A look back, a look ahead Part IV

Inside Sparta Editor Keven McCarthy continues his series that looks at the past season in San Jose State men's basketball with a glance towards the future. In the fourth edition he takes a look at: Turnovers


It's difficult to locate a correlation if an observer looks at the WAC team finish in Turnover Margin and then how the squads actually placed based upon their won-loss records. As frustrating as it is to witness errors translated into empty possessions, especially the seemingly unforced type, but we're having trouble determining the significance of this category.

Plus get this: San Jose State actually performed better in Turnover Margin in 2008-2009 than the year before, reducing its number of official miscues by 24. What the number indicate though is that the Spartans need to force opponents into a greater number of missteps as there were five other WAC teams that actually committed more goofs than SJSU but each made up for that largesse with better defensive play that got them the ball back.

Take a look:


No. Team G Team Avg. Opp Avg. Margin
1 Idaho 16 175 10.9 216 13.5 +2.56
2 Fresno State 16 214 13.4 224 14.0 +0.62
3 New Mexico State 16 223 13.9 230 14.4 +0.44
4 Nevada 16 194 12.1 195 12.2 +0.06
5 Utah State 16 186 11.6 182 11.4 -0.25
6 Boise State 16 214 13.4 209 13.1 -0.31
7 Louisiana State 16 225 14.1 217 13.6 -0.50
8 Hawai'i 16 242 15.1 232 14.5 -0.62
9 San Jose State 16 211 13.2 179 11.2 -2.00


No. Team G Team Avg. Opp Avg. Margin
1 Louisiana Tech 16 192 12.0 258 16.1 +4.13
2 Hawai'i 16 207 12.9 269 16.8 +3.88
3 New Mexico State 16 219 13.7 266 16.6 +2.94
4 Fresno State 16 174 10.9 193 12.1 +1.19
5 Nevada 16 199 12.4 190 11.9 -0.56
6 Boise State 16 248 15.5 217 13.6 -1.94
7 Idaho 16 248 15.5 200 12.5 -3.00
8 Utah State 16 217 13.6 166 10.4 -3.19
9 San Jose State 16 235 14.7 180 11.3 -3.44

As for reducing turnovers -- not cutting back on aggressive play or toning down an attacking offensive style but just working towards the goal of eliminating unforced errors -- let's turn to three cut-n-pastes that pertain to this subject.

Here's an excerpt from one of Bob Knight's books:

The See & Listen of Concentration

To me, concentration is basketball in a nutshell. Concentration leads to anticipation, which leads to recognition, which leads to reaction, which leads to execution.

The concentration I'm talking about involves four key words.

The first two are "look" and "see." Everybody who plays basketball looks, but very few players see. Very few players train themselves to use their eyes. Not everybody has the same shooting ability as everybody else, nor the same size, nor the same quickness.

But each person who's playing this game can develop the ability to see what's happening on the court -- see the open man, see where to take the ball, see the guy who's being defended, see who's open on the break.

"Hear" and "listen" are the next two words. Most people only hear. The key is listening to what you're being told, what's being said, what is expected of you in your role as part of any team.

A basketball player who learns to see and listen has improved tremendously without doing a single thing involving physical skills. Once learned, seeing and listening are valuable traits for anyone doing anything.

This is basketball IQ -- a gaining of greater knowledge of what to do and when. Doing what is correct when it is correct absolutely reduces turnovers. An basketball IQ advancement is something that is achievable if not specifically measurable. But it takes as much work as lifting iron in the weight room or running conditioning sprints.

Phil Handy runs a club basketball squard -- Team 94 -- but actually makes his living training players, especially those entering or in their early years in the NBA. Here's what he had to say in an article we recently wrote:

About how to improve one's basketball IQ -- a greater court awareness of what to do and when -- Handy advises, "It [basketball knowledge] can be learned and then applied, it's not simply something instinctual. Some players have great instincts while other players need to play more to gain better basketball instincts." He advises young players to watch and break down film but after learning what to look for.

Regarding breaking down film, what is it that is to be looked for? Handy said, "When watching film, players can gain a lot of insight into many things. Like how they are being guarded, do they take plays off, is their shot selection good, do they see the floor well, do they practice good footwork and balance, how do they defend, are they aware of help side, are they aware of screens, do they turn their head on defense, do they box out. Watching film is like a photograph -- it doesn't lie! I used to hate film sessions while playing college and pro ball because it showed me all the things I did wrong throughout the game and most times it always looked worse on film in front of the entire team. But I became more aware of my shot selection, of missed opportunities or just plan bad decisions. Watching film not only of yourself but other players is something that is very important to be successful in higher levels of play. Kids nowadays can break their games down really quick with some of new technology. Now most players are only interested in their highlights but watching film and being your own critic helps in understanding how they are playing the game and where they can improve."

Then this is from Boston Celtic Assistant Coach Kevin Eastman again, approaching the turnover issue from a coaching perspective:

Ask Coach E
Feb 15, 2009

QUESTION: Do you have any insight, advice, drills, or practice guidelines that would help to reduce turnovers?

ANSWER: Turnovers are such a frustrating part of the game for every coach. Yet we must always remind ourselves that turnovers are also a part of every game that just can't be denied. It's not that we should accept them as much as we need to figure out how to manage them. Below are some examples of things we have tried over the years. My hope is that it gets you to think of ways that you can address the problem of turnovers:

  • Keep track of your turnovers: How many? What percentage of your possessions are turnovers (we think this is a more important stat than the actual total as the percentage gives you a truer number based on the pace of the game). What kind of turnover (post feed; forced pass, etc)? Who made the turnover? The main point here is that you must break down your turnovers so that your team knows how and why they are turning it over — rather than just hearing us yell at them for having too many.
  • Use film: I suggest that you categorize the film, putting all of the post feed turnovers back-to-back, the forced passes back-to-back, etc. I strongly believe that film has a much greater impact if the players see the same mistake over and over and over again, back-to-back-to-back-to-back. When they see it in this format (by category and multiple examples) it becomes even more obvious.
  • Determine the value of the turnover: We are one of the more efficient offensive teams in the NBA, so when we turn the ball over, we lose more potential points than many other teams. Our team needs to know this. You must also determine how many points per turnover you give the other team. The NBA keeps a stat on points off turnovers, and we have really used these two stats with our team because they provide real numbers in terms of how valuable each turnover is; we feel our team needs to know how many points each turnover is truly worth.
  • Constant emphasis: We are constantly emphasizing in practice "NO TURNOVERS" or "SIMPLE PASSES" or "CREATE A BETTER PASSING ANGLE" — anything that will remind them how to eliminate turnovers.
  • Perfect passes: We are big on hitting guys with "simple passes on time and on target" — a simple yet powerful teaching point that has helped us.
  • Be aware of subtle turnovers: We think there are some possessions that are not treated as a turnover but to us they are. For example, the one we stress the most is forced shots. Even though we get a shot at the basket it is a low percentage shot, so in our minds this is a shooting turnover. There are other instances where a player catches the ball and takes a shot, when with one more pass, the shot could have been taken by one of our best shooters ­ say Ray Allen. In this case we got a shot but we didn't get the best shot; for us this is a "one more" turnover.

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