Can Hedo Turkoglu defend NBA power forwards?

All signs seem to be pointing to Hedo Turkoglu starting at power forward for the Phoenix Suns.

But although slotting Turkoglu at the four gives the Suns no shortage of offensive looks, the issue of playing him up front is clear: Can he shoulder the load defending big men of the Western Conference?

The 6-foot-10 multi-skilled forward has been summoned to defend small forwards and shooting guards for the better part of his 10-year career, but I was able to sift through Synergy Sports Technology and find and evaluate some scenarios where Turkoglu was defending the post.

Although he only faced 51 total post-ups last season with the Raptors, the numbers say Turkoglu held his own down low. He limited opponents to 34.3 percent shooting (12-for-35) out of post-up situations, allowing them to score only 39.2 percent of the time and yielding an impressive 0.76 points per possession.

But as I mentioned before, a lot of those numbers are a result of him guarding smaller players, so how did he fare against the type of players who he will most likely be asked to guard in Phoenix? Here are some things I noticed about Turkoglu’s defense against bigger forwards:

Giving up too much ground, lacking size

One of the biggest things that I noticed Turkoglu struggled with is allowing larger players to get too deep before they catch the ball. He doesn’t possess great lower body strength, which is how you get good position in the paint.

Any time you allow a player to catch the ball with both feet in the paint you’re pretty much doomed. That’s exactly what Turkoglu allowed West to do and he ended up paying for it. As you can see above, West got the exact position he wanted, which is the first step in attacking the defense down low. Because of his positioning he had the option of choosing from his plethora of moves.

As you can see above, West gave Turkoglu a pump fake, which sent him through the air as he took his time and finished a baby jumper in the lane. Below are a few more instances where he gave up too much ground and allowed the opposition to convert:

All of these players are catching the ball way too deep and Turkoglu has no chance. Playing below the free-throw line is all about positioning, and Turkoglu struggles using his body to keep the opposition from getting too close to the hoop. But when Turkoglu didn’t give up such great position, he actually proved to be a decent post defender. Here Turkoglu forced Josh Smith to catch the ball too far out for him to get off a decent look. Take a look where he caught the ball in post-up position:

Just look at how much further out Smith is than West, Howard, Horford, Wallace and Noah were. He is a smaller player, but regardless, Turkoglu kept him from getting good position and it resulted in this off-balance shot you see below:

Below is an image of a very similar scenario, but this time it’s David Lee that Turkoglu forces out onto the perimeter. This 6-foot-10 power forward was planning on posting up, but ended up catching the ball a step inside the three-point line and ended up missing a 20-footer.

Even though at times he proved he could slow down some big men on the block if he got the right position, let’s be honest, more often than not he won’t have good position against the power forwards of the West. He’s going to struggle most with his lack of size and length, and it will most likely be exposed early and often.

Not big and strong, but crafty and smart

Turkoglu is by no means a prototypical power forward with broad shoulders, a huge upper body and explosive athleticism, but one trait that does help him as a defender is his understanding of angles and basketball IQ.

In fact, Gentry said of Turkoglu: “I think he’s a super intelligent player as far as angles. Defensively he can add something to the mix in that department.”

After being burned by West in their first matchup, Turkoglu picked up West’s use of pump fakes and didn’t bite this time. He also cut off all angles by moving his feet and forced West into an extremely tough shot. Here’s the series:

First of all West catches the ball with two feet outside the paint rather than with both feet in the paint, which is step one for Hedo. Next when he makes his move to the middle Turkoglu takes away the right hand as you can see below, forcing West to pick it up and work his way back to the baseline.

Now West is pretty much stuck as you can see below. He has no dribble, isn’t in a good position to get off a shot and has no chance to use his strength to his advantage.

Turkoglu forced West to hoist a one-handed off balance shot that barely caught iron. This series proved that Turkoglu, as Gentry said, understands angles and those smarts may combat his 220-pound frame and lack of athleticism.

