The men’s basketball season is right around the corner, and our preview content rolls along, looking at the skill sets and projections of the individual players on the roster. We’ve made it through six players thus far, and now we take a look at senior A.J. Turner.
Who he is:
Senior; forward; 6-foot-7; 200 pounds; Mt. Clemens, Michigan; Boston College transfer; former three-star recruit.
8.7 points per game; 29.8 minutes; 2.4 rebounds; 2.8 assists; .389 FG%, .328 3FG%, .779 FT%
After being forced to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules, Turner did a little bit of everything for Chris Collins’ team last season. Despite being recruited and listed as a forward, the BC transfer spent a good portion of the season as NU’s de-facto point guard for a variety of unfortunate reasons.
Like most players on this 2018-19 squad, Turner had an inconsistent season on the court. He showed spurts of brilliance, with three 20+ point games throughout the year, but he often struggled as well, as he was forced into an unfamiliar role and put in a position that simply didn’t match his skillset.
Much was asked of Turner in his first season playing in Evanston, and he deserves a fair amount of credit for taking on an unnatural role. He’s the Wildcats’ top returning scorer at 8.7 PPG, and he will also enter this season as the most ‘experienced’ on-court Wildcat from 2018-19. Turner averaged nearly 30 minutes per game last year, third behind only Vic Law and Dererk Pardon.
As evident by last year’s stats, Turner is the most-proven scoring option heading into this season. His shooting clips weren’t anything to marvel over (39 percent from the field, 33 percent from behind-the-arc), but the 6-foot-7 upperclassman has natural ability to put the ball in the bucket as both a driver and a shooter. However, it’s no secret that Turner did most of his (limited) offensive damage from beyond the perimeter.
He caught fire for six three-pointers against Depaul, and was the catalyst of a ferocious second-half comeback that turned into one of Northwestern’s only quality wins of the season. Turner’s smooth release and long athletic frame make him one of the most dangerous scoring threats on this 2019-20 roster.
Turner’s ball-handling struggles were exposed last season as he was thrust into the point guard role. He wasn’t used to playing in an area where he had to create for others/himself off the dribble, and that certainly showed. The Michigan native averaged nearly two turnovers per game and his Assist/TO ratio finished at a mere 1.5.
Moving Turner away from the point guard position and out to the perimeter, where he appeared to be more comfortable last year, will open up more opportunities for him to excel as one of this team’s top scorers.
Turner will start for this team when the season tips off in a little over a week, it’s just a matter of where he’ll play. In an ideal world, strong backcourt play, whether it be from Anthony Gaines/Pat Spencer/Ryan Greer/Boo Buie, will allow the forward time to shoot and attack the paint from the wing. He told us at Big Ten Media Days that while he was willing to play/contribute anywhere, he expects to see most of his on-court time at a wing spot.
No matter where he plays, Turner is going to have to score. And he’s going to have to score a lot. With Vic Law gone and much uncertainty as to this team’s ability to score in the front-court, the options on this team are scarce in terms of putting points on the board. And Turner, as he stressed to us by bringing up his exemplary performance against Illinois in the final game of 2019, could be ready to take the next step in that category.
If this NU team has any chance of being competitive in Big Ten play, he’ll have to shoot the ball more frequently and accurately from three-point range while showing a continued ability to get points at the rim.