Are You Tracking Your Team's Turnover Differential? You Should Be.

Home > Coaching > Stats > Are You Tracking Your Team's Turnover Differential? You Should Be.

The only way to win a game of basketball is by putting the ball through the hoop more than the other team. And one of the best ways of ensuring that this happens is by getting more cracks at the basket than they do.

This is one of the most crucial elements to winning the possession war, and turnovers play a key role in the battle.

Why Keep Track of Turnover Differential?

Tracking the numbers can make a big difference in knowing how you stack up against the other team. In particular, you should look at your “turnover differential”...

If your turnover differential is -5, then you have 5 more turnovers than your opponent. That’s not good and you know you need to make improvements to give your team a better chance to win. If your turnover differential is +5, your performing well in this area and you want to continue the trend.

Here you can see a screenshot of the Key Game Stats Report from Breakthrough Stats which shows you’re turnover differential:

In the screenshot, you can see your team is negative 7 for the turnover differential. That's not good!! This is something you'll want to remedy ASAP to give your team a chance to win.

As a coach you want to know which parts of the game are going your way and where you may need some help.

And for players it is much more compelling to think about concrete statistics than a general call to “limit turnovers”. Everyone knows that’s important, but being able to actually see how you are doing compared to the other team will elicit the effort and focus required to win the possession war.

How Important are Turnovers?

There are almost as many reasons to limit turnovers as there are reasons to put the ball in the basket.

A turnover takes away one of your potential scoring opportunities. This is one reason that turnovers are harmful. You lose an opportunity to shoot or get fouled.

This is the most obvious factor. But there are other factors that affect your team...

Turnovers Lead to Fast Breaks and Fouls

Consider this. How many turnovers results in fast break opportunities for your opponent?

How often do your players try to make up for their mistake and foul in transition defense? How often does your opponent get offensive rebounds and put-backs while your defense is scrambling in transition?

Turnovers quite often lead to high percentage fast break shots for your opponent and can cause you to get in foul trouble.

There are plenty of reasons to pay attention to turnovers. An attempt by your worst shooter has a much better chance of going in than a shot you didn’t even take. Live ball turnovers such as steals frequently catch your defense off guard and lead to easy makes or frustrating fouls. And nothing kills momentum faster than handing the ball to the other team.

What is the Goal?

All of these negatives that come from giveaways are turned to your benefit when it’s your team generating the turnovers. Fast break points, easy buckets and free throws, these are the quickest ways to get back in a game or build an insurmountable lead and turnovers can make them all happen.

However, you don’t want your players to think about going for steals so much as you want them to pay attention to "playing the right way" -- and ultimately winning the turnover battle each and every night.

The importance and value of a possession is one of the most important things your players can learn. Tracking turnovers and using them to teach your team will bring this lesson home every time they play. Having the statistics readily available will also naturally increase their focus, performance, and feelings of accomplishment. Few things matter more.

Related Pages & Helpful Resources

9 Stats That Every Serious Basketball Coach Should Track
Tracking Rebounding Stats
Breatkhrough Stats App - Track Stats on Your iPad or iPhone


Most Likes First   Oldest First   Newest First

Jeff says:
7/15/2015 at 11:22:25 AM

I think some coaches choose to focus on keeping turnovers low and great passing. I think that's a good thing to do but not for everyone. I think there are LOTS of reasons coaches consistent have those players...
- they emphasize ballhanlding
- practice those fundamentals all the time
- report the stats to players
- pay attention to those details.
- etc
- etc


DuWayne Krause says:
7/14/2015 at 6:05:33 PM

Some of you may get mad at me for saying this, but it is my experience that teams that are good at pass and catch (ball handling) one year are virtually always good at pass and catch (ball handling) every year. There has to be a reason for this. When I watch games from junior high level to college level it appears to me that good, well coached teams that consistently win almost always have a low level of turnovers, regardless of the pace. If a team is good at pass and catch (ball handling) and they understand and execute their offense well they will be able to pass and catch all night, have few turnovers and will inevitably get good shots. If a player has good decision making ability and good passing ability he will have few turnovers. Why do the same coaches have those players every year?


Mike ODonnell says:
1/20/2014 at 11:39:11 AM

One of the biggest reasons we wanted to play more players was to keep maximal pressure on our opponents with both our offense and defense. As a result of this thinking, we found that we needed to keep fresh players on the floor so we could better control the action late in the game. It certainly worked out that the kids liked this style as well. That being said, if you are only dressing eight to nine players, you are probably not going to be able to employ this philosophy.

Undoubtedly, with this type of planning (multiple substitutions throughout the contest), when you get into the end of your bench with a mixture of front line players on the floor at the same time, you are not going to be as offensively or defensively efficient as you would be with your starters. However, we found that energy and enthusiasm can make up for a lack of skills in the short run (not the long run).

I had read somewhere that Coach Dean Smith had a "Blue" group (people who were not starters or front line alternates) who he employed for two to three minutes to cause momentum shifts in games. This group came in to create havoc and to recapture the momentum that was either lost or needed to be taken.

