Top 50: Hedo Turkoglu, no. 35
The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.
by Emry DowningHall / @EmryBib
I could attempt to validate Hedo Turkoglu’s position at No. 35 on the SLAMonline Top 50 list through a barrage of statistics, but I’ve elected to go another route.
In order to understand Hedo’s value, you have to buy into the most important element of the National Basketball Association – matchups. Keep in mind, I’m not talking about the most important element of basketball in general; the N.B.A. tag is very important in the previous sentence.
Just as the scrappy, loose-ball snatching, charge taking, glue guys are essential to a team’s success at the high school level, players who make advanced scouts fax high priority adjustments to their team’s scouting reports are coveted in the N.B.A. Of course, the latter are coveted in high school as well, they’re just far less common.
Hedo Turkoglu is a 6-10 Turkish mismatch for opposing defenses. Since the ability to create matchup problems is a skill that can’t be taught, it’s why Hedo belongs in the elite class of small forwards in the league. It’s also the reason he hasn’t stopped smiling since inking that five-year, $53-million dollar deal, which will have him suiting up for the Toronto Raptors next season.
Holding down the moniker of “The Michael Jordan of Turkey,” Hedo’s game is actually more closely related to Scottie Pippen’s. Although rarely found in a defensive stance, offensively Hedo has been able to craft a unique and potent combination of size, range, and excellent court vision – much like Central Arkansas’s finest.
Last season, when Jameer Nelson separated his shoulder, prior to the Rafer Alston acquisition, Stan Van Gundy often turned to Turkoglu to keep defenses from adjusting to Anthony Johnson’s pacing, and to run different sets. Already massive for the three spot, Turkoglu’s ability to handle the basketball puts opposing defenders on their heels and allows him to dictate the tempo of the game.
The versatility we’ve seen in his five seasons in Orlando is a yawning chasm from the skill set with which he entered the N.B.A. Although effective at points during his first three years in Sacramento, he was cemented in the rotation behind Peja Stojakovic on a veteran team built to compete with the Lakers dynasty. Turkoglu was often regarded as soft and little more than a spot up shooter in both Sacramento and San Antonio, but his decision to sign with Orlando put his career back on track.
As his minutes and responsibilities increased with the Magic, he became more comfortable putting the ball on the floor. As a result, Hedo has been able to improve his first step, forcing defenders to play him honestly without face guarding. While nobody’s confusing him with Tim Hardaway, his combination of deep range, quick release, advanced passing ability, fade away and a competent first step allow him to choose his spots on offense.
You’re still skeptical? Fine. Let me put it this way: Why do you think Stan Van Gundy consistently called Hedo’s name as the first option in Orlando when the Magic were down to their last possession? Historically, the answer can be found here, here, and here; but before that precedent was set, why Hedo? Certainly Stan realized that 2009 NBA All-Star Rashard Lewis was in his huddle, right? The $120 million man was eligible for those final field-goal attempts, as was 2009 NBA All-Star Jameer Nelson and Superman himself, Dwight Howard. Yet time and time again it was Hedo’s weathered face triumphantly skipping back to the Magic bench poppin’ his No. 15 jersey in celebration.
The separation from his peers lies in his versatility. Hedo is able to catch the ball, read the defense and then take what he’s given. Take the game winner he hit against the 76ers in the first round of the 2009 playoffs. Thaddeus Young received a lot of criticism for not face guarding Hedo at the three point line, and while Young could have played him closer and shaded him toward help defense, that clip is a testament to Hedo’s versatility. Young figured if he pushed up on Hedo he would drive past him, but if he gave him space at least he could get a hand up on the shot. The problem is that the hand doesn’t matter because Hedo regularly shoots over top of his defenders.
Hedo joins Toronto as an established forward on a team hoping to bounce back from a disappointing season. Although his greatest success in a Raptors uniform would be convincing Chris Bosh to re-sign with the franchise, that responsibility falls on Jerry Colangelo, who put this team together. On the court, Hedo’s presence will help space the floor for both Bosh and Bargnani and take some pressure off of Calderon. If the Raptors are able to get anything out of DeRozan this season, it should be enough to be more than respectable in the East.
Hedo will have plenty of opportunity to improve on his personal statistics and perhaps his rank on next years SLAM Top 50. While accolades are nice, and free agent dollars are lovely, success in Toronto will ultimately be measured by wins, losses and Bosh’s signature on an extension.
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’09-10 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Brett Ballantini, Russ Bengtson, Toney Blare, Shannon Booher, Myles Brown, Franklyn Calle, Gregory Dole, Emry DowningHall, Jonathan Evans, Adam Fleischer, Jeff Fox, Sherman Johnson, Aaron Kaplowitz, John Krolik, Holly MacKenzie, Ryne Nelson, Chris O’Leary, Ben Osborne, Alan Paul, Susan Price, Sam Rubenstein, Khalid Salaam, Kye Stephenson, Adam Sweeney, Vincent Thomas, Tzvi Twersky, Justin Walsh, Joey Whelan, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.