Since the influx of high schoolers declaring themselves eligible for the draft, and the “one year removed from high school” rule later instituted by the NBA, most of the lottery picks have become a gamble.
You take a chance on a kid that has the right combination of skills and potential. Even if your potential draftee has all the talent you could possibly imagine (i.e. Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard), it’s a risk because you can’t simulate things like transition to the NBA level, in-game experience, and how much they will mature.
Rarely is there a scenario where two top-five players (in terms of talent and skill-set) are three-year college players that may have already shown scouts and GMs their best games. Sure, they might have room to grow when adjusting to the speed and athleticism of the NBA game, but for the most part they would ready to step in and make immediate impacts for their respective teams.
While it’s widely assumed that Turner will be the No. 2 pick behind freshman phenom John Wall, the Sixers have been exploring options. And new coach Doug Collins came away very impressed with a workout from Johnson, even going as far to comparing him to Scottie Pippen.
So who has the edge? Is the versatility of Turner enough to separate himself, or can Johnson’s athleticism and three-point shooting elevate himself into one of the best talents of this year’s crop?
Let’s break this down, USA Today style…
Turner spent his junior year at Ohio State playing point guard, breaking defenses down off the dribble and creating scoring opportunities for guys like William Buford, Jon Diebler, and David Lighty. Even though defenders would sometimes play a foot or two off him to prevent him from getting into the lane, those attempts were futile—when Turner wanted, he was getting inside.
However, his outside shot wasn’t as developed. He only attempted 25 three’s as a sophomore and 55 as a junior. He did connect on 50 percent of his three-point shots in March, but only took 22 shots.
It was a part of his game he didn’t have to worry about. But at the next level, teams will be able to match his athleticism, size, and quickness, so being able to knock down the open three-point ball will be essential for his long-term future.
On the other hand, Johnson was much more effective playing catch-and-shoot from the outside. He knocked down 41.5 percent from deep to lead the Orange starting five after struggling his first two years at Iowa State.
Whether you run him off screens or he’s spotting up on a fast break (where he’s most deadly), Johnson clearly is the purer shooter.
Advantage: Wes Johnson
Maybe the category where these two are most even.
Like his three-point shot, Johnson is adept at scoring from the 15-18 foot range. When closed out on too fast, he’s great at pulling up off one or two dribbles and knocking down jump shots.
Turner got his mid-range points in an almost completely different way. Often times, defenses would play a few feet off him (much like what happened with Rajon Rondo or Derrick Rose in the playoffs) and try to make him a jump shooter.
But unlike Rondo or Rose, Turner is very comfortable taking shots from the foul-line extended area. He also got open pull-up looks when attacking off the dribble, though he appeared more comfortable spotting up.
Still, the icing on Turner’s cake was his ability to consistently knock down mid-range jumpers. While Johnson is a more fluid outside scorer, this is one shooting category where the Villain has his number…if only by a hair.
Advantage: Evan Turner
Ball-Handling/Creating for Others
This one’s pretty easy. Turner made the move from shooting guard to point guard as a junior, and the result was one of the most statistically dominant years in Ohio State history.
He averaged 6.0 assists last year; in Ohio State’s last 20 games, he never had less than five in a game.
Offensively, he had the ball in his hands about 90 percent of the time (a slight exaggeration, but if you watched the Buckeyes play last year, everything revolved around him and every set was ran through him).
Coach Thad Matta trusted him to make the right decisions, and he typically did. Don’t be alarmed by his high turnover rate—when you have the ball in your hands that much, mistakes are going to happen.
A few players in the top 10 in the NBA in turnovers this past year…Steve Nash, LeBron James, Deron Williams, Dwyane Wade, and Rajon Rondo. This isn’t going to hinder his ability in any way.
Look at a guy like Jon Diebler to examine Turner’s impact.
For the season, Diebler (a catch-and-shoot player who, let’s just say, struggled at times to create a shot for himself) shot 42 percent from the three-point line, averaged 13.0 points and took nearly 10 shots per game.
In six games without Turner, Diebler shot 37 percent from the field (36 percent from the three-point line) on only eight shots and put up an average of 10.2 points.
Oh, and Ohio State went 3-3 without Turner. And that record wasn’t as strong as you might think.
The three wins: Presbyterian, Delaware State, Cleveland State.
The three losses: Butler, Wisconsin, Michigan.
While Johnson was the primary scoring option for Syracuse, he rarely had to create for others. Most of his scoring opportunities came off catch-and-shoot situations, one-step jab moves, or lay-ups and dunks inside.
It doesn’t really seem fair to compare them here since they played different positions. But this will be a factor in teams’ assessments.
Advantage: Evan Turner
Johnson is skilled at using his size and length to attack the glass, especially on the offensive end. He’s wiry and lanky and tough to get a body on.
He’s particularly good at sneaking his way down the baseline and camping underneath the rim on shot attempts. From there, he can use his leaping ability to get up and tip shots in or slam them home.
Playing strictly in a zone, he didn’t have assigned box out responsibilities defensively, so it’s tough to predict how that will translate in the NBA.
