Myles Turner patrols the paint better than anyone else in the league. The Indiana Pacers’ big man leads the NBA in shot blocking, oftentimes turning away opponents at the rim like they’re trying to sneak into a bar with a fake ID. He is the lynchpin of the Indiana Pacers defense, and while he’s a kind, smiling face off the court (and, let’s face it, on it from time to time), his shot blocking brings a ferocity that cannot be taught.
Now in year six, Turner’s shot blocking and ability to hit triples gives him a unique skill set. But beyond those two things, the 25-year-old big man is proud of his development into a more complete player on both ends of the floor, and even in the midst of his name constantly popping up in trade rumors, the Pacers have ultimately always kept him, realizing that his value to the team would be difficult to replace.
Turner, who’s teaming up with Mountain Dew to give fans a chance to design a pair of sneakers he’ll wear during a game, sat down with Dime recently to discuss the art of shot blocking, the Pacers’ season, the wonderfully annoying defense of TJ McConnell, and that time a fan demanded $100 on Venmo and he turned it into a huge fundraiser.
You’re a guy who interests me because I feel like you’ve been described as a great “modern” center because you can shoot, but everything always comes back to what you do on the defensive end of the floor. Looking back from when you first came into the league, what’s the main way you feel like you’ve grown on that end?
On the defensive end, I think I came in as a shot blocker but I’ve always been able to block shots. I feel I’ve grown my defensive game so much more as far as getting better in the pick-and-role, being able to guard guards on the perimeter now, getting better at my help-side rotation, all stuff that I had to learn over time. I just relied on my natural instincts coming into the league, but after watching film, having experience, I’ve got better at patrolling the paint, as you will.
I went back and I looked at your numbers from when you were Texas. College numbers are always going to be crazy, but your numbers this year — blocks per game, block percentage, that sort of stuff — it’s not far off. What has led to your play on that and going from someone who’s very, very, very good, to now, you’re right there in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion?
Well, a couple tweaks in our defense. That’s one thing, I think we play a different style of defense than we have in the past. Our new head coach and his system … is that Mountain Dew, I see?
[laughs] No, this is seltzer.
Ah, ok, never mind.
Anyway, I probably think that was me just making a jump in my in my mentality and getting better at what I do. And then just having fun, just getting back to have more fun out there, just bounce around and take a lot more pride in what I do.
So can you expand on the having fun element of it? Blocking shots and just playing defense in general seems like it is a very fun thing. But what has led to you having a more fun on that end of the floor this year?
Just taking a little pride in what I do. Like I said, I’ve led the league in blocks before. I’ve already shown that I can do that. I want to show more elements of my game this year and show what else I’m capable of. And I think the fun also came from the fact that, you know, I think I’ve gained more respect or gotten respect around this league as someone who does influence the game, who is one of the better defensive players. So knowing that I have that target on my back night in and night out, that’s kind of what else would have been what motivates me as well. So I think the fun of it is just knowing that I change games.
It’s funny you say it because I wanted to ask about your reputation. It’s not a stretch to say you’re known for being a very good defensive player, do you find that other guys know this and they either show you respect by going, “Oh, damn, Myles is there, I’m pulling it out, I don’t want to test him,” or kind of the other side of it, they become a little bit more eager, they go, “I want to go at that dude, and I want to test him.”
It’s few and far between. I think some people really take it upon themselves to come in there and challenge me, some teams, definitely put in the scout reports that we got to change up our plan of attack when we’re attacking the paint. I think that has to do with a lot of different things, but it’s just a very case by case sort of thing.
Which one gets you more fired up? When you see someone come and then back out, or when it’s someone who … you have to be on your game, someone’s gonna come and test you, and you have to be there to answer it.
Yeah, definitely gonna test it. I want to step up to that challenge, I enjoy being challenged at the rim, I enjoy being challenged in the paint. It gives me my sense of worth, and this is my job to do that. So yeah.
I want to ask about the art of blocking shots. How much of it is working on being good, you’re putting in the practice watching film, knowing what other guys are going to do? And how much of it is just having that inherent sense of, right now is the time I have to go if I want to be able to get this done?
I’m a big proponent of the fact that you can’t necessarily teach shot blocking, you have it or you don’t. I think that you can try and watch all the film you want, are you can try and work on it in drills, but shot blocking is an instinct, and not everybody has it. I think it’s something that I’ve always had, something that I’ve tried to grow upon, but something that’s, I think, gonna take me very far. So that’s not gonna leave me, you have it or you don’t.
