What is a Turnover in Basketball?

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If you’re a part of a basketball team, especially as a coach, there is a list of things that you treat as must-dos and mortal sins. The former might entail getting back on defense, making the extra pass, and taking uncontested shots. The latter may involve never fouling a jump shooter, shooting the ball without confidence, and never turning the ball over. Now, if you want to know more about the game, what is a turnover in basketball?

As a newbie, you have probably heard analysts and color commentators lamenting when a team piles up on turnovers. Coaches during timeouts are often heard reminding the players to take care of the ball. Those situations imply that turnovers are not a good thing in basketball. To understand more about what a turnover is, let us look at its definition, types, and how a player can avoid turning the ball over.

What Does Turnover Mean in Basketball_ What Does Turnover Mean in Basketball?

The term itself is a dead giveaway. A turnover is to “turn” the ball “over” to the opposing team because you committed a mistake. You gave up the possession of the ball before you ever took a shot and, therefore, dramatically impacts winning (and losing). A turnover happens in various ways, which we will discuss more in the next section.

According to Boston Globe sportswriter Bob Ryan, the concept of the turnover was first formulated by his colleague Jack Barry. Turnovers were not officially recorded until the 1967-68 season at the American Basketball Association (ABA). The NBA later adopted this practice following the NBA-ABA merger during the 1977–78 season.

What are the Different Types of Turnover_What are the Different Types of Turnover?

There are two types of turnovers in basketball. These are:

Forced Turnovers. A forced turnover is a result of good defense. For instance, the defensive team employs a full-court press, rattling the offensive team into a bad pass. That’s considered a turnover. Similarly, if an offensive player is trapped in a corner by the defense and steps out of bounds, that’s also a turnover. Both of these examples are forced turnovers.

What are the Different Types of Turnover

Unforced Turnovers. Also called unforced errors, an unforced turnover is not a result of good defense. The offensive player simply made a mistake, a miscalculation, or is unaware of what’s going on. For example, Steph Curry casually dribbled to the frontcourt when he accidentally bounced the ball on his foot. Or Luka Doncic tries to do a drive-and-kick and proceeds to throw a weak pass that was intercepted. The result is a turnover of the “unforced” variety in both cases.

More often than not, a turnover falls under those two general types. There are still many examples of how a turnover can occur. Here are more of them:

  • Dribbling violations such as palming and double-dribble
  • Offensive fouls (moving screens, charging, etc)
  • Technical foul
  • Violations (shot clock violation, eight-second violation, three-second violation, five-second violation, goaltending, basket interference, etc.)
  • Stepping out of bounds or throwing the ball out of bounds
  • Stolen or intercepted pass

How Many Turnovers Can a Team Have in an Entire Game?3 Common Causes of Turnover in Basketball

1. Defensive Pressure

The primary goal of playing defense is to stop the opponent from scoring, but specific defenses are geared toward forcing the other team to commit mistakes. Half-court or fullcourt pressure defenses are examples of this type of defense.

Defensive pressure impedes the opponent’s offensive flow, frustrates opposing personnel, and dictates the tempo. Defensive pressure may result in an immediate turnover, especially if the offensive team fails to adjust to it at first. Players may force passes, step out of bounds, or commit clock violations in reaction to a pressure defense. 

2. Lack of Awareness

Basketball is played at a fast pace that if you blink, you’re going to get eaten alive, metaphorically, of course. That is why it is absolutely vital to pay attention to detail and be aware of everything at all times– shot clock, game clock, and where you are on the court. Players must also be aware of where their teammates are to make sure they are ready to receive a pass if needed.

The videos below show a lack of awareness of the player’s part that resulted in a turnover:

  • Russell Westbrook committing the funniest travel of all time
  • Rajon Rondo thought he was walking in the park
  • Paul George passes to the ref

3. Taking Risks

Risk-taking is part of life, and it is very much an exciting component of basketball. However, you need to know when to take risks and when to tone them down. Taking risks could elevate a team from time to time, but it could often backfire. They may lead to easy points on the break but could very well result in turnovers.

For example, the coach may instruct you to run at every single opportunity. But should you take that advice literally, or should you choose said opportunities? You must select an opportunity to run the break but pull back if you don’t have the numbers. Doing so will cut down on turnover, and forcing the issue will result in costly mistakes. Remember that good teams value every possession.

How to Avoid a Basketball Turnover_How to Avoid a Basketball Turnover?

Turnovers will always be a part of the game, and basketball’s game speed makes it virtually impossible to altogether avoid a turnover. Even in the NBA, turning the ball over less than 10 times is already a cause for celebration. These guys breathe and sleep basketball and still commit basketball errors!

With that being said, teams must make it a point to consciously take care of the ball. Turnovers rob you of shot opportunities and, thus, have a negative impact on winning. Nothing makes a coach’s blood pressure rise than committing a careless turnover. Ironically, though, a team’s turnover problems can be alleviated by good coaching.

For example, as a coach, you need to preach simple, fundamental basketball plays. You should teach the players how to use angles and manipulate the defender if they are pressured. You must also reiterate that simple passes are the best kind of passes to prevent interceptions. On top of that, players receiving the ball must show their teammates a target to pass to, away from the defense, to prevent the ball from getting stolen.

Your players must also be adept at ball control and dribbling. If they lack this area, do dribbling and ballhandling drills at every practice. Youth teams should devote a generous amount of time to doing ballhandling drills. There is a reason why double-dribble violations are common at the youth level.

When dribbling, point guards and perimeter players must learn not to “carry” the ball. They must avoid getting their hand caught underneath the ball.

