What is Turnover in Basketball?

If you’ve watched any basketball games and listened to the commentary, you’ve probably heard them talking about turnovers. You may get the sense that the team that can keep it at the lowest possible number stands a better chance of winning the game. The truth is no fan loves to see their team suffer a turnover. You’ll find out why in this article.

So, what is a turnover then?

A turnover is when a player loses possession of the ball to the opposing team before they have a chance to attempt a shot. Turnovers can happen for several reasons, including making offensive errors or when the opposing team has an effective defense.

A turnover means a team gives up their offensive position and reduces their chances of scoring points, hence, reducing their chance of winning.

Major Causes of a Turnover

Violations are fouls in a basketball game, usually concerning the game’s rules like timing rules and dribbling. Many times, turnovers are related to game violations as many violations results in turnovers and sometimes also a free throw.

Some of the reasons why a turnover can happen in basketball include the following:

Fouls: This could be as a result of any number of fouls, including personal, team, offensive, shooting, charging, and technical fouls.

Illegal Screen: This occurs when a screener takes an unlawful advantage of contact, usually resulting in an offensive foul.

Stolen Ball: When defensive players try to and successfully steal the ball from their opponent with positive, aggressive action.

Held Ball: An unclear situation where two players firmly have their hands on the basketball.

Three-Seconds Violation: Flouting the rule that says a player cannot stay inside the paint for more than 3 seconds in a row leads to a foul, and the opponent will get possession of the ball.

Five-Seconds Violation: It is a rule that guides against a player that doesn’t dribble, shoot or pass the basketball ball for more than 5 seconds as a result of closely guarded opponents. Flouting this rule results in a foul and leads to turnover.

Eight-Seconds Violation (Ten-Seconds in WNBA): This is when a player is unable to clear the half-court in eight seconds (ten seconds in WNBA, high school, and college basketball) after the team inbound with the basketball.

Twenty-Four Seconds Violation: This is a violation when a team fails to hit the ball to the rim within 24 seconds of the shot clock.

Backcourt Violation: Occurs when a basketball team is unable to take the ball to the frontcourt from the backcourt in 8 seconds.

Stepping out of bounds: This happens when the offensive player steps out of bounds and obstructs the ball leading the defensive team to get possession.

Traveling: Occurs when a player takes three steps without dribbling the ball.

Double Dribble: A player uses two hands to dribble or stops with the ball and then starts dribbling again.

Shot Clock Violation: This happens when a team fails to attempt a field goal in the allotted time.

Pass Interception: This happens when the defensive team succeeds in catching the pass of the offensive team.

Palming/Carrying: When a player allows their hand goes under the basketball while dribbling and then stops it for a while.

Throwing a Ball Out of Bounds: A player intentionally throws the ball outside the bound to prevent ball catching.

Goaltending: This is when a player illegally stops the basketball from entering the goal.

Types of Turnovers in Basketball

There are two main types of turnovers in basketball:

Forced Turnover

These are turnovers that are caused or created by opponent players in the other team. Forced turnovers usually occur due to a lack of concentration on the offensive player’s part and poor strategies. It is rarely a result of solid defense.

This type of turnover is bound to happen, and you cannot prevent them completely; you can only limit it by improving your skills.

Examples of Forced Turnovers include pass interception, ball steals, etc.

Unforced Turnover

These turnovers occur due to a player’s mistakes or errors on the court. Unforced turnovers are individual and vary depending on the player. The best way to avoid this type of turnover is positive practice and making sure to keep up with your teammates.

Unforced turnovers caused by just one player can cause the entire team to lose.

Examples of unforced turnovers include three-second violation, double dribble, stepping out of bounds, etc.

How To Keep NBA Turnovers Per Game at a Minimum

Follow the tips below to keep your turnovers to a minimum:

  1. Practice passing the ball accurately and hard all the time to avoid interceptions. It is easy for the defense to steal soft passes from opponents.
  2. The proper motivation for the players so they do not lose their focus regardless of what happens in court. It is helpful to build players’ toughness mentally and physically so they can handle pressure.
  3. Stay aware of any traps and defenses your opponents might have on the court. Also, it is essential to identify and stay away from certain areas on the court that makes players more prone to turnovers.
  4. Regularly practice intense situation games and perfect all their moves in such scenarios.
  5. Properly review opponents’ power moves and weak points by reviewing history so you can prepare for their style and plan strategies.
  6. Improve ball-handling and court vision skills. There should be a point guard looking out for what is happening on the court on every team.

Turnover Percentage in Basketball

This is a metric used to calculate estimated turnovers per hundred plays in basketball. You can use this metric to monitor and monitor a player’s value or contribution to the team. You can calculate turnover percentage with the formula below:

Turnover Percentage = 100xTOV/(FGA+0.44xFTA+TOV)


TOV = Turnover

FGA = Field Goal; Attempts (this includes 2-point and 3-points attempts)]

FTA = Free Throw Attempts

As previously explained, turnover means a team will lose game points. So, even though turnovers are unavoidable, it is essential to keep them at a minimum because it means you’ll lose fewer points. Check out the table below for the equivalent number of reduced points and the corresponding number of committed turnovers.

