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Tuesday, June 30, 2009
The Michael Jordan of Turkey, in Free Agency

Free agency starts at midnight tonight, and the class president is Hedo Turkoglu.

The last time we saw the Orlando forward Turkoglu play, he did not have his best game. In Game 5 of the NBA Finals he dawdled on offense. He fell for fakes, and in a key stretch of the game, he made his man, Laker Trevor Ariza, look like an All-Star. At one point, after getting his feet tangled on defense, Hedo looked to be starring in one of those old "help, I've fallen and I can't get up!" ads.

Hedo Turkoglu
The play of a lifetime: With Game 2 of the NBA Finals tied in the closing seconds, Hedo Turkoglu blocked Kobe Bryant's shot, collected the loose ball, and called timeout with 0.6 seconds left. It was for naught: After Courtney Lee's missed buzzer-beater, the Magic lost in overtime.
(Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

As that happened, I was sitting next to David Thorpe, who is a huge fan of Turkoglu's game on most nights. "I don't know," he said, "what Hedo Turkoglu is doing."

This morning Thorpe reflected on Turkoglu, and why he is absolutely a key free agent.

King of the Pick and Roll
"Hedo Turkoglu is the best pick and roll small forward in the league, after LeBron James," says Thorpe. "So the conversation starts there. His ability to handle, penetrate, shoot, change speeds, be crafty and unpredictable -- all with excellent size and length -- that's a killer combination."

Thorpe cautions, however, that he does not believe Turkoglu would thrive in any system. "He's a little bit like Lamar Odom. The game comes so easy to him, and he's so talented, that sometimes he loses focus. Stan Van Gundy handled that really well. He was very smart. He ran a ton of side pick and rolls for Turkoglu, which forced him to lock in. People criticized Van Gundy for that, saying he should have gotten the ball to Dwight Howard more ... but a lot of those side pick and rolls ended in dunks for Dwight Howard. If you just stuck him on a team as complimentary player, and expect him to hit some open shots, then I don't think he would be nearly as productive. But when you keep Turkoglu engaged, he's a very special small forward.

"Turkoglu may have been the third or fourth best player on the Magic this season. But he played better than that, because of how the team forced him to be playmaker, which is what he does best. Now, his sense of urgency still wavered some. But in the playoffs, his focus was just about always there, and that's a huge part of the reason the Magic made it so far."

As a defender, Thorpe says Turkoglu is underrated. "He has length and feel. He's a coordinated athlete. He's also really tall and long. I don't think of him as winning the battle on grit, but it's not like there are a lot of times you watch a Magic game and think Turkoglu's getting killed! When he's engaged, I'd certainly say he's a net positive for your defense.

Hedo Turkoglu
Teams often double Turkoglu on side pick and rolls. One way he can punish them for that is by splitting the double team to get into the lane.
(Emmaneul Dunand/AFP via Getty Images)

Future Blazer?
Where might Turkoglu end up? Now that Vince Carter and his big contract are in Orlando, it would be very tough for the Magic to bring him back. Sources indicate that Portland -- a team that cleared a little extra cap room on draft day -- is leading the hunt, while another suitor could include the Raptors.

Thorpe says that if the Portland rumors are true, Nate McMillan should already be watching the Magic and planning to add a side pick-and-roll to the playbook with Turkoglu and Greg Oden.

"Dwight Howard was amazing at diving to the hoop on the play, running straight down the lane to make himself a threat to catch the ball at the hoop. Greg Oden will have to do that, and then if I were LaMarcus Aldridge, I'd spend the summer mastering the NBA 3, like Rashard Lewis -- because when the small forward and the center are running this play , the help usually comes from the power forward who can be wide open in the corner.

The Making of Hedo Turkoglu
How is it that a 6-10 player grows up with point guard skills? It's quite a remarkable story. Turkish TrueHoop reader Mert Uyar spent some time at his keyboard explaining the Michael Jordan of Turkey from the Turkish perspective.

Many thanks to Turkish TrueHoop reader Mert Uyar for explaining Hedo Turkoglu's early years to us. He writes:

Hidayet Turkoglu
Hedo, it is said, is the M.J. of Turkey. An unbelievable rising player in recent years. How did he succeed to become the superstar of the Magic? Let's have a look at the beginning of his career. The time before Americans meet him. His teams, successes and tiring adventure until he reaches NBA goal.

Hedo is the youngest member of a family who immigrated from Yugoslavia. They came to Bayrampasa, İstanbul. He was born in 19th of March 1979 in İstanbul. He is the first Turkish-born player in NBA. He followed the way that Mirsad Turkcan opened. (Turkcan was not born in player, but played in the NBA as a Turkish national.)

Hedo has one older brother. He used to play basketball also when he was a child. Hedo was noticed at his elder brother's basketball training. Hedo began to play basketball also. He even was big when he was a child.

He was in Yildirim Primary School and Middle School. His Middle School team won the Turkey Championship by the help of young Hedo. Then, he was chosen by Cavusoglu High School. This selection was a key point.

