When we break down different types of actions on the court, we tend to look at play-by-play as a guide to understanding the play types. The most common break down we see is the shot type for a field goal attempt. From there, we have recently tended to discuss the differences between Klay Thompson and his Catch-and-Shoot abilities, James Harden and his Stepback, and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s dunking prowess. These are a few examples of all the varying types of shot types. Almost all of these shot types are understandable. But what about other types of statistical categories?
For instance, how well does a player protect the ball? I pick this category because I’ve had a long belief that a turnover is as bad as a missed field goal attempt with a defensive rebound. They serve the same purpose as no points are scored while the ball falls back into the opponent’s possession. Due to this, my clunky version of computing adjusted field goal percentage back in 1997 would divide by FGA + TOV. I hadn’t thought of “points per possession” as a high school kid. Despite this philosophy, we have seen that all turnovers are not created equal, as loose ball turnovers can lead to fast breaks much more often than an offensive foul turnover, or a “kick-the-ball-20-rows-deep” turnover.
In our quest to break down turnovers, we found some much lesser known turnover types. In this post, we look at the distribution of turnovers, describe some of the lesser known types, and then take a look at a select few players with respect to their distributions of turnovers.
As of this morning (27 January 2019) there have been 21,280 turnovers. That sounds like a lot, however, there has been a total of 734 games played for an average of 29 turnovers a game. That breaks down to 14-15 turnovers per team per game.
Most Common Turnover Types: Live Ball Turnovers
The most common type of turnover is the Bad Pass. This type of turnover is a live ball turnover and has occurred 7570 times throughout the season. The second most common type of turnover is the Lost Ball, yet another live ball turnover. This occurred 3995 times during the season. This means that at least 11,565 of the 21,280 turnovers, over half, are live-ball turnovers that potentially turn into fast breaks for opponents.
Next Most Common Types: Dead Ball Turnovers
After we see 54.34% of turnovers become live ball turnovers, we then see a flurry of dead ball turnovers, such as the Offensive Foul (2790 times), Bad Pass: Out-of-Bounds (2357 times), Traveling (1479 times), and Lost Ball: Out-of-Bounds (1133 times). In total, these make up 7759 turnovers, resulting in 36.46% of turnovers.
After these two collections of turnovers, we run into the shot clock violation, which has occurred 791 times over the course of the season, or approximately 1 per game. The turnovers occur when a team runs out of time on the shot clock before attempting a field goal that hits the rim. Note: a deflected pass off the rim does not reset the shot clock.
Despite running through a total of seven types of turnovers, we still have at least another seventeen types of turnovers to monitor. Some are quite obvious, but rare: offensive goaltending, backcourt violation, double dribble, and Kicked Ball. However, there are a couple rather little known types of turnovers such as the Illegal Assist, the Illegal Screen, the Punched Ball, and the No Turnover.
Yes, the “No Turnover” Turnover.
Before we discuss the rare type turnovers, here is the distribution of turnovers as of this morning:
The “No Turnover” Turnover
The “No Turnover” turnover occurs when possession of the basketball is lost prior to a field goal or free throw attempt but the opponent does not gain possession of the ball. That’s right, there’s a turnover category where the opponent does not gain possession of the ball. Let’s take a look at the nuance of this foul type.
Example 1: Julius Randle vs. Sacramento
In the October 19th match-up between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Sacramento Kings, Julius Randle became one of the first players to pick up the No Turnover turnover. In this play, Darius Miller is guarding Justin Jackson on a drive to the basket that resulted in a miss. Just before Miller secures the rebound, referee Sean Corbin calls Julius Randle for a loose ball foul.
With the placement of the basketball, the fact that the Kings had given up possession with a missed field goal attempt, and the positioning and timing of the foul, the ball was deemed a defensive rebound to the Pelicans without securing the ball. This resulted in a turnover as a defensive rebound identifies transfer of possession to the Pelicans, despite the Pelican never having possession of the ball.
Example 2: Joe Harris vs. Washington
In a similar play during a November 16, 2019 match-up between the Brooklyn Nets and the Washington Wizards, Joe Harris picked up a No Turnover turnover when committing a loose ball foul against Washington’s Bradley Beal after D’Angelo Russell attempted a field goal.
