After Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament appearance in 2017, A.J. Turner transferred from Boston College despite being a consistent starter for the Eagles. Three years later, things didn’t quite pan out for Michigan native.
Still, Turner played key roles for Chris Collins in his two seasons. Even though he never played point guard at BC, he did an admirable job filling in and starting at the position in his first season at NU. With Pat Spencer and Boo Buie taking the reins as primary guards this year, the senior mainly contributed as a backup forward and guard in his final go as a Wildcat.
The following numbers are taken from KenPom.com
When looking at Turner’s statistics, his three-point percentage jumps out. With an accuracy rate under 30 percent, the senior’s woes from deep hindered his ability to become an impact player. Rather than stretching the floor as a wing off of the ball, opposing defenses could divert their attention from Turner since he struggled to consistently hit shots from long range. His offensive rating ranked above only Ryan Greer.
On the bright side, Turner proved reliable with the ball in his hands. His turnover rate ranked just outside the top 50 nationally and slotted in at third in the conference. His sure-handedness led Chris Collins to call upon him to help facilitate the offense, especially when some of the guards were on the bench. Defensively, Turner provided Northwestern with great physical tools. His length helped him drape defenders without fouling, as his 1.8 fouls called per forty minutes ranked 83rd in the country.
The following stats are taken from hoop-math.com
With such a low shooting percentage from three, it is surprising that nearly half of Turner’s attempts came from deep. Most of his other shots were mid-range jumpers, and his percentages didn’t increase much. Approximately one-third of Turner’s shots came from the middle of the floor where he shot an abysmal 30 percent.
The remaining 20 percent of his shots came in the paint. He shot 65.6 percent around the rim, second highest on the team, below only Pete Nance. This may lead fans to question why he did not attack the rim as much instead of settling for lower percentage jump shots. His free throw percentage was a pedestrian 60 percent, which could indicate a hesitancy to attack the basket.
Although listed as a forward, Turner played the majority of his minutes as a guard. According to KenPom, he logged 70 percent of his minutes as a guard in the final five games of this season. He was a safe option at guard when Northwestern struggled with depth at the position in 2018-2019. When Spencer and Boo Buie arrived and took over as Northwestern’s lead guards, Turner served as an important safety net for Collins. His veteran position on the team became more crucial once Anthony Gaines went down with a season-ending injury.
While Turner chipped in minimal scoring, his impressive 2.88 assist:turnover ratio paired with solid defense made him a formidable player off of the bench.
The ability to handle the basketball can only take a player so far. Northwestern desperately needed shooting last season, and Turner was unable to shoulder that burden.
The Mount Clemens, Michigan, native produced efficient shooting numbers from close range, but he didn’t attempt enough of those shots to be effective. His lack of layups and floaters can be attributed in part to roughly 60 percent of his baskets in the paint being assisted. In Turner’s tenure at Northwestern, the Wildcats desperately needed someone who could create his own shot, something he was not able to provide.
The Bottom Line
Spectators must feel some level of empathy for Turner. Expectations were high after he announced his transfer to NU. The Wildcats had just made the NCAA tournament and seemed primed for even greater prospects while Turner was viewed as one of the most sought-after transfers in the nation.
Since then, the team has been through a rough patch, compiling a 36-59 record in three seasons. Regardless, A.J. Turner should not have to bear the brunt of the blame for a disappointing two seasons. He embraced the starting point guard role as a junior and provided veteran leadership to a very young team that struggled in 2019-20.