PHOENIX — When the Phoenix Suns acquired Hedo Turkoglu, everybody knew he would be a liability defending power forwards.
But the thinking went, “Sure, maybe he can’t guard many natural fours too well, but how in the world will any natural fours defend him on the perimeter?”
Through three games only one of those assumptions has proven accurate. Hedo has encountered his share of difficulty guarding the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge and Lamar Odom, yet he has failed to take advantage of them on the other end.
Just as he was throughout the majority of preseason, Turkoglu has largely been relegated to spot-up shooting with the occasional drive. He has picked up five fouls in every game trying to defend bigger players and has failed to make the opposition pay on the offensive end, averaging 9.3 points per game on 40.9 percent shooting, with 64 percent of his scoring coming from beyond the arc, to go with just two assists per game.
“I have to be just aggressive more and more,” said Turkoglu, who is a team-worst -13 in 80 minutes this season. “Sometimes we play pick and roll and they kind of deny me. I have to do a better job of keep the spread floor and try to get a better space and when I get the ball just try to be aggressive. Sooner I’m going to feel more comfortable and hopefully play my role in game.”
We have written quite a bit on this site about how Hakim Warrick seems to be a better fit for the starting lineup and Turkoglu the bench, so no need to regurgitate that argument in this space (although I still believe it). But really, it doesn’t matter which unit Turkoglu plays with if he’s not “Hedo Turkoglu,” the facilitating and sharpshooting point forward from Orlando lore.
Gentry acknowledges that the Suns are going through “growing pains” in the early going this season, which is only natural when you lose a piece like Amare and then try to integrate three core guys.
The adjustment is inherently much easier for Warrick and Childress — players who were made for this system — than Turkoglu, who is being asked to play a different position than he has his entire career.
“I think with him he’s trying so hard to make sure he’s fitting in with the guys,” Gentry said. “We don’t need for him to fit in, he’s fine. I think he’s got to realize that this team right here is the most unselfish team you’ll ever play on, so if you shoot the ball 20 times nobody really cares. I think with Hedo he’s got to realize that, and I think as that happens he’ll become much more aggressive.”
Although the thought of Hedo being green lighted for 20 shots scares me a bit, Gentry’s absolutely right that he needs to be more aggressive. He must be more than just an overpaid spot-up shooter, and he tried to do just that on a few occasions taking the ball to the hole against the Lakers. As much as he’s uncomfortable defending the post, he should be guarded by guys unaccustomed to defending a playmaker on the perimeter.
“When I catch the ball sometimes I don’t have to settle on a jumper,” Turkoglu said. “Like [Friday], I tried to do it, a few times I tried to take it to the basket, take advantage of being guarded by the big guys. I have to just keep trying to be aggressive and try to take it to the basket and get some easy baskets or go to the free-throw line to help my rhythm going.”
It’s easier to believe Hedo will figure things out on the offensive end than the defensive end. He’s got the skills to fit this offense, he’s just going through the adjustment period that so many Suns have had to experience before eventually thriving in it.
On the defensive end, it’s tougher to see him really finding success. The Suns have frequently been forced to provide help, and Friday when he had the main assignment on Lamar Odom, LO busted out an 18-17-5 line, which wasn’t the slightest bit lucky.
“This is my first time I’m playing in this situation and I’m just trying to do my best, and it’s just going to take times to learn that the things that will help me to be in a better situation,” said Turkoglu, who has grabbed just 3.3 boards per game despite banging in the post. “It’s just those little things, I can’t let him really catch close to the basket. Those things I have to be really smart against, some stronger guys, some bigger guys.”
When asked whether he likes defending these bigger guys in the post, Turkoglu said, “Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. It depends on the guy. If he’s too big I don’t like it. Like I said, I don’t complain, I’ve just got to do my best to help this team win games.”
I suppose he has something in common with Shawn Marion and so many other undersized fours in Phoenix who didn’t exactly always love defending bigger post players, but unlike Marion he has thus far failed to make the opposition pay at the end where he can hurt them.
Although the Suns as a whole are still getting comfortable with their new rotations, the biggest question mark continues to be Hedo Turkoglu. He has shown flashes of being a quality player in Phoenix, but he’s also gotten in foul trouble too easily, failed to defend the post and acted largely as an overpaid spot-up shooter.
Three games is not long enough to deem the Hedo Turkoglu trade a bust, but it will be if he doesn’t become the aggressive facilitator and crunch-time scorer the Suns thought they were acquiring.