We felt we could do the same with our typical "end of bench" players. We found we could mix and match people and, as a result, we could feature the best skills of our reserves (ex. "John, you need to be our stopper on their point guard; Frank, you have to rebound at both ends of the floor; Tom, you look to double the dribbler each time when he turns his back and you are close;" etc.). Our kids bought in to the plan (always a plus) and they found that the better they did with their specific "assignments" the more time they got on the floor in that game and future games.

Secondly, our starters found they could play harder because they knew they could get a much needed break before heading back on the floor. We convinced them that the substitution plan was a good one because they could play their best because they were fresher and not worry about being exhausted for extended periods.

It also helped the team chemistry because, at some point in the game, anyone could be on the floor with almost anyone else. All we asked of the players was to make sure we had a point and a post and "to play a spot where you have practiced before."

Finally, over the course of a longer season, our players were fresher because they were not playing 30 minutes per night. We were utilizing hockey-type shifts and the players were better both offensively and defensively.

Our practices were designed much the same. If we were working full court we would say, "John (our point guard), find a post and three buddies. You are going to run ___ on offense and ___ on defense."

That was it. We did the same with group #2 ("Tom, you play wing with Jim and find a post, a point, and a defender. The defender goes against John.") This forced our players to mix and match as well as fit in with the group they were with on the floor. It gave the players ownership and allowed the coaches who certain people wanted to be with on the floor. We would then rotate two to four players regularly in each group and eventually (actually very quickly) everyone was on the floor on one team or the other (probably both).

Joe, one comment you made a couple of posts ago was extremely insightful. You stated that turnovers per possession was highly important in determining your effectiveness. I think that is why we wanted to play at a higher tempo - while we did not protect the ball well when we were more controlled, we found that our turnovers did not increase significantly when we played faster. As a result, more possessions per game resulted in a better turnover/possession ratio for us. That is why we felt we were "cheapening" or devaluing each possession.

Secondly, because we did not want to teach two types of offensive and defensive play, our reserves needed to learn to play faster and/or play their best at a higher tempo. We told them what they needed to do and through their hard work and support from their teammates and coaches they were able to do it.

It was amazing to see how four players would "protect/take care of/nuture" their fifth man who might not be as skilled in scrimmage and game situations. It really helped build our team from the inside out, it allowed the players to make decisions on the floor during the action ("What do I need to do to help our team perform at its best?"), and made the entire seasonal experience all the better for all of us.


Joe Haefner says:
1/17/2014 at 9:06:13 AM

Mike, I have heard of coaches speeding up the game with better players, but I rarely hear coaches talk about speeding the game up with inferior players. Those are some neat thoughts and ideas to consider.

We shot an uptempo offense/defense video with a coach named Keith Haske who always runs an uptempo system. I wonder if he would say something similar. He always plays 10 to 12 guys every year, even at small schools. He even talks about how he doesn't understand when coaches say they don't have more than 6 or 7 guys that can play, because he always does.

He's also had a lot of success.


Ken Sartini says:
1/16/2014 at 5:11:07 PM

I DO understand what its like to NOT have ball handlers... been there! So you do what you think as the head coach, something that gives your team a chance and hopefully get the W.

You are making your kids happy by playing more of them... and probably the up tempo game too.


Ken Sartini says:
1/16/2014 at 5:08:31 PM

Here is a drill that we ran that helped our ball handling....called the Man Maker Drill

Another thing we did was to put 6 defenders on the floor, sometimes 7 but most of the time 6 when we wanted to advance the pressure on our offense. Our kids got used to be pressed and pressured because NO ONE wanted to play against us and our Open Post Offense.

Here is one more thing we did - Called Cut 1

I was watching a De Paul game one night and during a time out, Ray Meyer was telling his team that all they had to do was take care of the ball, run some clock and get a good shot as time ran down. IF you do that, they won't have the ball enough times to beat us. This was late in the game, less than 2 minutes.

One day we were running our Open Post Offense... ( Double Up ) My players were shooting a little faster than I wanted them to. So I decided to introduce a concept that I was thinking about at the time.
To get them to be able to cut as close to a minute off the clock as possible. So, I called it CUT 1.

I started out a little more realistic, I had them cut 15 seconds off the clock at first.... once they could handle that, I decided to to make it more difficult than a regular game, so I added a 6th defender.

After they mastered 15 seconds, I added another 15 seconds, making it 30 seconds. This was a lot more difficult but I wanted them to be able to keep the ball for 30 seconds simulating holding the ball for the last shot. Surprisingly, they handled this pretty well until I added the 6 defender. This took awhile but they finally got comfortable enough to handle the pressure. I wanted them to be able to handle the pressure and to get into a set around the 8 second mark getting the shot off around the 4 second mark, allowing us a chance for a rebound and put back, but NOT giving them a chance to score.

Then we turned on the score board and let them scrimmage using Double Up. What I wanted them to do was to take the clock down to the next minute.... 6:45, take it down to 5:59 before they could shoot, unless it was a uncontested lay up.