Turnovers Reduced Points
5-9 5-8
10-14 8-16
15-19 12-22
20-24 16-26
25-30+ 20-28+

From the table above, you can see the impact of turnovers on the overall points of a basketball game.

Assist to Turnover Ratio

This is a metric used to estimate an individual player’s ball-handling skills or control in a basketball team. When a player passes to another player that eventually scores a goal, officials record the assist for who made the pass. You can find the assist to turnover ratio with the formula below:

Assist to Turnover Ratio = Total A/ Total TOV


A = Number of assists

TOV = Turnover

Generally, 2:1 is considered a great assist to turnover ratio in basketball, and it means for every five turnovers a team records, there are a minimum of 10 assists.

NBA Turnover Leaders – All Time

Some of the most legendary NBA players hold the highest number of turnovers. Check the list below for the NBA turnover leaders of all time.

  1. Lebron James – 4720 Turnovers
  2. Karl Malone – 4524 Turnovers
  3. John Stockton – 4224 Turnovers
  4. Russell Westbrook – 4118 Turnovers
  5. Kobe Bryant – 4010 Turnovers
  6. Jason Kidd -4003 Turnovers
  7. Moses Malone – 3804 Turnovers
  8. Isiah Thomas – 3682 Turnovers
  9. Hakeem Olajuwon – 3667 Turnovers
  10. Patrick Ewing – 3537 Turnovers

NBA Turnover Leaders – Per Game

Let us also check out the NBA turnover leaders per game. You will be surprised to find some names on this list.

  1. Russell Westbrook – 4.1
  2. Magic Johnson – 3.9
  3. John Wall – 3.9
  4. James Harden – 3.8
  5. Isiah Thomas – 3.8
  6. Allen Iverson – 3.6
  7. Steve Francis – 3.5
  8. LeBron James – 3.5
  9. George McGinnis – 3.5
  10. Reggie Theus – 3.4

How Many Turnovers Does James Harden Average?

James Harden currently averages 4.8 turnovers per game this season, leading the NBA as the highest. He makes up for this in his offensive stats, though – only second to Chris Paul with 9.6 assists a night. James harden has more games with a minimum of seven turnovers (four games) than games with no turnovers (one game).

Why Does James Harden Have So Many Turnovers?

Why Does James Harden Have So Many Turnovers
Image Source: @jamesharden

James Harden has been making the rounds for many turnovers, especially in this season’s games. He has so many turnovers because of the amount of time he usually spends handling the ball and creating plays for his teammates. As previously explained, turnovers are inevitable, and the reason why James harden has a lot of turnovers is that he spends a lot of time with the basketball making plays.

Also, another factor that may contribute to the number of turnovers James harden has is the unavailability of Kyrie Irving. His role as the secondary back playmaker and shot creator is vacant, leaving James Haden to pull most of the work.

However, some of James Harden’s turnovers have been unforced and inexplicable. This fact and some off-court issues have led to the inevitable trade to the Philadelphia 76ers. Hopefully, he does a better job of retaining the ball over there.

How Many Turnovers Does Russell Westbrook Average?

Russell Westbrook averages 4.1 turnovers per game in the 2021-2022 season. This isn’t news, as Russell Westbrook has always had a relatively high turnover rate (peaking at 5.4 in the 2016-2017 season). However, this season seems to be worse than most. Russell Westbrook has led the league in turnovers twice in three full seasons.

Why Does Russell Westbrook Have So Many Turnovers?

Why Does Russell Westbrook Have So Many Turnovers
Image Source: @russwest44

Russell Westbrook’s style of play, which includes a lot of passes, may make him have so many turnovers. Even though Russell Westbrook isn’t a bad player by any means, sometimes he does seem to make some less than excellent passes. Even though many of these missed passes are on target, he needs to understand better where his opponents are on the court to prevent turnovers.

Also, Russell Westbrook isn’t a player that is afraid to try new things and styles; this puts him in trouble sometimes when it leads to turnovers in a game. However, Lakers coach Frank Vogel has openly defended Russell’s turnovers saying they’re part of the game, and there are periods where you will have more misses and turnovers than usual.

However, with the games in January, there has been a slight improvement from his previous performance in terms of turnovers. He has turned over the ball only three times in two games.

Who Holds the Record for Most Turnovers in a Game?

John shares the record for most turnovers in an NBA game drew and Jason Kidd. John Drew committed 14 turnovers in a game against the New Jersey Nets on March 1, 1978, while he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Jason Kidd also committed 14 turnovers against the New York Knicks on November 17, 2000, while playing for Phoenix Suns.

Now you know more about basketball turnovers than most people. If you need to, you can determine the causes, types, and solutions to turnovers in basketball. Be sure to keep an eye on Harden and Westbrook, though, to see if they either improve their game or give the ball away even more often.

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