Monday, August 25, 2008

A few (belated) notes on ... Barbara Turner

The final three, just a little late ...

Barbara Turner
6-foot guard/forward
Averages: 8.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 34 3s

The Good: Turner's move to the Sun this past offseason may go down as the steal of the year, taking into account her production and who they gave up to get her. Turner's revamped offseason workout in Houston with former NBA coach John Lucas has paid humongous dividends as she's transformed into the Sun's top 3-point threat, a versatile option in both the frontcourt and backcourt and a huge source of energy off the bench. Turner's 34 3-pointers lead the team and are exactly double the amount she hit during her first two years in the league. Though a midseason shooting slump dropped her shooting percentages (she now sits at 39.4 from the field, 35.1 from 3), Turner has long put herself in the discussion for Sixth Player of the Year, though Candice Wiggins appears to be the clear favorite for the time being, and Most Improved.

When the Sun traded Megan Mahoney to Houston for Turner, they were essentially taking a low-risk chance. If Turner played like it thought she could, the Connecticut coaching staff would look like geniuses. If she struggled in her transition from the wing and faded down the Sun bench, she probably would have had a similarly small role to Mahoney in past years. She's lived up to the expectations, no doubt surprising many around the league, and she may be the key reason the Sun are surprise contenders as well.

Her ball-handling has been far improved from past years, she's proven to be a gritty defender at times, and the personality Turner brings to the Sun locker room -- she's always laughing, always upbeat, always talking -- has helped bolster the team's chemistry. The former UConn star spoke of proving herself when she was first traded back to the state she became a star in, and there is no doubt she has.

The Bad: The aforementioned slump that stretched late into the season's first half sapped Turner both of playing time and at times, confidence. She netted double figures just twice in July and went six games without a 3 at one point, a complete 180 from earlier in the year when she seemingly couldn't miss (17 3s in the team's first nine games). When the shots stopped falling, Turner tended to press, and her game as a whole seemed to suffer, leading to reduced minutes. She appeared to take a step forward in the Sun's rout of Los Angeles, hitting 3-for-4 3s and scoring 12 points, and planned to spend a week back in Houston at the start of the break to revisit her training program with Lucas.

"Unlike some players, I haven’t played year-round," Turner said before the team's last game at Washington back on July 27. "All I did was train and all I did was get ready to come here. It’s not like my body needs a whole lot of refreshing. I think that if I can get that training in and get myself going, I think that will help me carry momentum going into the second half of the season. That’s my mindset. I want to bust out and get ready for the next part of the season and the playoffs."

Turner can do more than just shoot, but when her shots are falling, it naturally makes every other part of her game better. When she's rolling, she's flying in on rebounds, drawing fouls, pumping fists and doing everything else to let all that energy out. When she's struggling offensively, she tends to fade into the background. Turner is an easy player to read on the floor (she doesn't try to hide her emotions), so after a month of just working out, it will be interesting to see not if she comes back with more energy but how much.

Outlook: Turner has spoken with Lucas throughout the season, and her talks with the him tend to help her refocus and look at things from different angles. A week back training with him should only help, and I think the Sun are banking on a return to her form from May and June to help sew up one of the East's top two spots in the playoffs. Turner's proven more effective coming off the bench, but there will be some obvious juggling now with Erin Phillips in the fold concerning who fills the starting shooting guard spot (think match-ups) and who as a whole corners significant minutes alongside Lindsay Whalen. But because of her experience playing forward, Turner gives the Sun another option behind Amber Holt if or when the rookie struggles, and even if they have to go a small lineup (which isn't often because they're small already), Turner can take on defensive responsibilities in the post.

Turner and Tamika Whitmore, who went through a horrid slump around the same time, will be the wild cards in the Sun's run late in the season. When they're clicking alongside Whalen and Asjha Jones, they can be the team that opened this year at 8-1. When they're not, the Sun can still win games, but will do it struggling. With Thibault's system and the natural depth Connecticut has, a reliable third scorer really is all they really need to separate themselves from most teams. Turner had been that for so long and can be that again.

On deck: Lindsay Whalen
In the hole: Tamika Whitmore

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