catching up as the NBA season is winding down. While the season for the Sixers ended with a Game 7 loss to the Celtics, your season ended with a lot of momentum in your favor. What are you doing now to build for next season?
Evan Turner: Physically, I’m really focused on getting in better shape for next season; I need to be ready for bigger minutes. I need to be at my strongest in the 4th quarter. I have been working out pretty much three times a day, starting at 5:45 a.m.
I need to become more mentally strong as well. I took so much from that series with the Celtics. I really learned from Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in that series. These are guys, champs, and they were just urgent in the fourth quarter of games. If they were tired, you couldn’t tell. My teammates and I need more of that; we need to not show that we’re tired.
Dime: In terms of basketball skill, what have you identified as your weaknesses to target this summer?
ET: I know that I need to get better at finishing strong. I know that I need to get better at using my left hand and attacking left. And I want to be way, way more explosive.
Dime: As part of your rapid evolution in the second half of the season, you consistently found yourself on the court at the end of games. That’s not really foreign territory for you is it?
ET: I grew up finishing big games. I never, ever want to be a guy who doesn’t want to be out there when it counts the most. Check my resume â€“ I want to finish big games. Everybody is built a certain way; some guys want the ball at the end and some guys don’t. I want the ball. And that’s what I’m building towards every day.
The end of my workouts every day â€“ I need for those to be my best moments. So when those final moments come at the end of games, I’m ready. I’ve already been there many times.
Dime: Watching the way things went at the end of the season, I felt like we were watching the Sixers really becoming your team. It is clearly all about you and Jrue Holiday moving forward. Do you agree?
ET: I think you can say that because of the way I stepped up. When it came to the playoffs and the latter part of the season, I showed that I want to be the guy to take that important shot. Before, it was like I didn’t want to step on any toes and I wasn’t always starting games. I felt like I needed to earn that support from my teammates to where I can take those shots. It was all about getting the respect and support from them to put me in a place to succeed.
And before getting to that spot, I had to learn by starting to understand moments, the system, playing team ball. I am still learning.
Dime: It seemed like things really started to take off for you once you started having the ball in your hands a lot more.
ET: Well that’s how I grew up playing. I’m used to playing with the ball in my hands. When I got to the League, it was like, “Go stand in the corner.” Then I’m hearing people say I’m a bust and stuff like that. It was frustrating because I grew up a certain player, and now I had to figure out a new way to do things because you are who you are.
I like to think of that Jay-Z quote: “The world can rush, but I’ll wait to be perfect.” I was looking at my NBA career as a sprint, and now I know it’s a marathon. Everything wants to rush everything, but I’m just not like that. I’ve always been a little slow to warm up. Now I am learning to enjoy myself and know that I am in a marathon.
Dime: I think that every NBA player has a moment or moments when they realize that they can play at this level and succeed in the League. What was that moment for you?
ET: I had a really good game against Phoenix my rookie year. I remember people talking crazy about me saying I couldn’t play in the NBA, and I was just like, “You know what? I’m going to shoot every time I touch it.” I did, and I scored a bunch of points and it was like, “Ok, I can play here.” The trick from there was to figure out how blend that with the team to win games. You have to really learn how to play a game within the game. And you have to really learn how to not care what people say about you. I am much happier now that I don’t care what people say about me.
Dime: Warranted or not, Philly fans have the rep for being really tough on their athletes, especially athletes with great expectations. How has you relationship been with the city?
ET: The fans here are great. I am really enjoying myself. I understand the fans and I understand the idea of tough love. And I respect that the fans aren’t afraid to speak their mind.
There was this one time this past season where I had three straight double-doubles – a really great run for me. And this guy came up to me on the street and went, “Yo, you need to step your game up.” I couldn’t help but laugh because I totally respected the guy for approaching me and speaking his mind, but he clearly wasn’t up on what was going on. He was just going off what he heard other people saying.
Dime: Let’s talk about the future. Where do you see you and your teammates over the next several years?
ET: I want to be a multiple-time All-Star. I want to reach the NBA Finals in the next three years â€“ and I think this team can do it. I want to play for Team USA in the 2016 Olympics. I want Philly to love us like they love the Phillies and the way they loved the Sixers teams of the early ’00’s. We can do it.
How good can Turner become?
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