Point guards must be tough, smart, and aggressive in order to protect the ball. When your point guard “gets stripped” and the ball is stolen at half-court, the opponent dribbles down for a layup for an easy deuce. This is the worst kind of turnover.

You must also accept that changes won’t happen overnight. But as coaches, it’s your duty and responsibility to polish these things during team practices. The coach must also ensure that his team is mentally ready and focused during the game. While coaches are frequently frustrated by their team’s large volume of turnovers, it is often terrible coaching that causes the problem and good coaching that fixes it.

How to Avoid a Basketball Turnover

Which NBA Players Have the Most Turnovers_Which NBA Players Have the Most Turnovers?

As previously mentioned, even the world’s best basketball players are not immune from making mistakes and bad decisions. Here are some record-holders in the NBA with regards to turning the ball over:

Most Career Turnovers

  • LeBron James (4,788)
  • Karl Malone (4,524)
  • Moses Malone (4,624)
  • John Stockton (4,244)
  • Russell Westbrook (4,188)

Most Turnovers in a Game

  • Jason Kidd (14)
  • Chris Mullin (13)
  • James Harden (12)
  • Gilbert Arenas (12)
  • Dwyane Wade (12)
  • Paul Pierce (12)
  • Allen Iverson (12)
  • Jason Kidd (12, twice)
  • Damon Stoudamire (12)
  • Scottie Pippen (12, twice)
  • Sleepy Floyd (12)

Most Turnovers in a Game by a Team

  • San Francisco Warriors (45)
  • Los Angeles Lakers (43)
  • New Jersey Nets (41)
  • San Antonio Spurs (40, twice)
  • Phoenix Suns (39)

Most Turnovers in a Single Season by a Player

  • James Harden (464)
  • Russell Westbrook (438)
  • George McInnis (422)
  • George McInnis (401)
  • George McInnis (393)

Most Turnovers in a Playoff Game

  • James Harden (12)
  • Luka Doncic (11)
  • Trae Young (10)
  • James Harden (10)
  • LeBron James (10, twice)
  • Tim Duncan (10)
  • Kevin Garnett (10)
  • Moses Malone (10)
  • Penny Hardaway (10)
  • Kevin Johnson (10)

Which player included in the list of the most turnovers in NBA history surprised you the most? John Stockton in the all-time turnover list was a bit of a shock, but considering he played over 1,500 games and handled the ball a lot, it all makes sense. Stockton is averaging 2.8 turnovers per game in his career.

How Steph Curry Learned t o Cut TurnoversHow Steph Curry Learned to Cut Turnovers

Steph Curry keeps a frenetic pace every time he plays, but his career turnover numbers are mild in comparison. The two-time MVP plays almost 35 minutes a night and only commits 3.1 turnovers on average. How did Curry cut out his turnovers? Well, it’s not really him but his mom, Sonya Curry, who thought of an idea.

As a caring mother, Sonya wanted his son to improve his game by cutting his on-court mistakes. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, she came up with an idea, albeit an unconventional one. After the third turnover in every game, she charges him $100 per turnover.

Did it work? Apparently, it did!

“It keeps me on the edge every game,” Curry said. “I know she’s going to text me or have some witty one-liner about what she’s going to buy with all of my gifts.”

Judging from Curry’s career turnover average, Sonya earns about $110 on average in every Steph Curry game. Not a bad way to make extra income!

How Many Turnovers Can a Team Have in an Entire Game?How Many Turnovers Can a Team Have in an Entire Game?

There are no limits as to the number of turnovers a team can have in a game. The San Francisco Warriors committed 45 turnovers against the Boston Celtics on March 9, 1971. That Boston team led by John Havlicek and Dave Cowens was third in the league in defensive rating.

If you noticed, the record for most turnovers in a game by a team happened before the 90s, according to StatMuse. In fact, all of the games under that record occurred before 1990. The latest one was the San Antonio Spurs’ 40-turnover game against the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 15, 1989. It is important to note that only eight out of 22 games ended up in wins. That is proof that taking care of the ball gives you a higher chance of winning.

Wrapping Things Up: What is a Turnover in Basketball?

A lot of unfortunate things may happen in basketball. Double-digit leads may vanish into thin air, your team couldn’t buy a basket, and the referees’ calls are somewhat inconsistent. But as a coach, nothing infuriates you most than a turnover.

What is a turnover in basketball? Simply put, a turnover is any mistake, error, or violation committed by an offensive player before they can attempt a field goal. There are two types of turnovers in basketball— forced and unforced. Dribbling violations, offensive fouls, steals, and interceptions are examples of a turnover. It’s safe to say they must be avoided at all costs to give your team the best chance of winning the game.

There are three common reasons why a turnover happens. It could be intense defensive pressure, lack of awareness, and excessive risk-taking. The last two reasons point fingers directly at the offense. These could be avoided, but a lot is riding on the shoulders of the coach. The coach must seek accountability to his players and has the responsibility to prepare them for matchups. Also, he must set a considerable amount of time for ballhandling drills during team practices.

Now, in summary, again, what is a turnover in basketball? It is the worst thing that could ever happen to a team because it deprives them of a chance to score. Turnovers happen to the best of them but as a rule of thumb, it must be kept to a minimum for your team to have a chance to win.

We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.

You might also be interested in our posts about:

What is a Basketball Foul?

> What is a Crossover in Basketball?

> What is a Slasher in Basketball?

> What is Cherry Picking in Baskeball?

Hoops Addict
Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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