Turkoglu isn’t going to get in the passing lanes, snare passes and lead the break, but there were a few times when he gave up position or was beat on a move but recovered with a steal or deflection. He’s been in the league for a decade and has certainly picked up a trick or two on defense. Here are a few screenshots of Turkoglu stripping a bigger opponent:

Quick enough laterally for PFs

Although quickness and Hedo Turkoglu are far from synonymous, because he’s so used to guarding perimeter players he has the lateral quickness to stay in front of big men on the dribble drive. He will certainly struggle against back-to-the-basket big men with a a polished post game, but he can certainly stay in front of more perimeter-oriented big men.

Here he is able to stay in front of Dirk Nowitzki and force him into a contested jump shot that doesn’t fall:

Dirk doesn’t get pushed too far from the hoop, but Turkoglu made him take an extremely tough shot that he was able to contest thanks to his 6-foot-10 frame. No, he is certainly no Dirk-stopper, but the point is that Turkoglu does have what it takes to be a fairly serviceable defender.

Verdict: Despite his somewhat impressive numbers defending post-up plays, let’s be honest with ourselves, the sample size is too small and Turkoglu just won’t be able to guard Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol or Dirk Nowitzki. But then again, who can? And also, will he ever be matched up with them anyway?

Robin Lopez is the defensive big man on this team and will handle players like Gasol and Duncan when he’s on the floor, so all Turkoglu has to do is defend the second-tier big men and keep them in check. He will also be asked to defend perimeter players, and his stats show he can be counted on to do so.

There is no reason to believe Turkoglu will come in and save the day, but it looks like he isn’t as worthless defensively as a lot of people believe. He’s 31, he’s not exactly athletic, and he doesn’t have the size and bulk to ‘D’-up big men of the West, but that isn’t his role, so as long as he can be good enough on defense, the Suns will be OK. And it looks like he should be able to do exactly that.

