You are looking at Evan Turner’s shot chart from the 2013-14 NBA season. On the surface it is simply a jarring, damning, fairly objective visual-spatial representation of his relative shortcomings as a basketball player. This is also true at several levels below the surface. That is what you’re looking at, there: Evan Turner’s awful, awful season, as represented by (mostly blueish or blue) dots.
And yet, it’s not just that. At least, it’s not just that for me, as someone who came to love watching Turner play during his time at Ohio State. I admired his versatile game and the palpable way that his uncommon force of will was present in his game. My fantasy in that year’s draft was that the Pacers would trade Danny Granger and the 10th pick (which wound up becoming Paul George) to the 76ers for the chance to move up and take Turner. I should note, here, that I’ve never held a front office job in the NBA.
But if it isn’t surprising that I was wrong about that, there is also the matter of the shot chart above, and Turner’s semi-shocking status as damaged goods. Four years after that draft, having watched Turner’s career arc careen into nearly every brick wall in its path—including, recently and wrenchingly, a stomach-churning stint with the Pacers—the thrill is gone. As of this week, Turner is officially the Boston Celtics’ problem.
The will is still there, which is good. But nearly everything else is absent; the moves that so moved me when he was at Ohio State now make me want to close my eyes and be anywhere but in front of a television, watching a basketball game with Evan Turner in it. Evan Turner’s shot chart is not just a map of his shortcomings, it has become a metaphysical portal, culling lowlights of sadness and disappointment from my own life. It’s a visual magnet for shitty feelings. It is ugly, in every way it could possibly be.
To fully explain what I mean, I’ve taken the liberty of identifying a few of the areas on Turner’s shot chart and exactly what they now mean to me.
Zone 1: Turner is righthanded, so this is where his “post-up game” allows him to use his dominant hand and turn back towards the middle of the floor, keeping his body between his defender and the ball. It’s also where I saw Requiem for a Dream for the first time—a visceral, visual argument that your personal vices, however benign they seem initially, will eventually turn everything you touch to dust, taking everyone you love along with it. In my Turner-tainted memory the movie is also interrupted every ten minutes for a showing of that Sarah McLachlan PSA against animal cruelty, with the volume set to 11. This zone is a net of hopelessness and despair, with mutual destruction all but assured.
Zone 2: This is where Turner finds open three-pointers as the trailer on a fast break. It’s also where my first girlfriend broke up with me. The crowded lunchroom of my middle school seemed to go quiet all at once, although that’s probably some Hollywoodizing on the part of my memory. For reasons I can’t recall (or even guess at) I happened to be wearing enormous red wax lips that day, layering embarrassment onto embarrassment.
She said she thought we should break up. I said “okay.” We went our separate ways and didn’t speak again until high school. I was in seventh grade so I didn’t really understand what it meant to have a girlfriend or to lose one, but I knew it felt terrible. My seventh grade self and Evan Turner on the break—we think everything is going swimmingly until that ball careens of the side of the iron and quickly out of bounds.
Zone 3: Turner is a reasonably proficient ball-handler and on the rare occasions where he isn’t short-circuiting an offensive possession by pulling up for a 20-footer, he can get himself to the rim. Once he gets there, sadness ensues. Directly under the basket is where Turner’s shortcomings are often revealed most emphatically. It’s also where my first dog, Muffet, died. She was a poodle-maltese mix and obviously I had no hand in her acquisition, but death has a way of evoking nostalgia for the deceased.
We were driving to my grandma’s house, three-hours away, and Muffet was sitting in my lap, shaking violently for the entire ride. I was pretty sure she was having seizures but my mom thought she was just cold and kept cranking the heat up. We arrived at my grandma’s and my animal-smart aunt realized what was going on, immediately rushing the dog to the vet. Muffet died en route; Princess Diana died on the same day. When Turner drives to the basket, he is me and I am him. We both are holding precious life, running a losing race against the Grim Reaper. It is dark, here.
Zone 4: This area is where Turner gets his spot-up three-pointers, off an offensive rebound or kicked back out from a posting big man. It also resembles the kitchen table where my parents sat my sister and I down to tell us that they were getting a divorce. It the moment it was a soul-crushing surprise, but in retrospect it was obviously in the pipeline. On the surface we were a near-perfect facsimile of a happy family unit. But points of irritation were everywhere and that friction was driving unhappiness.
When Evan Turner launches a three-pointer from this zone, everything looks the way it’s supposed to—in form and function, his shot appears exactly as it should. But somewhere between his hand and the rim everything is pulled apart and Turner only gets to see the ball go in on Wednesday evenings from 5-7pm, and every other weekend.
Zone 5: This is the most diverse zone on Turner’s shot chart, covering the entire right baseline from the lane to the three-point line. There is a lot of activity in this zone and Turner clearly sees it as a strength given how often he shoots from here. Amazingly this is also my own (subjectively self-identified) “hot spot” on the basketball court. I love launching threes from the corner and many of my drives wind up as fall-away baseline jumpers. In an empty gym I’m nearly unstoppable, as I would wager Turner also is. But as soon as defenders enter into the picture, my efficiency begins to ebb away.
I tried out for the varsity basketball team my last three years of high school, coming up empty each time. Each year at tryouts the dream seemed to die somewhere in this area as my turnaround jumpers were blocked by Steve Wemmett or wild drives ended with the ball going out of bounds off my shin. This zone is where I was forced to confront the mortality of my own athletic aspirations and come to grips with life as a regular human being. Every time I watch Turner work in this area of the floor, I can’t help but think he’s staring down the same realization.
Godspeed Evan Turner. We will survive this.