While we’re talking about Indiana Pacers who are really good at playing defense, I got to ask about TJ McConnell. I say lovingly, he has to be one of the biggest pests in the entire league. What does he bring you guys when he’s out there just annoying the hell out of everyone on the other team?
Well, he’s one of those guys that you love him if he’s on your team, but you hate him if he’s not. Even in practice, he’s on the other team, it gets annoying in a sense, because that’s just the way he plays. He’s found his niche in this league. And I have a lot of respect for TJ McConnell because he’s gonna bring that every night. It’s not just something he does on national TV games or something, it’s a playoff game, no. He brings it every single game, every single night. That’s who he is as a player. And sometimes we don’t have it, he has a steal, or he hypes the team up, or he gets himself going, and then we find a way to get it. I got a lot of respect for him, he’s one of my favorite teammates, just because of the way he plays and his approach to the game.
Broadly, I’d love your thoughts on the season. Where have you been happy with the Pacers’ play? Where do you want to see some improvement heading into the final months of the season?
Well, I think that we do a great job of coming out of the gates, but we don’t necessarily do a great job of finishing games very well. And that’s something I think we’ve got to get better at coming down the stretch, but especially into the playoffs where that’s the most important aspect. I think we’ve been really resilient on the road, but we haven’t been able to take care of a lot of our home games. And that’s something that we’re not, especially here in Indiana, we’re not accustomed to. We’re accustomed to having a winning record here at home, something that we definitely need to improve upon. And as a whole, I think we just haven’t been healthy. We’re finally starting to get some guys back. We’ve added Caris and we’re trying to, we’re finally trying to get our full roster together. So I think that the sky’s the limit.
So what do you have going on with Mountain Dew?
Man, I’m glad you asked! So Mountain Dew, there’s a number of things going on here. My biggest thing with Mountain Dew right now is giving fans a chance to interact with me, you know, post-COVID. Here in the past with Mountain Dew, something that I’ve done here in the Indianapolis community, is you have a lot of events around the city or postgame events where I have hundreds of fans able to come in here, have fun with me, and then do a number of things.
So I’m giving the fans a chance to create a shoe for me. And it’s not a shoe that I’m gonna put up somewhere, or put up in my house, I’m actually gonna wear this on the court — I might wear it in the playoffs, I might wear it down the road. And from March 24 to April 7, fans can submit their own designs of shoes to DewKickItOnTheCourt.com, and I want to see everybody’s designs, so use the hashtag KickItOnTheCourt, and I’ll be able to see it. And I’m also partnering with with Sierato, he’s a pretty renowned shoe designer on Instagram, and the winning fans have a chance to sit down with me and him and discuss the design elements, so I think it’s something that’ll be pretty cool, something that I’m looking forward to here in the next couple of days. I love artwork, and I want to see what people come up with here. So, it’s gonna be fun.
Are there any pointers and tips you want to pass along to fans who are going to be designing this? Is there anything specifically you would like to see in these?
I love originality, that’s literally all I care about. I don’t care about color schemes, I don’t care about … everybody knows I love certain movies and certain brands, I don’t care about any of that. I just want to see originality.
I need to ask about the Venmo stuff from a few weeks back. When did it dawn on you that you could take this from a very weird thing that happened and turn it into something really positive for your community?
It’s funny man, as an NBA player, it’s my sixth year now, I get hate messages and death threats and all this stuff all the time after games, it’s something I’ve grown accustomed to. Some of them might intimidate some people who aren’t used to it.
So one day and I saw this guy requested a penny for my performance — it was a Chicago overtime game, we ended up losing the game. He requested money for the way I played. So … no, he requested $100 for the way I played. And on the contrary, I sent him a penny, said here’s a penny for your thoughts. And he decided to post that on Twitter and it got legs, people started sending me penny after penny after penny after penny, and after like three or four hours, I ended up getting like $200 from pennies, so that’s thousands of fans that were sending me pennies and dollars here and there. And it just dawned on me that I can turn this into something positive and in the age of anti-bullying and all this cyberbullying kind of stuff that’s going, it was a great way for me to raise awareness to that and also help out my community at the same time. So it’s been something that worked out very well for me in the end.