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Turnover Blues Revisited

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Back in October, we panicked about turnovers. What has changed?

NBA: Utah Jazz at Minnesota Timberwolves Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Apparently I wasn’t doing much on Halloween 2017, because I wrote this article on that day, entitled “The Utah Jazz Turnover Problem.” I extrapolated a ton of data compiled by a dude who used to work here. Name was uh, AllThatFesenko or something like that. Our sample size was only six games, so I figured that it’d be interesting to see what remained constant and what changed. Here’s what I found, with both the October chart and the April chart included for reference:

October

April

Observation 1:

Our highest-USG% guys are also our highest turnover guys.

As a refresher, USG% measures how often a player makes a play that ends in a turnover, shot, or trip to the free throw line. Our highest USG% guys are still our turnover producers. One of the top three from October, Rodney Hood, doesn’t play here anymore, but Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio do, and they still lead the pack in both USG% and turnovers. After Mitchell, Dante Exum actually has the 2nd-highest USG%, but he has only played in nine games. Ricky Rubio is next, followed by Alec Burks, who has only played half as many minutes as Ricky, and isn’t a rotation player. Therefore, the next-best man to put in the trio is Derrick Favors, who has a higher USG% and lower turnover rate than other Jazzmen, such as Joe Ingles.

One thing is still mostly true—Rubio and Mitchell turn the ball over a lot. However, their AST/TOV ratio is better than it was before, which helps alleviate the problem a bit, as does Derrick Favors taking a more active role in the offense. Instead of playing hero ball all the time or making silly passes, Donovan and Ricky have settled in and played within the offense, thereby getting the big men better looks than they were getting in October. That’s good progress.

Observation 2:

. . . the players with the three highest USG% average 9.34 turnovers per game.

Again, let’s look at Donovan Mitchell, Ricky Rubio, and Derrick Favors. Their number is 6.7, almost three fewer turnovers per game. That’s huge, because the league median for points per possession is 1.096, which means that by cutting those turnovers the Jazz are giving up around 3.2 fewer points per game.

Observation 3:

Check out Ricky Rubio’s TOV%—out of every four plays he makes, he turns the ball over once.

Well, would you look at that? Ricky has improved quite a bit. Now, he turns the ball over in less than one play in five.

Observation 4:

It doesn’t seem like much, but if the Jazz can get back to where they were last year—13.5 TOV/gm—they would save themselves about 6 points per game.

Let’s take a look, shall we? The Jazz are averaging 13.8 TOV per game, good for 25th in the league and down from 19.7 in October.

Observation 5:

To be clear, I’m still firmly on Team Rubio. He needs time to adjust, and he’s clearly a gifted passer. We have no choice but to play Hood heavy minutes, because he can score, though his defensive and ball security skills leave something to be desired. Donovan Mitchell is a rookie, so he gets a bit of a pass this season

I’m still on Team Rubio, though I admittedly jumped off the bandwagon in December. We don’t have Rodney anymore, which has helped our offense considerably. Also . . . my October 31 article is proof that Donovan Mitchell’s meteoric rise came totally out of left field for me.

It’s safe to say that the Jazz turnover problem as it was in October is no more. The same can be said about the offense–Rubio’s is having the best offensive year of his career, and Donovan Mitchell, well, is doing Donovan Mitchell things.

Random Observations:

I didn’t set out to look at +/- as closely as I did. It’s a flawed stat, especially when taken without any context. Still, Donovan Mitchell is +852. No, I’m not kidding. Look for yourself.

Along the same lines, look at this:

Anyway, the Jazz are taking better care of the ball and sharing it more since we were at the 6-game mark. It’s a testament to the work ethic of the players and the strength of Coach Quin Snyder, both of which will make Utah a tough out in the upcoming NBA playoffs.