Complete Hedo Turkoglu Synergy Defensive Stats

Wed, Oct 29@ San AntonioW 103-981-0
Thu, Oct 30New OrleansL 108-951-1
Sat, Nov 1Portland W 107-962-1
Tue, Nov 4@ New JerseyW 114-863-1
Wed, Nov 5@ IndianaW 113-1034-1
Fri, Nov 7@ ChicagoL 83-1004-2
Sat, Nov 8@ MilwaukeeW 104-965-2
Mon, Nov 10MemphisW 107-1026-2
Wed, Nov 12HoustonL 82-946-3
Fri, Nov 14@ SacramentoW 97-95 OT7-3
Sun, Nov 16DetroitW 104-868-3
Mon, Nov 17@ UtahL 97-1098-4
Thu, Nov 20LA Lakers L 92-1058-5
Sat, Nov 22PortlandW 102-929-5
Tue, Nov 25@ Oklahoma CityW 99-9810-5
Wed, Nov 26@ MinnesotaW 110-10211-5
Fri, Nov 28MiamiL 107-9211-6
Sun, Nov 30New JerseyL 117-10911-7
Wed, Dec 3@ New Orleans L 104-9111-8
Thu, Dec 4@ DallasL 112-9711-9
Sat, Dec 6UtahW 106-10412-9
Tue, Dec 9MilwaukeeW 125-11013-9
Wed, Dec 10@ LA LakersL 115-11013-10
Fri, Dec 12OrlandoW 113-11214-10
Mon, Dec 15New YorkW 111-10315-10
Thu, Dec 18@ Portland L 124-11915-11
Sat, Dec 20Denver W 108-10116-11
Thu, Dec 25San AntonioL 90-9116-12
Mon, Dec 29@ Oklahoma CityW 110-10217-12
Tue, Dec 30@ MemphisW 101-8918-12
Fri, Jan 2LA ClippersW 106-9819-12
Wed, Jan 7IndianaL 113-11019-13
Fri, Jan 9DallasW 128-10020-13
Sun, Jan 11@ LA ClippersW 109-10321-13
Tue, Jan 13AtlantaW 107-10222-13
Thu, Jan 15@ DenverL 113-119 OT22-14
Fri, Jan 16MinnesotaL 103-10522-15
Sun, Jan 18@ TorontoW 117-11323-15
Mon, Jan 19@ BostonL 87-10423-16
Wed, Jan 21@ New YorkL 109-11423-17
Fri, Jan 23@ CharlotteL 98-7623-18
Sun, Jan 25@ AtlantaW 104-9924-18
Mon, Jan 26@ WashingtonW 103-8725-18
Thu, Jan 29San AntonioL 114-10425-19
Sat, Jan 31ChicagoL 111-12225-20
Mon, Feb 2SacramentoW 129-8126-20
Wed, Feb 4@ Golden StateL 112-12426-21
Fri, Feb 6Golden StateW 115-10527-21
Sun, Feb 8@ DetroitW 107-9728-21
Mon, Feb 9@ PhiladelphiaL 91-10828-22
Wed, Feb 11@ Cleveland L 92-10928-23
Tue, Feb 17LA Clippers W 140-10029-23
Wed, Feb 18@ LA ClippersW 142-11930-23
Fri, Feb 20Oklahoma CityW 140-11831-23
Sun, Feb 22Boston L 108-12831-24
Tue, Feb 24CharlotteW 112-10232-34
Thu, Feb 26@ LA LakersL 106-13232-25
Fri, Feb 27TorontoW 133-11333-25
Sun, Mar 1LA LakersW 118-11134-25
Tue, Mar 3@ OrlandoL 99-11134-26
Wed, Mar 4@ MiamiL 129-13534-27
Fri, Mar 6@ HoustonL 112-11634-28
Sun, Mar 8@ San AntonioL 98-10334-29
Tue, Mar 10DallasL 117-12234-30
Thu, Mar 12ClevelandL 111-11934-31
Sat, Mar 14Oklahoma CityW 106-9535-31
Sun, Mar 15@ Golden StateW 154-13036-31
Wed, Mar 18PhiladelphiaW 126-11637-31
Sat, Mar 21WashingtonW 128-9638-31
Mon, Mar 23DenverW 118-11539-31
Mon, Mar 25UtahW 118-11440-31
Thu, Mar 26@ PortlandL 109-12940-32
Sat, Mar 28@ UtahL 99-104 OT40-33
Sun, Mar 29@ SacramentoL 118-12640-34
Wed, Apr 1HoustonW 114-10941-34
Fri, Apr 3SacramentoW 139-11142-34
Sun, Apr 5@ Dallas L 116-14042-35
Wed, Apr 8@ New OrleansW 105-10043-35
Fri, Apr 10@ MemphisL 89-10643-36
Sat, Apr 11@ MinnesotaW 110-9744-36
Mon, Apr 13MemphisW 119-11045-36
Wed, Apr 15Golden StateW 117-11346-36

Tags: Hedo Turkoglu

  • HankS

    Actually, since the Suns acquired Turkoglu, I’ve been wondering if really he has to start. Given the Suns’ ten-men ball, starting shouldn’t be such an issue here. Nash probably can bring out of Warrick a lot more than Dragic could, while Turkoglu would help Dragic with playmaking. This way Turkoglu would get out of the way of the first-class PFs, while increasing significantly the second unit’s firepower.
    So I’d say bring him in as the 6th man, which would give him a few minutes with Nash anyway.
    Of course, all this depends on Warrick playing some D himself, which I understand is by no means a given…

  • Steve

    This is good news to read this analysis of Turkoglu. Not as bad as I had feared.

    As far as Turk coming off the bench, I'm not so sure he's going to go for that, and I'm not so sure he should. The points you guys make are valid, but what worked for us last year was that the bench gave teams a totally different Suns team to look at than the starters. The bench was a highly explosive, energetic, defensive-minded bunch that would get in your face and force you into bad decisions, then kill you with a three on the other end. I think Warrick is better suited to play that kind of ball, to be the energy man for the bunch. Frye/Warrick/Dudley/Childress/Dragic isn't a bad bunch to be coming off the bench. Plus, I think Turk will be happier in the starting lineup, getting 30+ minutes a night where he can have the opportunity to get 16/5/5 like the good old days and prove he still has it.

