The 2019-20 season has been an up-and-down one for the Indiana Pacers as a team and center Myles Turner individually, as he dealt with an ankle injury early in the season and has needed to find his niche on a new-look Pacers team.
The growing pains have been there as a whole, with new players like Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. Warren taking on bigger roles and the recent return of former All-Star Victor Oladipo. The Pacers are just 2-6 since Oladipo returned, but picked up a much-needed win over the Bucks in their final game before the break, one Turner notes was big for morale. The good news for Indiana is they have a pretty tight grasp on the 6-seed in the East despite their recent skid, with a six-game lead on the Nets in seventh, and as such they have time to work through their second major adjustment period of the season.
Over the All-Star break, Dime sat down with Myles Turner at the MTN DEW Courtside Studios in Chicago to discuss that adjustment period, how he’s had to adapt his game on a near annual basis to the needs of the Pacers, and what it means to be an elite defender and not just a shot blocker.
Something that’s interesting with you is every year I feel like you’ve had to adapt to a different role with the Pacers. There’s obviously challenges to that, but do you look at it as an opportunity to constantly work on your game and expand what you’re able to do on the floor and add different facets to it?
I think more than anything with the past four, five years I have experience to where no matter what situation I’m in I’m able to adapt. So that’s been great for me as well, and then at the end of the day I’m all about winning. Whatever it takes for the team to win, that’s what I’m going to do and what I’ve always been about. That’s what we’ve done the past few years. We haven’t missed the playoffs yet and we still obviously want to push that first round envelope out of the way, but I don’t have any complaints, man, I think I’m in a good place.
What is it about this team that, it seems like no matter what, the pieces that move around, what Nate McMillan has done in getting y’all comfortable in a system and comfortable with what you’re doing. It seems like there’s a trust in whatever y’all are doing is going to work no matter what guys are in and out of the lineup.
Well this year’s team is different from ones we’ve had in the past. If you look at this year’s team, we have seven, eight guys that are scoring in double figures. So, in the past we’ve had a lot of role players and guys that might be capable of scoring, but they fell into a role. Now, everyone can score and there’s only one ball to go around, so we had to figure that out in the first 20 games or so. Then you add Vic as an All-Star right back into it, so that’s an adjustment, and that’s what we’ve been going through the last couple weeks is just the adjustment period of getting to where we want to be. Every team goes through it at some point in the season, but for us as a whole it’s something that’s a little bit of growing pains but we’re fine, man. We’re gonna be alright.
Yeah, you play half a season and then you get Vic back and that changes the dynamic. With the win over the Bucks coming into the break, was that kind of a nice plot point to say, “OK we can do this against the best teams and this is some proof we’re making the right strides”?
Mmhmm. A lot of people look at that win and say, “Oh they didn’t have Giannis,” but at the end of the day that’s the number one team in the league, that’s an NBA team, and it was a much-needed morale win. I think it just boosted the morale of us in the locker room and gave us some good momentum going into the break, and I think it was just something where after six games, man, it doesn’t matter who that win’s against, it’s just great to have that feeling again.
For you personally, what’s something you’re really proud of from your growth as a player from when you came into the league to now? Something you’ve put into your game and put work in that you’re really proud of adding to it.
On the defensive side of the game is something I’ve always taken pride in. I’ve always been able to block shots but I think over the years I’ve learned adjustments on the fly. My pick-and-roll coverage is better. My help-side defense is better, playing the four some I’m having to not just stay on the post but having to move around and switching on the perimeter and on-ball defense switches. So overall I think my defensive game has just been elevated year in and year out.
I covered Josh Smith for a while in Atlanta and something I talked about with him was when he was young, he was bouncy and tried to block everything. What’s the mental side of learning to pick your spots when you do have the ability to block so many shots — learning how to pick your spots so you don’t get out of place in other moments is something he had to learn that made him a better overall defender.
It’s a couple things that go to that. As a shot blocker, obviously you want to send a message. Sometimes you want to swat the ball out of bounds, but at the same time, something I think I’ve done a lot better at, is blocking the ball and starting the break for us. And if you try to block everything, if a guard goes up and you try to block it, you’re leaving your man exposed on the weakside, so you’ve got another 7-footer over there that has an easy putback or dunk or a dish-off. And the last thing, you have to be in help-side earlier. You can’t just try to rush and jump with guys like Russell Westbrook and Donovan Mitchell, those guys that have long launching pads, you gotta be in the help positions earlier to beat them to that spot. I think that as the years go by and you get more experience, you learn those things on the fly.
Finally, what do you feel is next for you in your game and what are you now in the lab and working on to hopefully bring out soon?
Well, definitely want to be Defensive Player of the Year. That’s something I want to work for year in and year out and is something I’m going to keep pushing the envelope on. And offensively, it’s just touching up my shot. I think that I’m an efficient outside shooter and an efficient shooter in general, and it’s just being able to have that crisp at all times.