August 31, 2023, 1:24 am
The stretch big is one of the defining elements of the modern era of basketball. Basketball’s rules don’t forbid bigs from 3-point shooting but their coaches typically have since the inception of the 3-point line added extra flare to the game. Though their kind are becoming increasingly common in the league, few are better than Kristaps Porzingis and Myles Turner at spacing the floor from the five spot. It’s fitting that the pair entered the league at the same time as lottery picks in the 2015 NBA Draft. Though Porzingis may have reached greater heights as an offensive force, Turner has been a stalwart starter from day one and is the better defender. As fantasy managers, their combined shots and swats profile have consistently placed Porzingis and Turner amongst the best per game producers in standard 9-cat formats, so let’s compare and contrast these two-way bigs to see who you should pick on draft day.
Kristaps Porzingis vs. Myles Turner
PAST: Who was the better fantasy player?
20.2 PPG, 1.5 3PT, 8.1 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.5 SPG, 1.6 BPG, 1.6 TO, .459 FG%, .867 FT%
51 games, 1030 points, 78 3-pointers, 411 rebounds, 119 assists, 37 steals, 84 blocks, 81 turnovers, 352-of-767 field goals, 248-of-286 free throws
12.9 PPG, 1.5 3PT, 7.1 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.7 SPG, 2.8 BPG, 1.3 TO, .509 FG%, .752 FT%
42 games, 540 points, 61 3-pointers, 297 rebounds, 44 assists, 28 steals, 118 blocks, 54 turnovers, 200-of-393 field goals, 79-of-105 free throws
The NBA season is 82 games long, so tons of managers got burned by the combined 71 games missed by Porzingis and Turner. The former had just completed a top-25 per game season and the latter had just wrapped up a top-15 effort. After those results, it would have been near-impossible to find them past the third or fourth round in almost any re-draft format. By their averages, it’s arguably that both men met expectations after returning top-25 valuations on a per-game basis but after leaving nearly a full season’s worth of games unplayed, it’s hard to make the blanket statement that they had a truly great fantasy season.
Porzingis split the season between Dallas and Washington after a mid-season trade which saw him miraculously return from a 14-game absence the moment he switched uniforms. Had that right knee bone bruise and presumably some risk-averse Mavs personnel not kept him off-court, the combined result would have made Porzingis an undeniable early-round asset by averages and totals. The 7’3″ Latvian beat Turner in 6-of-9 categories, with blocks, field goals percentage and turnovers being the exceptions. Given that blocks are the only truly impactful victory for Turner -whose turnover value is lost in 8-cat formats or punts and who doesn’t shoot often enough to truly help in field goals percentage- it is especially important to note that he was miles ahead (pun intended) of his peer. Porzingis was a top-10 rim protector among centers but even his 1.6 blocks per game paled in comparison to Turner’s 2.8. That’s more than twice the weighted value of Porzingis’ already strong contributions in this category and anchors any case for Turner as an elite fantasy player. Outside of that very niche area, there’s only one way to judge the 2021-2022 matchup of Porzingis and Turner.
PRESENT: Who is the better fantasy player?
23.2 PPG, 2.1 3PT, 8.4 RPG, 2.7 APG, 0.9 SPG, 1.5 BPG, 2.1 TO, .498 FG%, .851 FT%
65 games, 1505 points, 137 3-pointers, 546 rebounds, 174 assists, 58 steals, 100 blocks, 137 turnovers, 507-of-1018 field goals, 354-of-416 free throws
18.0 PPG, 1.5 3PT, 7.5 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.6 SPG, 2.3 BPG, 1.7 TO, .548 FG%, .783 FT%
62 games, 1113 points, 93 3-pointers, 466 rebounds, 89 assists, 36 steals, 140 blocks, 103 turnovers, 402-of-733 field goals, 216-of-276 free throws
At the conclusion of the 2022-2023 season, both Porzingis and Turner had set career bests in field goal percentage and points per game while also appearing in significantly more contests. In fact, they dropped from 71 combined missed games to only 37 and in so doing became thoroughly average in terms of availability. There was no waste in selecting either player for last season, especially when considering their consistent availability for fantasy playoff season. Managers got a winner with their picks of Porzingis or Turner but there’s no fun in calling this a tie, so who’s on top?
Turner gets major bonus points for becoming an above-average scorer in the last season but it’s worth noting that Turner’s career-high mark would be Porzingis’ second-worst result. Given the real impact of about five points per game is approximately 10-to-20 points per week on average, there isn’t as big a gap as one might think. Porzingis retains his win in this area but he lost a lot of ground to his rival, who graduated from a punt points option to a pseudo-asset in a single season. Turner has always had the higher field goal percentage but scoring more meant he was also taking more shots. Increased shot volume increases his already solid value in this area, whereas Porzingis’ boost was from negative to exactly average and his change was more about reducing losses than improving gains. In regards to where they became better this year, it seems clear that Turner moved the needle a bit more. However, those two categories aren’t what make them unique among centers. As floor-spacing bigs, they’re often identified for out-of-position value in treys and free throws. In these areas and other less-important ones like assists or steals, Porzingis retains his lead. Do we give him much credit for being a better bad option in the latter? Barely, but yes. While I am tempted to reward Turner’s more notable improvements, minor advantage in turnovers and wider margins of victory in blocks and field goal percentage, the fact remains that Porzingis out-produced him by averages and totals with key victories in points, treys, rebounds and free throw percentage. Even if we dispense with their shared outright negative production in assists and steals, the fact remains that Porzingis’ four winning categories are greater than Turner’s two or three. Chalk another one up for the Unicorn.
