At 24-12, the Pacers are even better defensively than the team that forced LeBron James to seven games in the first round last season.
J. Michael, IndyStar
INDIANAPOLIS — There are two spots on the floor that Myles Turner tends to avoid, and both produce the highest-percentage 3-pointers.
The right and left corners.
Turner, a 6-11 center who has been a reluctant shooter from distance, jumped in with both feet in setting season-highs in takes and makes by going 4-for-6 from 3 in a Dec. 12 rout of the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s a signature win a month full of them for the Pacers, who close 2018 vs. the Atlanta Hawks on Monday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“I looked at something this summer. I shoot the worst from the corners,” said Turner, who made his first looks from the left and right sides in beating the Bucks after attempting — and missing — his only corner attempt in the first month-and-a-half of the season. “I didn’t realize I shoot so bad from the corners. It’s supposed to be the easiest 3.”
>> Turner only shot 4-for-14 on corner 3s, or 28.5 percent, last season but was 52-for-142, 36.6 percent, everywhere else outside the arc.
>> In 2016-17, Turner shot 2-for-14 from the corners, or 14.2 percent. He was 38 percent shooting 3s above the break at 38-for-100.
While Turner doesn’t want to camp out around the arc, being able to knock down the occasional 3 opens the offense. His recent surge has improved his overall 3-point accuracy to 35 percent, a major bump after he was 7-for-31, or 22.5 percent, through Nov. 30. Most of the time, those shots will be wide open since Turner goes uncovered there.
“Coach encourages me to take smart 3s, not just jacking them up there,” Turner said. “If it’s open, I’m going to shoot it.”
So why is Turner’s modest 3-point output important? It’s an indicator in a much bigger picture, adding variety to an offense that had looked stale. The Pacers remain efficient shooting the 3 (37.1 percent, fifth in NBA) but economical in their attempts (25 per game, 28th).
Still, they have a four-game win streak while averaging 118 points. Turner has shot 28-for-50 overall in this stretch. He only has taken eight 3s, making three (37.5 percent). He’s also making the foul line jumper that’s readily available to him off ball screens.
“Ball movement. Ball movement. Ball movement,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said in explaining why the shots are coming available now when they weren’t during a 13-9 start. “We weren’t moving the ball. It’s no magic to it. Space the floor and guys are open, you move the ball.”
It wasn’t until the Pacers met the Hawks on Nov. 17 that Turner made more than one 3 in a game. In Indiana’s 15 previous games, he didn’t make a 3 in 12 of them.
The Pacers (24-12) don’t have bigs who are a threat to spread the floor. That’s not the strength of Thad Young or Domantas Sabonis. When Turner makes the shot, they can achieve that while keeping size and their best rim protector on the floor in crunch time.
Defenses are going to load up on stopping Victor Oladipo, or Bojan Bogdanovic at the arc. That leaves Turner free.
In a comeback win at the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 14, Turner was 2-for-2 on 3s with both coming at crucial moments. The second was from the corner while he spaced on the weak side. Oladipo received a ballscreen from Young, turned the corner into the lane and forced a rotation from Joel Embiid. Turner was alone for the catch-and-shoot.
“It’s getting better,” Turner said of his 3. “I’ve been shooting a little bit more now, getting reps up beforehand. I’ve always been confident in my 3-point shot. It wasn’t falling at the beginning of the season but I’m sticking with it. There’s going to be nights when I hit, nights when I don’t. That doesn’t mean I can shy away from it.”
Oladipo was held to 12 and 14 points in beating the Bucks and Sixers. In the Pacers’ last three wins, he has scored just 12, 16 and seven. Also, Indiana had seven, eight and seven players reach double figures in those games.
“A lot of times we were getting one pass and a shot, ” McMillan said of his team’s low-octane offense early on. “A lot of our guys, they want touches. Sometimes you get caught up in situations where they haven’t touched the ball so I’m going to shoot it.”
Only recently did Tyreke Evans refrain from dominating the ball when he comes off the bench. Darren Collison’s aggressive streak, not picking up his dribble too soon when initiating the offense, has helped. Cory Joseph has been the most consistent guard by creating a pressure offense with his constant movement off the ball and pushing tempo with it.
Oladipo, who has yet to hit his full stride since returning from an 11-game absence because of a sore right knee, doesn’t have to do everything.
The Pacers have developed more options.