Hedo Turkoglu
Once in the lane, Turkoglu is adept at creating shots for teammates..
(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

The coach Leyla Caliskan, taught him to be a play-maker. She even accepted his mistakes and she expected him to be a point guard. Hedo made it. He was so tall but he learned to play as a point guard. The importance of coaches and infrastructure was clearly made again. If Leyla Caliskan forced him to play as a center, he would have never become such a valuable player. With the foresight of his coach, young Hedo played as a point guard.

But this was a team game and Hedo was not alone. Hedo had some valuable teammates in that youngster team. Current national team point guard Kerem Tunceri and sharp shooter Tufan Ersoz were his teammates. The team as a whole was very qualified. "We had great successes when Hedo was in the high school team. He was a mismatch for other teams. He was tall and able to dribble and penetrate to the rim. In 1995, we reached the world final but lost to a school from Greece. Hedo couldn't make the last shot. The ball came off the rim and we lost the game. In 1997, we won the title by beating same school. We totally outscored our opponent and we deserved to win," explains Nejat Sayman, one of his former coaches.

Cavusoglu High School won the Turkey and World Championship. Hedo was the key and became a high self-esteem player. His school coaches, Leyla Caliskan, Hakan Yavuz and Nejat Sayman, were the main factors of this self esteem.

Efes Pilsen acquired Hidayet in 1995. In his Efes Pilsen
career, he was trained by important coaches like Ergin Ataman, Oktay Mahmudi and Berkant Can Cagali. He graduated from Cavusoglu High School and was selected to Efes Pilsen's professional team by head coach Aydin Ors. He played in both teams. He played with important players such as play-maker Petar Naumoski and gained much experience. He became a valuable member from 1997 to 2000. He was getting more active day by day.

In 2000, Efes Pilsen was a strong team but Hedo's amazing individual performances during the whole season made the difference and Efes Pilsen reached the Euroleague Final Four. Hedo was almost ready for the NBA.

Ismail Senol, Turkish NBA commentator, explains: "After carrying Efes Pilsen to the Euroleague final-four in 2000, Turkoglu was drafted by the Sacramento Kings with the 16th overall pick of the 2000 NBA Draft and decided to move his pro career to the other side of the Atlantic. On his rookie season, Vlade Divac got Hedo under his wings and the dividends were paid when he was named to the NBA's All Rookie second team. Right after his first NBA season, Hedo became the leader of the Turkish National Team, nicknamed '12 Giants.' Tournament hosts Turkey won the silver medal, thanks to Hedo."

The next year Hedo kept getting better. The Kings were unlucky to lose to the Lakers in the playoffs thanks to Robert Horry's incredible buzzer beater 3. Then, Hedo chose a new path. The new home was San Antonio Spurs. He contributed to his team but he again bumped into a Lakers wall. Tim Duncan's Spurs were eliminated but Hedo finished the season having made 42% of his 3-pointers.

Orlando noticed this success. He signed a new deal for six years and a reported $39 million. After few seasons of losing, they reached the playoffs but were swept by the Pistons in the first round. Then Stan Van Gundy was introduced as the head coach. Hedo and the Magic both developed. Especially in the last two years, Hedo has become an extremely cool and confident in crunch times. This makes him a clutch player. The young guy who had not afraid to shoot at the last second of the final match of tournaments of his youth is still attempting such shots without any pressures or fear. That fearless young Turkish guy took his team to the NBA Finals. He played well, made everything for his team's victory but wasn't enough. Blocking Kobe and making him to loose the ball was amazing. It's recorded as an unforgettable moment of the NBA Finals.

Hedo came so far step by step. Theoretically, the next step is the ring. Maybe the history will be recorded next year. We'll watch and see.

After his first season in NBA, Hedo came to the national team for Eurobasket 2001 in Turkey.  With the enormous support of Turkish people, the Turkish national team played by heart. It was more like fighting than playing. Turkey reached the final but was too young and inexperienced against former Yugoslavia. The heroic games and performances made by Hedo and the whole team. He always told that he is proud to be a player of national team. He has participated every year except 2006. In 2008, he led the national team in Eurobasket 2009 qualifying. We expect more from him in 2009 and 2010 Turkey.

Kaan Kural, the most famous Turkish NBA analyst says there is one more important part to this story. "Hedo, in addition to his all characteristics, is respectful. Especially he never forget his former coach Leyla Caliskan. When he was a junior, his coach changed gender, and became a woman. Many parents overreacted to this but he always respected her. He never cared about complaints and gossip. He never ignored the importance of his coach in his basketball career. Because Caliskan forced him to play as a point guard and helped to be the best tall guard since Magic Johnson. (Pippen was also a tall player but he never had such play-maker characteristics.) So, Hedo never forget his coach. He always supported him and still has been showing his respect."

So, the incredible mentally development made Hedo a superstar. I call him as a super star. If he leaves Magic, his worth will be better understood. There aren't any players in draft 2000 who even came close to Hedo's status. There is only one rival to Hedo's skill at that size, and that's the king, LeBron James. That proves to us the level that Hedo achieved. We are proud of you SON OF TURK!