Obviously, you need players that can handle the ball, make good decisions, pass well and read the defenses. This is a great equalizer if you are out manned. You can use this to control the tempo and shorten the game. You can use this to protect players that are in foul trouble too.

IF they decide to overplay you, you will get back door stuff or takes to the basket.

IF you don't have this type of player, I wouldn't suggest this.


Mike ODonnell says:
1/16/2014 at 4:36:06 PM

Ken and Joe,

Our ball handling skills (make that a lack there of) were on display each time we took the floor. We typically had significant difficulty passing and catching the ball, traveling with it, poor with dribbling, etc. As the season progressed, we certainly improved what we were doing but our basic skills (especially for people who had been involved with the game since they were in elementary school) were generally not very good when compared to the people we played.

It was our decision to emphasize a radical change in how the game was played in our conference. We wanted to attack defensively and make you do something you typically did not want to do. We pressed full court and trapped in the half court. We alternated defenses (we were simple in what we did but it appeared to be more than it actually was) and we ran at every opportunity.

We found that, especially at the lower levels (9th grade and junior varsity), it was easier for us to use our entire team if we pressed defensively and attacked offensively. The players knew (and more importantly, understood) that we wanted to dominate the game throughout the four quarters. Our best chance of doing that was by keeping fresher players on the floor.

Even with talent that was markedly less than our opponents, we found that if we were fresher, we could hold our own in most games. The kids liked this approach and we certainly were able to keep everyone involved throughout the season.

Could the same approach be done with a system that was more patient and deliberate? Without a doubt. However, we did not feel that we could teach that style effectively. As you are well aware, any system, to be maximally effective, must align with the skills of the team. In addition, the coach must also be able to teach what he wants to have done and how he wants it done.

Joe, in analyzing what we were doing, I did not evaluate the type of errors we were making because they seemed to be so global in nature. We stressed fundamental work in each practice (sometimes to a fault) and, as I said, our general overall skills definitely improved over the course of the season.

Using a better analysis system of evaluating our play probably would have been more beneficial over multiple seasons as we could have determined where our greatest ball handling difficulties were. Anytime the coach understands and can identify where the problems are, there is always the opportunity to fix them.


Joe Haefner says:
1/16/2014 at 3:31:14 PM

Interesting stuff, Mike!

By ball handling error, do you mean dribbling and passing? Or do you just mean the act of dribbling?

Also, did you ever break down the ball handling turnovers into categories?

These are just a few examples: dropped passes, lost dribble, receiver did not meet ball, errant pass, traveling violation, etc.


Ken Sartini says:
1/16/2014 at 3:04:04 PM

Mike -

I am laughing as I am reading your post.... I had teams that were a danger to themselves and others when it came to passing the ball... when I had those types of kids, the rule was very simple... first good shot you come across, PUT IT UP. :-)

My good teams handled the ball well, read the defenses and reacted accordingly. We were always looking for a good take if the help side wasn't there... or a good back door move... I loved those... or if the D got lazy, we would stick a 3 ball. Oh yeah, and we had a few quick hitters that we would mix in there just to throw the D off balance.

My assistant was saying, we need to pass the ball more, I told him that I would be glad to do that IF he put netting up around the floor to protect the fans.

Thats what makes this game so great.... more than one way to skin the cat. I wonder what kind of game it would have been IF we were to play each other? I have a friend in Florida who always said, I wouldn't let you hold the ball like that, I would force you to the basket... I smiled and said, no problem, we will take all the lay ups you give us.


Mike ODonnell says:
1/16/2014 at 2:53:18 PM

Coach Sartini, you make a number of great points that I certainly would support wholeheartedly. However, my experience has been with teams that, if they were too patient and they turned the ball over, it was on a ball handling error. Thus, we never got a shot in the possession.

As a result of our ball handling limitations, we chose to play more of an uptempo style and we said that IF we were going to turn the ball over (we emphasized the IF and not the when), we wanted to do it with a poor shot rather than a poor pass. We were not taking "crazy" shots but we did want to put up as many shots as we could and then attack the glass.

We felt that we could manage the outcomes better with our rebounding and organized transition defense following poor shot selection rather than having to race back and try to prevent a negative numbers situation (more attackers than defenders) against us when we turned the ball over following a poor pass.

What you stated regarding the make-up of your team certainly would suggest that each offensive possession should increase in value for you. Secondly, by putting forcing your opponent to play significantly longer on defense makes it increasingly difficult for your opponent as the game progresses (increased fatigue and fouls).

Personally, I liked what we did in terms of attacking full court offensively and defensively because of the players on our team although not being overly talented. We were able to play our entire bench (we dressed 11-12 people depending upon the night) by bringing them in by waves (much like Grinnell College). We remained fresher throughout the games and season and it certainly kept the players interest high.

Could we play our up-tempo style with any 11-12 players? Certainly not. I do like what Coach Sartini said about giving players the best chance to win the game. We did that by "cheapening" each possession. On the othert hand, Coach Sartini has been equally successful by playing a more deliberate style.


Show More

Leave a Comment
Email (not published)
Nineteen minus nine is equal to?  (Prevents Spam)
 Load New Question
Leave this Blank