The National Basketball League of Canada’s sophomore season ended this past week with the London Lightning defeating the Summerside Storm, 3 games to 1 in the Finals, as Micheal Ray Richardson coached his team to their second straight Championship. While there were many great players in the NBLC this season, perhaps the most interesting campaign was that of 20 year old point guard Josiah Turner, a former High School phenom who made his professional basketball debut in the NBLC, beginning his season with the Halifax Rainmen before playing a key role for the Storm on their run to the Finals.
Turner, a 6’3 pure point guard hailing from Sacramento, California, was the 11th overall ranked prospect in the class of 2011 according to Rivals.com and a high profile recruit to Arizona University, where he averaged 6.8 points, 2.4 assists and 3.1 rebounds over 29 games in his Freshman season. However, he was suspended twice by Arizona Coach Sean Miller and following his Freshman year announced his intention to transfer. Initially Turner was recruited by NBA Hall of Famer Larry Brown, the new coach at Southern Methodist University to play after sitting out this season, however announced he would withdraw from SMU and pursue a professional career, taking a similar route to Brandon Jennings, another California prep star who also declared to Arizona, but instead spent a season in Italy before becoming a lottery pick of the Milwaukee Bucks. Turner signed with Albacomp in Hungary’s A-Division, but during their pre-season came to the conclusion that it wasn’t a good fit and decided to join the National Basketball League of Canada, becoming the first high profile prospect to sign with the recently formed league.
Turner was a high profile signing for the Halifax Rainmen, who began the campaign with high hopes for their young and talented roster, coached by former NBA Champion Cliff Levingston. In his first five games with the Rainmen, Turner came off the bench behind two-time NBLC All-Star point guard Darren Duncan, and struggled to find consistency in limited minutes, compiling only 43 points on 38% FG, along with just 8 assists compared to 6 turnovers, 10 rebounds, 2 steals and a block in his first 87 minutes of court time.
However, the Rainmen parted ways with coach Cliff Levingston just five games into the season after a 2-3 start. Levingston’s replacement Rob Spon was instantly impressed by Turner’s speed, size and court vision, immediately inserting him into the Rainmen starting line-up, and calling him the best point guard he had ever seen at that age in interviews to Sportstream.ca. Spon’s confidence in Turner led to the Rainmen trading an unhappy Darren Duncan to the Windsor Express, effectively handing the keys to the offense over to the 20 year old former high school phenom. Turner started 8 of the next 9 Rainmen games, and responded with respectable averages of 11.6 points, 5.3 assists, 6.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 0.4 blocks in just over 32 minutes per game. Although he was never able to show a consistent jump shot during his stint with the Rainmen, Turner showed an amazing ability to slash into the paint and score or find his teammates for easy opportunities, especially when pushing the ball in transition. Turner’s long arms and athleticism helped him cause havoc in the passing lanes on defense, as well as pull in an impressive amount of rebounds for a player his size, and he had finally begun to show some of the potential that made one of the top prospects in the High School class of 2011.
Unfortunately, the same problems that caused Josiah Turner to be a disappointment in his lone season at Arizona reared their ugly head once again. The Rainmen had lost 3 straight with Turner at the point heading into a December 23rd road game against the Moncton Miracles, during which Spon played Turner less than five minutes in the first half before benching him for the rest of the game. This was the last time that Josiah Turner would be seen in a Rainmen jersey, as he was mysteriously absent for the next four Rainmen games, before his release was officially announced on New Years Day along with the following statement from Coach Rob Spon.
“Josiah just didn’t buy into my system…Josiah wanted to do what Josiah wanted to do. I’d call a set during a timeout I want run and he wouldn’t run it…Coming to games, I see him sitting around, I yell and he just gives me attitude…During practice and games, it just wasn’t working” -Rainmen Coach Rob Spon
Nearly three weeks passed before Turner was picked up by Halifax’s Atlantic-Division rivals, the Summerside Storm on January 21st. Upon joining the Storm (exactly a month since his last appearance with the Rainmen), Turner had to prove himself all over again, as he was now backing up Storm fan-favourite Al Stewart, the reigning NBLC Defensive Player of the Year. However, Turner impressed in what were initially limited minutes, and continued to earn the trust of Storm Coach Joe Salerno Jr. as the Storm ended the regular season on a seven game winning streak, clinching the Atlantic Conference and second playoff seed.
Over the last 15 games of the Storm regular season, Turner averaged 9.1 points on 50% FG shooting, 6.3 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals- while those numbers may not pop off the screen at first, Turner was putting up these stats in 19.5 minutes per game, meaning his numbers extrapolated to 16.7 points, 11.6 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.1 steals per 36 minutes. Turner’s emergence as a consistent point guard option down the stretch run allowed the Storm to deal with the absence of their starting point guard and emotional leader, Al Stewart, as he had to return home to Chicago to continue his career as a teacher.