  • michel muller

    Hedo at the PF spot will be ugly….like him.

    Nash needs a roller(lost teh best in bizz), Dragic needs a facilitator.

    Gani has a great shot in that weak team inside.

    Speaking about hedo's D, but what about the 13,5 boards, 2 blocks, 55 FG% of Stat and Lou.

    Absolut rape on the boards, less shot blocking, less efficient offensively, less FT, no double team-triple team on turkoglu, harder task for the 3pts shooters…

    Lotto or lakers….that's the deal.

  • Who cares about D

    I don’t know why we are worried about his D. He can’t be any worse at it then Amar’e. I still think Turk needs to come off the bench at the 3 spot. He can be the play maker for the second unit that will really make them the best bench the league has seen in a very long time. The entire bench will all be able to score, and not just against opposing teams bench players, they will be able to do it against starters too. I think Warrick should be the starting 4 with Lawall as the backup. Warrick is a better pick and role guy for Nash and Lawall willl give the second unit rebounding and defense. They will need good balance in their lineups and play people at there natural positions in order to be a threat to the Lakers.

  • Anon

    Thank you for the analysis – good stuff.

    I still think Turkoglu is going to be a complete disaster since the Suns will have no interior game on either end of the floor but good to see some real analysis that is a little more optimistic than that.

  • Mel.

    Did you scribble that post down on a napkin before transcribing it onto here, Mike?

    Great points, if they were remotely legible.

  • Dan

    Turk was terrible on defense last year and will continue to be this year unless Phoenix trades for Dwight Howard who can then proceed to bail him out. I don’t have fancy stats to back this up, just a year spent watching this mope loaf up and down the court. I’m sure his intelligence is gonna help him when PFs dunk on him and SFs blow by him. So glad he’s gone but I feel bad for Suns fans who are now stuck with him. Of course, you could probably get David Kahn to take him off your hands next year.

  • suns68

    The solution is simple.
    Put Lopez at the 4 spot and Turk in the 5.
    The true studs in the west are almost all power forwards. Clearing out the logjam of quality 4′s is why they moved Amare to center for all-star voting purposes last year.
    In almost every case, we need our best big man defender on the other team’s 4. We can’t afford to waste him covering guys who can’t score anyway.
    And Suns teams have played very well time and again with undersize centers who could pass the ball, pull a big man out of the paint and take advantage of the large and the clumsy.
    Alvan Adams, Boris Diaw, Channing Frye come immediately to mind.

  • Logan

    Good analytical post of Hedo’s defensive capabilities. However, I feel you glossed over the idea that Lopez might be called to defend the oppoenent’s “BEST” post option, while Hedo guards the second best. But you failed to explain away how Hedo is going to guard ANDREW BYNUM if Lopez is guarding Pau Gasol? The Lakers are two time defending champions and three time defending Western Conference champions because they have two great post options, plus a third big man who is the perfect counter to a player like Hedo (and I haven’t even mentioned Ron Artest).

  • oytun

    Great analysis! After spending a year in clueless Raptors blogs, its good to see some actual analysis before making statements!

  • Jeremy

    Suns68 – Not a terrible idea except for the fact that who is gonna get rebounds if robin lopez is out guarding the other teams 4? that would put a ton of pressure on turkoglu to rebound.. which is not what we want to do.. also that 05-06 suns team really didnt pay attention to positions. the most uses starting line up was Diaw, Marion, Jones, Bell, Nash but Kurt Thomas and Tim Thomas played center a lot for that team and Marion was the best rebounder in the league so we could afford to play people out of position..

