The Art Of Turnovers
According to Dean Oliver’s highly-touted Basketball on Paper, there are four identifiable keys to winning basketball games. Oliver believes if a team can do the following four things (and he assigns weighted percentages), they put themselves in the best position for success:
1. Shoot a high field-goal percentage (40%)
2. Do not commit turnovers (25%)
3. Get offensive rebounds (20%)
4. Get to the foul line frequently (15%)
Oliver arrives at his theory on the basis of the efficiency of these factors during a team’s possession compared to its opponent’s, not necessarily in absolute numbers.
Looking at the 2010-11 NBA season, we were curious what team led in these categories.
The Boston Celtics captured the best field-goal percentage at .486, the Miami HEAT was second (.481) and the Denver Nuggets came in third (.476). Dallas and San Antonio were tied at fourth (.475).
The Philadelphia 76ers committed the least number of total turnovers (1,063) last season and the lowest average turnovers in the postseason. The Detroit Pistons were second (1,067), and the New Orleans Hornets were ranked third (1,069). The Portland Trail Blazers (1,070) and Los Angeles (1,073) were fourth and fifth, respectively.
The Minnesota Timberwolves recorded the highest number of offensive rebounds at 1,085. The Sacramento Kings grabbed the second-highest at 1,071, and the Washington Wizards were third at 1,013. Interesting that each of these teams ended up in last place in their division last season. Teams with the lowest offensive rebounds were Boston (639), Atlanta Hawks (762) and Dallas (780).
In free throw attempts, Denver attempted the most (2,429), the Oklahoma City Thunder was second at 2,401 and Miami rounded the top three with 2,288.
Teams with the highest field-goal percentage weren’t surprising; neither were the free-throw leaders. Given the fact Kevin Love led the league in average offensive rebounds per game (4.5) and defensive rebounds (10.7), and both the Kings and Wizards had high-level tandem offensive board players (Samuel Dalembert/DeMarcus Cousins and JaVale McGee/Andray Blatche, respectively), no surprises there.
What about turnovers? We suspect some folks may be surprised to learn Philadelphia and Detroit claimed the least amount of turnovers last year.
Taking care of the basketball is a true reflection of discipline in the game. Poor court vision and mental lapses often explain why certain players struggle with turnovers.
Turnovers occur in a variety of ways, including steals, traveling, double dribbling, bad passes and, of course, simply failing to get a shot off before the play clock expires (shot clock violation). There are many types of offensive violations that result the ball being turned over, such as the three-second violation (in the lane too long), stepping out of bounds, free throw lane violation, ten-second backcourt violation (delay in ball crossing the half-court line), over-and-back violation and passing inbounds violation, just to name a few.
The methods to track various aspects of turnovers and how they affect the game are extensive. Note – Team turnover statistics were not officially recorded by the NBA before the 1973-74 season; recording individual player statistics began in the 1977-78 season.
Turnovers Per Game (individual): Russell Westbrook took the top spot last season in highest number of average turnovers (3.9). John Wall was second-ranked at 3.8, LeBron James and Dwight Howard tied at third (3.6), and Steve Nash and Deron Williams were next at 3.5. In the top ten list of those committing the most per game turnovers include seven guards, which is not too unexpected given how much guards handle the ball.
As far as total turnovers, Westbrook committed 316 (82 games), James had 284 (79 games), Howard had 279 (78 games) and Derrick Rose had 278 (81 games).
In the point guard position – averaging at least 30 minutes per game – Beno Udrih had the fewest turnovers per game (1.8), D.J. Augustin was second (1.9) and Kyle Lowry ranked third (2.1).
Turnover Margin: This is a little-used statistic that really gives a good picture; it is derived by subtracting the number of turnovers a team makes from the number of times an opponent turns the ball over to them. The Memphis Grizzlies and Portland tied last season at a turnover margin of -2.7. The Cleveland Cavaliers had the worst turnover margin at +0.7.
Points Scored Off Turnovers: Minnesota led this category last year with 20.02 average points scored by opponents when they turned over the basketball. The Los Angeles Clippers were next with 19.07 points scored and Sacramento was third (18.91). The Hornets win this battle with an average 14.56 points scored by opponents off turnovers committed. The Lakers are second with 14.67, and Philadelphia comes in third with 14.68.
Assist to Turnover Ratio: This ratio is determined by the number of assists a player makes per turnover committed. What this reveals is how good a player is with the ball in his hands. The higher the ratio, the better. Chris Paul had the best assist to turnover ratio last season at 4.42; Jose Calderon was second at 4.09, and Jason Kidd ranked third at 3.66. Using criteria of at least 30 minutes playing time, Tyreke Evans has the worst A/TO at 1.73, Stephen Curry is next at 1.91, then Brandon Jennings at 2.09. (Darren Collison’s ratio was 2.08, and barely missed the minutes per game criteria at 29.9)
Turnover Percentage: This number represents an estimate of turnovers per 100 plays. Among players logging an average of at least thirty minutes on the floor, Rajon Rondo tops the list at 24.32%. Steve Nash had the second highest turnover percentage at 22.35%, and Jason Kidd was third at 22.13%. On the other end, Al Jefferson (6.77%), Tayshaun Prince (7.09%) and Antawn Jamison (7.29%) had the lowest turnover percentage. Of all point guards, Brandon Jennings had the lowest TO rate at 12.37%, D.J. Augustin was second at 12.46% and Derrick Rose came in third at 13.12%.
Now some fun facts about turnovers.
Jason Kidd set a record of most turnovers (14) in a single game on 11/17/2000; Chris Mullin is second with 13 turnovers on 3/31/1988.
Artis Gilmore has committed the most turnovers in a single NBA season thus far: 366 in the 1977-78 season. Allen Iverson holds the record for the most single-season turnovers over the past 24 years at 344 in the 2004-05 season.
As for career high total turnovers, Karl Malone tops the list with 4,524. John Stockton is second at 4,244 and Kidd holds the third place at 3,836.
Oliver noted that the NBA team with fewer turnovers wins about 58% of the time. Further, if field-goal percentages are about equal, he claims the team with fewer turnovers wins 69% of the time.
Back to the Sixers, and the fact they led the league in fewest total turnovers last season. How did they accomplish this feat given they ranked 18th in total turnovers the season before (2009-10)?
Sixers coach Doug Collins was successful in convincing his players to buy into his philosophies about discipline in practice. He preaches the importance of valuing the basketball – never letting up – and it worked. Andre Iguodala improved his turnovers from 2.7 per game in 2009-10 and 2008-09 to 2.1 last season. Elton Brand recorded the lowest number of average turnovers in his career (2.1). Louis Williams had the lowest turnovers in the past four years (1.4 pg), Spencer Hawes had the lowest in three years (1.2 pg). Jodie Meeks had the highest of his career, but remained impressive at 0.8. Evan Turner logged just 1.0 average TO, which was amazing given his 3.5 average at Ohio State. Jrue Holiday was the lone concern, jumping from 2.1 to 2.7 last season.
As for the Pistons (just four total turnovers more than the Sixers last year), nearly every player significantly improved their turnover number.
Turnovers are frequently game-changers. It can ruin late-game momentum or create late-game opportunities. While they will always figure prominently in basketball; controlling them can lead to a path of success.