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Off the Bench, On the Rebound Turkoglu's Transition

Hedo Turkoglu left Sacramento last summer as a 6'8", 246-pound
tweener whose porous defense helped cost him his role in the
Kings' rotation. Since being traded to the Spurs, however,
Turkoglu, 24, has dropped to a muscular 230 pounds, established
himself exclusively as a small forward and contributed to a
defense that ranks second in the NBA in opponents' field goal
percentage. The transformation is serious business for the native
of Turkey, who'll be a restricted free agent this summer. "When
he makes a mistake, it kills him," says Spurs coach Gregg
Popovich. "You can see it on his face. It's almost like he wants
to put himself in jail or something."

Turkoglu is averaging 21.6 minutes a game off the bench, and it's
crucial to the Spurs that he make the most of that time. San
Antonio won the title last season in part because of the
performances of subs Manu Ginobili, who has moved into the
starting lineup, and Speedy Claxton, Steve Kerr and Danny Ferry,
who are gone. While the Jan. 9 signing of guard Charlie Ward
bolstered the second unit, the Spurs need continued improvement
from Turkoglu, especially on offense, where he's shooting a
career-low 38.9% while averaging 7.4 points.

Turkoglu's confidence took a beating in Sacramento last year, but
his stroke has been returning--in his last seven games through
Sunday he shot 24 of 46 from the field, including 12 of 17 on
three-pointers. One positive influence has been teammate Tim
Duncan, who, in a Jan. 10 game against Indiana, showed faith by
kicking the ball out to Turkoglu for a clutch three that forced
OT in a game the Spurs won 89-88. "He's the MVP, and he believes
I can make those shots," Turkoglu says. "When he gets
double-teamed, he's just telling me to be open, and he'll get me
the ball."

Popovich hopes both Duncan's optimism and Turkoglu's improvement
are contagious. After shooting 46.2%--fourth best in the
league--last season, the Spurs have plummeted to 42.9% (21st),
and they're dead last in free throw shooting, at 67.1%. "That has
to change," Popovich says of his team's misfires, "or we can't be
as good as we were last year."

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES (TURKOGLU) Turkoglu has shored up a Spurs bench that lost key players from the '03 title run.

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