Evan Turner’s most distinctive trait is his nasally voice. There are times when he sounds like a fourth-grade teacher, yet he speaks with wisdom beyond his years when discussing his career.
The first time this reporter talked with Turner in depth was during the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals, after he helped lead the eighth-seeded 76ers past the Bulls — who lost Derrick Rose to an ACL injury in Game 1 — and into a seven-game series with the Celtics. Turner, the second overall pick the previous season, talked under one of the baskets at TD Garden, saying he was already feeling maligned despite the fact Philadelphia was in its first conference semifinals in nine years.
Turner realized that unless the 76ers got past the Celtics, he would feel the fans’ wrath because of his poor shooting. Second overall picks are supposed to be superstars, especially in basketball-crazed Philadelphia, especially when the city is still searching for a hero to replace Allen Iverson.
The Philly fans never warmed to Turner, and despite a brilliant career at Ohio State, one that earned him five national player of the year awards in 2010, he became a forgotten free agent this offseason.
The Celtics are trying to find magic in Turner, having signed him to what is believed to be a two-year contract. It will take a while for the Celtics to officially announce the deal because they are working to clear roster space to accommodate Turner, but they unquestionably brought him here to play.
Positional ambiguity has plagued the 6-foot-7-inch Turner throughout his NBA career. He has the ability to play three positions, but he hasn’t particularly flourished at any of them. His best position is shooting guard, but he has an unusual game.
Turner needs the ball to create his shot. He enjoys posting up. He is crafty, but not wildly athletic. He doesn’t shoot for a high percentage. He is an average 3-point shooter.
There are a lot of reasons he never emerged as a standout player and the Philadelphia fans became resentful of his game. No. 2 picks are supposed to be game-changing players. They are supposed to make All-Star Games and national team appearances and become franchise cornerstones.
Turner hasn’t done any of those things, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a serviceable player. That number — 2 — has followed him throughout his career like a dark cloud. But if you look at that 2010 NBA Draft, it was a minefield.
The Wizards took John Wall first. But none of the next seven picks following Turner has played in an All-Star Game, either. The 10th pick was Paul George, and while George would go second overall if GMs had a re-do, nobody would have taken him No. 2 four years ago.
Of the 60 players taken in the 2010 draft, only seven have a career scoring average in double figures. Turner (11.1) is one of them.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens must find a style that accentuates Turner’s game. He has to create situations in which Turner can score on smaller guards, or use his quickness against small forwards.
Perhaps team president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was tired of seeing Turner scorch his team. In 14 career games against the Celtics, Turner averaged 14.4 points, his third-highest clip against an opponent. He beat the Celtics Jan. 29 with the Sixers, backing down the shorter Jerryd Bayless before sinking a floater at the buzzer.
Turner’s agent, David Falk, told the Globe that when he prepped Jeff Green for his predraft interview with the Celtics in 2007, he said Ainge would ask Green whether he was a small forward or power forward. Falk told Green to respond with a question: When you played with Dennis Johnson, who was the point guard and who was the shooting guard?
The answer is Johnson and Ainge were both combo guards.
“Evan Turner is a basketball player,” said Falk, who also represents Jared Sullinger. “A coach who is not stuck in a system can play him almost anywhere. I think that’s how they look at him.”
It’s an astute signing by Ainge. If it works, the Celtics have a potential long-term answer at shooting guard or perhaps a valuable player off the bench. If it doesn’t, Turner can head elsewhere because he signed a below-market contract that is tradeable.
The Celtics are banking that the Turner who arrives at TD Garden is the one who averaged 17.4 points in 54 games with Philadelphia last season before being traded to Indiana. The Turner who played for the Pacers had no defined role or responsibility on a team that became increasingly dysfunctional. Turner walked right into the NBA’s version of “Bad Girls Club.”
It’s a fresh opportunity for a kid who has received more scrutiny than he deserved. Turner is tired of talking about what hasn’t happened with his career and why. He won’t face that type of pressure in Boston, and Ainge and Stevens will give him ample opportunity to show he’s got game left.
Now it’s about creating the right situation for that to occur.