Even though Stewart was able to return to play in four of the Storm Playoff games, Turner started at point six of eight playoff games, averaging over 13.6 points, 5.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 0.9 blocks in about 26 minutes a game. This included an impressive finals performance against a veteran London Lightning squad, as he was probably the Storm’s best player over the first three games of the series, averaging 21.3 points on 56% shooting, along with 6 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 2 steals and 0.7 blocks. Unfortunately Turner injured his back in the second quarter of Game Four, and the Storm were unable to hold onto their lead in his absence.
Despite missing a full month in the middle of the season, and stretches of limited minutes throughout, Turner’s season totals (including Playoffs) of 195 assists was 8th best in the NBLC, while his 52 steals was 15th best, 392 points was 37th best and 139 rebounds was 45th best. Turner’s season totals extrapolate to solid per-36 minute averages of 15.7 points, 7.8 assists, 5.6 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 0.7 blocks. Turner also totalled four double-doubles in 38 games, which tied him for 21st in the league. Another important statistic for point guards is assist to turnover ratio- Turner’s totals of 195 assists to 86 turnovers gave him a 2.27 A/TO ratio, good for 10th best in the NBLC, although that is brought down by his low assist numbers with the Rainmen. In his 23 regular season and playoff games with the Storm, Turner had 140 assists to 45 turnovers for a 3.11 A/TO ratio, which would have been second best in the NBLC behind his teammate Al Stewart.
In my opinion, Josiah Turner’s play this season showed distinct improvement from his disappointing single season at Arizona. Turner showed flashes of brilliance throughout his season in the NBL Canada, often while matched up against veteran guards who are a decade his elder, as the NBLC is becoming more notorious as a league that features extremely talented guard play. Turner has excellent size for the point guard position at a solid 6’3, 190 pounds, and possesses NBA-caliber athleticism- he threw down a few highlight reel dunks in the NBLC, something we didn’t see out of him at Arizona. His most impressive attributes are his speed with the ball and his court vision, skills which allow him to pick defences apart by pushing the ball in transition. Turner’s size, skill and athleticism, combined with the fact that he doesn’t turn 21 years old until July, after the NBA draft, certainly should put him on NBA teams radar. However, Turner’s skill and athleticism were never in doubt- it has been problems with his attitude and maturity that has led to a the 20 year olds nomadic lifestyle post-high school.
While Turner shows amazing ability to get to the hoop and finish in traffic, his perimeter shooting is a weakness. In total he shot just under 44% (145/331) from the field, just 28% (11/39) from 3 point range, (and remember the NBLC plays with the FIBA 3-point line, so he definitely doesn’t display NBA range), and 70% (93/133) from the free-throw line. However, when compared to his previous season at Arizona where he really struggled shooting under 42% from the field, 23% from 3 and 63% from the line, Turner did show a slight improvement shooting the basketball.
Lets take a look at some of the other top guards of Turner’s 2011 High School Class. Rivals ranked only Austin Rivers (1st), Bradley Beal (4th) and Marquise Teague (5th) ahead of Turner, and all 3 were NBA first round picks and are currently completing their rookie seasons, as is Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Wroten Jr (14th) who was ranked 3 spots behind Turner. Turner was also ranked ahead of all the guards projected to be selected in June’s NBA Draft, such as Syracuse PG Michael Carter-Williams (29th), Canadian PG Myck Kabongo of Texas (26th), potential first overall pick Ben McLemore of Kansas (34th), Miami PG Shane Larkin (72nd) and the Naismith Player of the Year, Michigan PG Trey Burke (142nd).
Experts have called this years NBA Draft one of the weakest classes of all time, and with the recent news that Oklahoma State PG Marcus Smart is returning to school, it is especially shallow at the point guard position- NBAdraft.net now projects just 4 PGs (Trey Burke, CJ McCollum, Carter-Williams and Nate Wolters) to be first round selections.
If I were an NBA General Manager, I would certainly scout Turner, and strongly consider drafting him with a second round selection. The Toronto Raptors, who held their training camp in Halifax during October, scouted Turner with the Rainmen and from all accounts were very impressed and saw NBA potential in the young Californian. I think the possible reward of selecting Turner, a 20 year old with an NBA ready body, in the second round greatly outweighs the risk, and in my opinion he has the highest ceiling of any point guard available in the 2013 NBA Draft. It certainly would be an excellent accomplishment for the National Basketball League of Canada to have a player drafted into the NBA draft, as it would legitimize the leagues status as a competitive, North American based alternative to the NBA Developmental League.