Name: Hedo Turkoglu
2013-2014 Key Stats: 3.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg, .440 3P%
Years in the NBA: 13
Years with the Clippers: 1
2013-2014 Salary: Minimum
Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent; the Clippers do not hold his Bird Rights
In a Nutshell
For a significant portion of the season, Clippers coach Doc Rivers struggled to find some help for an often anemic second unit. Injuries left some players unavailable, and the longshot front court signings of Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison had not paid off -- at all. And for some reason, Rivers seemed fixated on well known veterans. He tried Stephen Jackson on a 10 day contract; he tried Sasha Vujacic.
When the news came out of Orlando in January that the Magic would release 13 year veteran Hedo Turkoglu, Rivers and the Clippers were the first ones on the phone to Turkoglu's agent. When Turkoglu was at the top of his game a few seasons back, he was everything Rivers was looking for -- a playmaking 6'10 forward who could shoot the ball with range. Rivers arrived in LA wanting shooters, shooters and more shooters to put around Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. But J.J. Redick had been hurt most of the season, Jared Dudley had lost his shooting touch, and neither Mullens nor Jamison were the stretch four he had hoped they might be. All his signings were shooting blanks; maybe Hedo was the answer.
The timing was important also. The Magic waived Turkoglu on January 3, the exact day that Chris Paul suffered a separated shoulder in Dallas and Paul was expected to be out about six weeks. In his best seasons, Turkoglu was a point forward in Orlando, and with Darren Collison and Jamal Crawford both forced into the starting lineup because of injuries, he might be able to take on some of the ball handling duties for the second unit.
On January 16, Turkoglu signed with the Clippers for the remainder of the season. Although he signed for the veteran's minimum, I questioned the signing at the time, wondering if he could have been made to audition on a 10 day deal. Turkoglu had not played in an NBA game in almost a year when he signed with the Clippers, and hadn't made an NBA three point field goal since the last day of 2012. And the last time he'd played competitive basketball, for his native Turkey during the 2013 European Championships, he'd been truly awful. He was two months shy of his 35th birthday when the Clippers signed him, and between injuries and age, it seemed entirely possible that he was just done.
To my very pleasant surprise, Turkoglu was an immediate upgrade over any other reserve the Clippers had played in the front court all season. Turkoglu's game has always defied simple categorization -- he's 6'10 but handles well and sees the floor like a point guard -- but for most of his career he's been a small forward. (Having said that, during his best seasons in Orlando, he and Rashard Lewis shared a front court with Dwight Howard, and who's to say which forward was which in that lineup.) Regardless of his traditional position, Rivers played him exclusively at power forward and lo and behold, Turkoglu became the stretch four that Doc had so desperately sought.
Although he shot poorly overall (.385 as a Clipper) Turkoglu shot a career high from deep (.440 on an admittedly small sample size, 22-50). He actually made more three pointers than two pointers as a Clipper (22 versus 20). Doc's comments prior to actually signing Hedo all talked about his jump shot looking incredible, and sure enough, he filled it up from beyond the arc this season.
And ballers are ballers, so playmaking remained a strength for Hedo even at 35. When Turkoglu playing the power forward paired with DeAndre Jordan, the 4-5 pick and roll became a real weapon. I guess it shouldn't be surprising that Turkoglu knew how to throw lobs to Jordan given how many years he spent playing next to Howard.
There are some very specific reasons that despite his 6'10 frame Turkoglu has never been considered an NBA 'big'. First and foremost, he's a terrible rebounder. His career average of 5.4 rebounds per 36 minutes is poor even for a small forward -- it's dreadful for a power forward. And it's not as if Turkoglu provides a lot of post defense or any rim protection.
But the most pleasant surprise of Hedo's tenure as a Clipper turned out to be his rebounding. He averaged 8.2 rebounds per 36 minutes this season, which was his career best per minute average by a wide margin. It was also third best among the Clipper bigs, trailing only starters Jordan and Griffin. I went into this experiment worried that Hedo was not viable as a power forward because his rebounding would kill the team, and that simply wasn't the case. It wasn't great, but it was acceptable. (It's hard to know why. He's certainly playing at a much higher weight than he has most of his career, when he was reed thin. It's also true that simply playing the four will lead to more rebounds, as you tend to be closer to the basket where the rebounds are.)
Then there's defense. Turkoglu's basketball IQ is off the charts, so his help positioning and general mastery of Rivers' defensive schemes was never in question. But he has never been a rim protector, he's not great in the post, and he lacks the lateral quickness at 35 to be very effective on switches in the pick and roll. As with most things with Turkoglu as a Clipper, his defense wasn't nearly as bad as I feared it might be -- but that doesn't mean it was good.
Future with the Clippers
Does Hedo Turkoglu have a future with the Clippers? I suppose if he has a future in the NBA, it is as likely to be with the Clippers as anywhere. He's 35 and he could retire. Having said that, this stint looks a bit like a late career renaissance for the Turk; it's kind of astounding that the guy blew away his career highs in both three point percentage and per minute rebounding during half a season with the Clippers after being away from the game for almost a year. NBA coaches absolutely adore stretch fours right now, and if you take his name (and especially his age) off of his 2014 stat line, it pretty much screams "stretch four." There's at least a little reason for Hedo to look at what he was able to do this season and conclude that in the right situation, with a training camp and a full season, he can still help a good team.
Sadly, his season ended prematurely in Game 5 of the first round playoff series against Golden State when he suffered a scary fall while drawing an offensive foul from David Lee. These are the kinds of injuries that can be difficult to overcome at age 35 -- so that will be a factor for Hedo this off-season as well.
The final three or four roster spots for next season's Clippers will no doubt be filled by veterans on minimum deals looking for a deep playoff run on a good team, just as they were this season. Turkoglu could be one of them -- or those spots could go to any number of other candidates. If you want a prediction from me, here it is: Turkoglu will not sign anywhere in the off-season, but he will work out on his own to stay in shape, and will look to catch on in the right situation for a stretch run, just as he did this season. So don't be surprised if Hedo Turkoglu's name gets mentioned in January and February, maybe even connected to the Clippers.