FUTURE: Who will be the better fantasy player in 2023-24?
Well, we’re at 2-0 for Porzingis after the first two stages. I do have a background in sales but I might not be good enough to sell you on Turner at this point. That’s not going to stop me from trying. Perhaps I could sell you on how their respective environments could alter their outcomes.
Turner has only ever been a Pacer, albeit a Pacer that seems to be perpetually on the verge of not being a Pacer. Trades are often rumored for the Texas alum but they have been substantiated with Porzingis several times, including this off-season as he was sent to play third-fiddle to Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum with the Celtics.
Whereas Turner will play alongside a playmaking star in Tyrese Haliburton in an egalitarian offense, Porzingis will now find himself sharing the ball with a pair of shoot-first swingmen that both averaged 20-plus shots per game. That’s about half of the shots a team takes in a game. For Porzingis -who has taken about 15 shots per game over the last three seasons- that could be a problem. Over that same period of time, only Kemba Walker has managed to get 11 or more shots a night alongside the Brown-Tatum duo. If Porzingis falls to that shot volume, he will likely lose his scoring advantage over Turner and his once-solid lead could progress even further than it did last season towards a tie. While it might be extreme to predict a major shift in shot diet, it’s very likely going to be true that Porzingis gets less shots up next season. Efficiency would then become an x-factor in determining how much ground he yields to Turner in that scenario.
The gravity of two superstars should yield tons of open looks and generally produce a higher quality of shots. That should make Porzingis’ field goal percentage sustainable but not in a way that would translate as well to fantasy impact. If connecting on more shots at a higher rate results in better field goal percentage results for a fantasy team then the reverse is true as well. Further, on a spacing-oriented Celtics squad, he’ll probably be taking less shots and doing it from farther away, which could also yield less free throw attempts. Anticipated changes in this area would bring Porzingis’ shot diet from the field and charity stripe closer to what Turner did last year. There was about four field goals attempts, two free throws and around five points per game separating them this season. Based on my earlier projection for his role with the Celtics, it seems possible if not probable that this gap with Turner will close over the next year.
If Porzingis loses ground in points due to decreased shot volume, then he would need to retain his league by increasing production in one or more of the following: treys, rebounds and blocks. These are proven strengths of the Latvian pivot and all things which will be needed in the Celtics’ diminutive frontcourt. Padding his lead in treys or rebounds could mitigate any scoring declines, while blocks remain one of the most impactful categories in fantasy basketball and any progress there is undeniably valuable. Expecting Porzingis to reach Turner’s lofty heights as a blocks producer is simply unreasonable but coupling a blocks boost with one other category may be sufficient for him to win another season’s judgment. Predicting that he will see boosts in boards or blocks might not be realistic alongside frontcourt studs like Al Horford and Robert Williams III in the post, who will themselves be competing to maintain their high values in these areas. Unlike last year with the Wizards, Porzingis will have more competition in the rotation and may see less opportunities to pad stats as he did on a pretty uncompetitive team.
In Turner’s case, there’s nothing to do but hope that he continues on the trajectory he set for himself this past season. Aside from a scoring boost, he remains more-or-less the same player he has been since entering the league, so it’s perfectly reasonable to expect him to sustain or exceed those marks as he enters his physical prime with very little difference in his playing conditions. With that in mind, we could probably attribute the extra points to his All-NBA point guard, but who cares where they come from as long as they’re there? Haliburton and Turner formed one of the most productive pick-and-roll duos in the league last season and there’s no reason to expect that their mutually beneficial results would worsen with experience. They were the top scorers on the team last season for a reason.
So what happens if Turner catches up to Porzingis offensively? Perhaps more appropriately: what if Porzingis falls to Turner’s level of offensive production? That just makes the little things matter more. You know, the sort of things that star role players like Turner have made a career off of. He’s not going to carry the Pacers to victory very often if at all -and will certainly do so less often than his Latvian peer- but fantasy basketball doesn’t measure on-court value. While it typically rewards offensive studs like Porzingis, it also punishes them more notably for any statistical backslides than it does lower-volume players like Turner whose value is mostly rooted in efficiency and blocks. This seems to be the season that Turner may finally be able to soak up enough points or rebounds to surpass his peer in one or both areas. With nearly double the defensive value of Porzingis, drawing even or better in those areas likely results in a higher year-end rank for Turner.
If you think that Porzingis deserves the nod then I can hardly blame you. History is on your side and, as they say, it often repeats itself. There’s no doubt that the Celtics’ prized off-season acquisition will rank among the best fantasy players if healthy for the 2023-2023 season. Despite this, he remains the third-best of a newly-formed Big Three and will share the court with several other high-level players like Derrick White, Malcolm Brogdon, Horford and Williams. In contrast, Turner will return as the most-tenured Pacer coming off a career year and forming a strong inside-out duo with one of the league’s brightest young stars. With a contract extension in hand, there is less cause to doubt his future as a Pacer than in previous years and it seems likely that Turner will meet or exceed last year’s already-elite production. Will it be enough to finally catch up with Porzingis? For that matter, will Porzingis’ production stay consistent or fall back? I’m betting on a great season for both and am truly looking forward to seeing Porzingis find his way in Boston, so don’t take this judgment as an indictment. His on-court value remains high but I expect a bit of a statistical drop-off after transitioning away from his presumably higher-usage role with the Wizards. Think Chris Bosh after moving to Miami. On the flip side, a resurgent Pacers squad is anchored by a close statistical rival in Turner, who just registered a career year alongside Haliburton and a deep backcourt. History may repeat itself but things seem a little different now.