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

[table id=16 /]