Again, the ball was ruled as an offensive team rebound as the foul occurs during the loose ball scramble, which results in two free throws for Washington. In this case, a new chance continues within the offensive possession, however no field goal or free throw attempt is credited before Washington gets a chance to shoot.
What separates this example apart from above is that in the Pelicans’ case, the fouler was on defense while in the Nets’ case, the fouler is on offense. What this actually shows is the loose ball rebound foul after a field goal attempt; that it is common for play-by-play to be marked as a team rebound for the fouling party with a No Turnover turnover.
Example 3: Non-Foul No Turnovers
Loose ball fouls on field goal attempts are not the only kind of no turnover turnovers. In fact, there are situations where a No Turnover turnover occurs and no team loses possession. Consider the NBA’s rule book video example. In this case, the possession never really ceases for the red team, but only one turnover is listed.
In this case, Portland never gains possession of the ball, but a turnover is noted. This is listed as 2 possessions with one turnover according to possession counting. Some may look at this as one possession with no turnover despite on being listed. Others may look at this as three possessions with one phantom turnover. Just keep this in mind as you look for team-to-team possession counting as this will add in an extra possession and potentially shift an identifier of which team has the basketball; depending on your methodology of possession counting.
The “Illegal Assist” and “Excess Timeout”
The illegal assist is a fun turnover to track. This turnover type identifies players that hang on the rim in an effort to use the rim to assist for a rebound. This has only occurred three times so far this season. By why not enjoy the beauty, and potential hazards if you’re Derrick Jones Jr.
Not to single out Jones Jr., Reggie Jackson and Jerami Grant are the other two culprits to pull this stunt this year.
There are other types of odd-ball turnovers, which also include one instance this season of Excess Timeout, which occurred during a Dallas Mavericks versus Oklahoma City Thunder game on December 31, 2018. In this game,at 6:43 in the 4th quarter with the Mavericks trailing, Steven Adams tipped in a missed Russell Westbrook field goal attempt. Rick Carlisle immediately calls a timeout, which he unfortunately does not have.
Despite having the time for a Thunder t-shirt toss game break to discuss things over with his team, Carlisle’s gaffe cost the Mavericks their ensuing possession, resulting in a Westbrook technical free throw.
Live Ball Turnover “Specialists”
If the ball is ever going to be turned over, ideally a team would prefer that the turnover be a dead ball situation, allowing the defense to reset and force an opposing team in a half-court possession. Looking at the turnovers across the league, we find that the following players have the highest rates of turnovers that result in live ball turnovers.
Notice who is missing from the Top 25 players? In fact, the Atlanta Hawks lead the league in live ball turnover percentage; which is one of their primary reasons for falling behind in games. That is, 533 of their 868 turnovers are live ball, resulting in potnetial fast breaks, for an astonishing 61.4% of turnovers. Compare that to the Tortonto Raptors 56%, Minnesota Timberwolves 51%, Golden State Warriors 54%, Brooklyn Nets 54%, and even the Chicago Bulls 54%, and you begin to see that they are well ahead of teams when it comes to live ball turnover rate. The third place team on this list, Cleveland Cavaliers, only sit at 57%. The second place team, Houston Rockets, settle in at 59.96%, but have created less than 650 turnovers compared to Atlanta’s 868.
Playing the analytics game of rates versus counts, that’s a differential of three less live ball turnovers a game for Houston when comparing the two teams and their rates.
Dead Ball Turnover “Specialists”
On the flip side, by inverting the live-ball list, we obtain the Dead Ball Turnover “Specialists.” These players tend to kill the clock when turning over the ball. While a team would prefer to avoid turning the ball over, these players at least give their team a chance to set their defense up.
Notice that these players primarily are post players. This makes sens as turnovers tend to be loose ball fouls, offensive fouls, and lost ball out of bounds. Some highlighted players are Aaron Gordon of Orlando, Giannis Antetokounmpo of Milwaukee, PJ Tucker of Houston, Kris Dunn of Chicago, and Jayson Tatum of Boston. These players all have significant “touch time” at the perimeter and drive to the basket; but yet their turnovers tend to result in dead ball situations.