  • Jeremy

    Suns68 – Not a terrible idea except for the fact that who is gonna get rebounds if robin lopez is out guarding the other teams 4? that would put a ton of pressure on turkoglu to rebound.. which is not we want to do.. also that 05-06 suns team really didnt pay attention to positions. the most uses starting line up was Diaw, Marion, Jones, Bell, Nash but Kurt Thomas and Tim Thomas played center a lot for that team and Marion was the best rebounder in the league so we could afford to play people out of position..

  • Joe Key

    Very….weird…comments to say the least. Warrick is a solid backup not starter, not to mention is like $9 mill cheaper than Hedo.

    Anyways, for along time the Suns would play Amare at center because they didnt have a legitimate big man. I see this Hedo situation much in the same way. Hedo will play PF because we dont have a true big for that spot. I know that obvious, but Amare did great at center even with people complaining he wasnt big enough or versatile enough too.

    Obviously, Amare was. Hedo is in a new situation, and i think this is a chance for him to show a new side to his game. Gentry even says he will use Hedo in 3 different positions, so the combination of players they can have on the floor is staggering.

    The team will be smaller in the paint but by how much? I dont think it will be a huge change, Amare would isolate player at the corner of the free throw line then drive on them to dunk. Hedo can do the same, most likely a layup but still.

    The only thing really missing is the pick and roll. I can see Lopez getting more tries, and drawing fouls. Id like to see what Hedo can do in that regard. Just because he isnt known for it doesnt mean he cant do it or learn to with Nash.

    Plus, both JRich and GHills averages will go up, and Nash will take more 3 pointers just because Hedo can facilitate.

    Im VERY excited to see what will happen, most likely it will turn out well and its nice to see something a bit different with the team now.

  • Mike Meez

    I don't see what's so outlandish about Warrick starting and Hedo leading the bench. A player's salary shouldn't determine whether he starts. That's just a correlation. The most talented players generally start and talented players are usually also the higher paid. And I don't think anyone is arguing that Warrick is more talented. It's just that Warrick would seemingly benefit a lot from Nash on offense whereas Turkoglu might actually like being the go to guy off the bench who could bring the ball up a lot. Defensively I think it's a wash since neither is known to be a great defender and they are almost the exact same size. Also, this is a much different situation than Toronto. Putting Hedo on the bench there was just an insult considering the Raptors had no talent other than Bosh last year. The Suns have a deep roster and I think Hedo could see it as a great opportunity to be the leader of a very talented second unit.

    Still, I know the Suns are interested in having Hedo run the offense with Nash playing the 2 spot, which should lighten Steve's load so I think he'll get the starting nod. Ultimately, it may not matter who starts because Gentry freely mixes up the lineup to see what works. I could see him subbing Warrick for Hedo early depending on the opposing team and matchup, for example.

  • Mike Meez

    @ Mike Schmitz- Great analysis by the way. Looks like you put in a lot of time and thought into it, unlike some ESPN reporters we’ve been talking about.

  • jeremy

    the point of who can gaurd duncan dirk and gasol is a good one. alot of guys are undervalued because they lack an inch or two in hight which is ridiculous . as long as they work hard and give effort should be important . its all about defensive schemes now rather then individuals stopping guys and alot of guys are just unstoppable .

  • TheRza82

    I see a lot of posts wanting Turk to come off of the bench. The dude is making 12 mill, he isn’t coming off of the bench. Second of all, If we want Dragic to be our Point Guard of the future, we need to have him dishing out the rock and being the primary ball handler of the second team. Thirdly, Gentry is a good feel coach. If he feels Warrick is bringing it in a certain situation and Turk is cold he will sit Turk and allow Warrick to receive the bounty that is known as Steve Nash. Gentry proved excellent as this last year and I think he’ll even be better at it this year. Also, very rarely did we have all five starters on the bench when the second squad was in usually it would be 3 bench guys 2 starts or 4 bench guys 1 starter.

    Regardless, we’re arguing about how much depth we have and who should start and who shouldn’t. We never had this gift during the Mikey D days.

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