Even though he played point guard, Turner somehow grabbed 9.2 rebounds a game last year…simply staggering numbers for a guard.
He’s not as good of an offensive rebounder as Johnson, but that was in part due to the fact that he was taking a majority of the shots or setting up his teammates and not getting an opportunity to set up for boards on the weakside.
Defensively, he cleans up the glass very well and is always in good position. From there, he pushed the ball up the floor effortlessly in transition.
They both are strong rebounders in varying ways. But Johnson gets the edge primarily because of his long arms and activity on the offensive glass.
Advantage: Wes Johnson
Lost in all of the fuss over Turner’s dominant statistics last year was his surprisingly effective play on defense.
Fundamentally, he’s very sound in his stance, footwork, and rotation assignments. Since he possesses such a high IQ on the floor, it makes sense that he’d be good on that end.
At times last year Ohio State would play zone simply because they didn’t have the size on the interior to match the opposition (like in the tournament against Georgia Tech and Tennessee). Turner played at both the top of the key and on the wing in the 1-3-1, and was extremely active at each position, jumping into passing lanes frequently.
But he’s not playing zone in the NBA. Because he doesn’t move side to side all that fast, he could find it difficult to keep up with speedy perimeter players.
However, if you pair him up in Philly with Andre Iguodala, they have two versatile defenders who can switch assignments depending on the opponent. He has the size, the length, the will, and the wherewithal to be a great defender.
Much like any Syracuse player, the question with Johnson will be his one-on-one defense. The Orange play 2-3 zone exclusively, and though he did play man-to-man defense at Iowa State, he hasn’t done so in two years.
His athleticism suggests that he should be able to make the transition. But his lack of strength could make it difficult for him against the elite forwards in the NBA. If he’s picked by someone like Sacramento, he’ll be going up against guys like Carmelo Anthony and Durant in the West on a consistent basis.
I’m not buying the Scottie Pippen comparison yet. Both guys could struggle a bit coming out of the gate, but Turner has a proven man-to-man background.
Advantage: Evan Turner
This is my favorite part of analyzing college players—who has that “it” factor, that swagger that will translate into NBA success?
There are so many different ways to break this down. You can look at things like body language, interaction with teammates, coachability (is that a word?), how they react during the final minutes of a close game…the list goes on and on.
Both of these guys are high character players that won’t ruffle feathers in the NBA; they care about team success over individual accolades.
I know I’m biased since I’m an Ohio State grad, but Turner had something last year that no other college player had. He took games over when his team needed him to (see his 32-point performance against Purdue).
He hit clutch shots down the stretch; see his 37-foot three-pointer (it wasn’t a heave, he shot it like he would any other jump shot) in the Big 10 Tournament against Michigan.
He facilitated the offense when he couldn’t buy a bucket (like his 10 rebound, six assist, lockdown defense game at Michigan State…oh by the way, he had the flu as well).
He seized the moment in the final minutes of close games (watch the Big 10 Tournament game against Illinois…he hit so many big shots and got into the lane at will to keep the Illini from building a four or six-point lead and pulling away).
A comparable reflection of the type of careers they could have was when both players’ respective teams lost in the Sweet 16.
Syracuse lost to Butler (who went on to play in the national championship game). The Orange led by four with five minutes to go before self-destructing.
Johnson had 17 points and nine rebounds, but didn’t take a shot in the final 6:30 seconds of the game.
Admittedly, Scoop Jardine and Andy Routins took some bad shots in that stretch early in the shot clock without getting Johnson touches. But as the best player, Johnson needed to take over. He needed to demand the ball and make something good happen…and he didn’t do it, on either offense or defense.
Ohio State was in a back-and-forth battle with Tennessee before the Volunteers took a five-point lead with less than four minutes to go.
Turner lowered his head and got himself to the free throw line to cut the lead to three. A few possessions later after a forced turnover, he set up David Lighty for a go-ahead three.
Trailing by two with less than a minute to go, he came up court, squared his shoulders and buried a three-pointer to give Ohio State a one-point lead. Down by three, he had the last two attempts to tie the game and couldn’t connect.
But he went down firing. He left his impact on the game and wasn’t going to leave the floor thinking, “what else could I have done?”
Thirty-one points, seven rebounds, five assists…and it doesn’t begin to describe the significance of his performance. Give me that guy any day.
Advantage: Evan Turner
So there you have it. When you break it down, Turner gets the edge over Johnson because of his ability to create for others, defensive awareness, and the intangible part of his games.
Both players are relatively low-risk players, and in today’s draft that’s huge—you don’t want to select the Greg Odens, Hasheem Thabeets, and Marvin Williams of the world.
Johnson has a good chance to be a strong third wheel on a championship team. Remember the mid-2000 Phoenix teams with Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Shawn Marion as the top-three? Wes could easily play the Marion role, only with a better outside shot.
But Turner can be one of the premiere guys, not just a complementary player. The only real comparison for him is John Wall; don’t overthink it, this is a no-brainer.
Overall Advantage: Evan Turner