If anyone understands what it’s like to have a rocky adjustment with the Trail Blazers it’s Evan Turner, the now Atlanta Hawks wing, who spent the past three seasons going through his own ups and downs in Portland.
Turner, who sat out on Sunday with an Achilles injury, said he has watched the Blazers a “decent amount” in the early stages of the season and while he understands that fans might be panicking about a less than ideal start to the year, he doesn’t think it’s warranted.
“It’s literally not anything to fret over,” he said.
The Blazers started 12-14 in Turner’s first season in Portland in 2016-17 and opened the following season at 6-6 before surging to the third seed in the Western Conference playoffs. So when Turner saw this iteration of Blazers struggle out of the gates, it didn’t raise much concern.
“It’s a lot of new guys in the locker room,” Turner said. “So they’re adjusting to how you do things. The core, the focal point are the two guards so you have to really get acclimated and find your way around how you can make an impact the best way you can.”
Turner isn’t one to insincerely butter up his former team. He is refreshingly honest, the type of player who will tell reporters the truth to a fault. If he thought this team was bad, it would be in the headline. Instead he insisted this team will be fine. So what is inspiring Turner about the Blazers who needed an overtime win Sunday to run their record to 4-6 on the season?
Chiefly it’s Anfernee Simons, the 20-year-old guard who scored 20 points against the Hawks, and is averaging just shy of twelve points a game in his second season.
“I thought he was going to hit his stride like this eventually but I didn’t know it’d be this quick. It’s unreal. He will be very, very, very, very, very, very, very good,” Turner said, giving his seven-very seal of approval.
“I think the thing I’m noticing about him now is — his confidence wavered sometimes in and out. Like even in the summer he’d have those big games and stuff. He had like 35 and 10 (at summer league). Now the kid knows he’s got it, and you could see it on the court (Sunday) where he went off and Dame and CJ and the coaches were letting him rock out. I think it’s obvious.”
Turner and Simons developed a close bond last season and Turner was one of the first Blazer veterans to confidently proclaim that Simons was going to be an impact player in the NBA. But Turner’s Blazer optimism extends beyond his admiration for their promising youngster. He has seen enough Lillard, his good friend, up close to hit pause on the skepticism.
“If three games go a different way, they’re 7-3, and nobody’d be whining, right?," Turner said. "I think they’ll be fine. Dame always figures it out."
Sunday wasn’t a perfect game. The Blazer looked disjointed early and failed to put the Hawks away late, before narrowly avoiding a five-game losing streak in overtime. But to hear Turner tell it: the Blazers are in a good spot, even with the injuries, even with the new parts adjusting to a new system. But for fans still concerned over a 4-6 record and the obvious issues facing the roster, Turner points in one direction: Toward the team’s All-Star point guard.
“He just keeps getting better and better each year,” he said. “I think it’s still early on in the year and the dude is just going to keep being Dame Lillard. He’s going to keep getting better, and you think you’ve already seen the best he has and there’s more. He’s in his prime and he’s flourishing.”