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Are the C’s Really Cutting Their Turnovers?

If there has been one consistent problem in Boston since the KG and Ray Allen trades, it has been turnovers. In 2008, the Celtics turned the ball over on 14.7 percent of their possessions—29th in the league. In 2009, the Celtics turned the ball over on 15.0 percent of their possessions—29th in the league.

The C’s have spent most of this season in 29th (ahead of only Charlotte) with a turnover rate at around 15 percent and an average of about 15.5 turnovers per game.

The C’s turned the ball over just 9 times on Saturday night against Milwaukee*, which prompted talk that Boston has cleaned up its chronic turnover problem recently.

Have they?

I never thought I’d write this—not this season—but the C’s have actually cut their turnovers significantly over a fairly long stretch of games.

Over their last 20 games*, Boston has turned the ball over 275 times—about 13.75 times per game.

Boston’s turnovers per game peaked at about 15.6 just after the All-Star break, and that number is down to 15.0 for the season now.

To the casual fan, cutting your turnovers by two per game might not sound like much. An NBA game seems like an endless parade of possessions. Two more shots at the hoop can’t be that important.

But it means a lot. If the Celtics had been turning the ball over 13.7 times per game for the season, they’d rank about 10th in fewest TOs per game. They’ve spent most of the season around 25th in that category. So a reduction of a measly two turnovers transforms you from one of the most turnover-prone teams in the league to one of the least turnover-prone teams in the league.

You can also think about it this way: The C’s average about 1.1 points per possession, according to Basketball-Reference and John Hollinger’s ESPN stats. (The two systems aren’t identical, so I averaged them). If you take two possessions each game and end them with shot attempts or free throws instead of turnovers, you could (in theory) increase your scoring average by about 2.2 points per game.

The Celtics average game is a 4-point win, according to point differential stats, so two points matters a lot. It’s the difference between an offense that ranks 15th in points per 100 possessions (where the C’s rank now) and one that ranks about 8th in points per 100 possessions.

Of course, Boston is just 11-9 in its last 20 games*, so the reduction in turnovers hasn’t translated into wins. This is mostly because of the well-documented slip in the team’s defense over that stretch; the C’s have fallen from 1st to 4th in defensive efficiency in just the last three weeks, and their points allowed/100 possessions mark has jumped by 2 full points.

So which one of these two trends means more? Which will hold up in the playoffs—the turnover reduction or the slippage on D? The answer will go a long way to determining whether the C’s are a contender or an easy out for the Cavaliers or Magic in the second round.

One final note: Credit Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins for the team’s overall drop in turnovers.

Rondo, who has averaged between 3.0 and 3.5 turnovers per game for most of the season, has committed just 25 in his last 11 games—an average just below 2.5 per game.

Paul Pierce, who has averaged between 2.5 and 3.0 turnovers per game for the bulk of the season, has committed just 19 in his last 12 games—about 1.6 per.

And Perk, at times the most turnover-prone center in the league? Despite his seemingly constant traveling violations and illegal screens, Perk has turned it over just 30 times in his last 17 games—about 1.8 per. His season average has hovered around 2.5 per game for most of the year.

Kudos, guys. Keep it up in the playoffs, please.

*I wrote this post before the Bulls game, but the trend held up—the C’s turned the ball over just 9 times night. And lost. And allowed 100 points to pathetic offensive team.

  • Perry

    Hard to beleive with all the 100+ points games allowed lately this team still ranks fourth in defensive efficiency.

    I’ll sacrifice a few more turnovers in favor of less points allowed. C’s aren’t going far if they expect to outscore their opponents anyway.

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    wow. i feel stupid. i never made the connection that 15 turnovers means you turn the ball over on about 15% of possessions. it makes it sound much larger. i have seen the light.

    @Perry: i thought scoring more points was the only way to win a basketball game. just kidding. i also hope the Cs play some ugly, slow, foul-heavy, nasty, trashtalking, grind-it-out, defensive playoff basketball

  • Cptn Bubbles

    Rondo is great at a lot of things. He is trying to keep the to’s down, but I think there are 2 places the Cs need uber, playoff Rondo the most:

    #1 We need stay IN FRONT of your man Rondo. Just watch the carnage of the Utah & Bulls etc etc etc games when Rondo lets the other team’s point guard run free in the lane. It’s catastrophic. The entire defense crashes down because big daddy KG & Perk cannot rotate fast enough this year to bail him out. Rajon, handle your business & stop playing behind your man.

    #2 We are really gonna need REBOUND Rajon to step forward. No offensive boards is 1 thing, but our bigs have consistently shown the inability to physically put a body on someone & block out. The Cs can play great defense & then the bigs “think” they can out jump all these younger, shorter players. It doesn’t work! Rondo is going to have to jump down inside & help defensive rebound. No one ever blocks him out so he should be able to help anchor the defensive glass.

    You don’t think of a guard rebounding the ball to control the game (Magic used to win a lot of games doing it), but our rebounding is so suspect that we need Rajon to help where his team needs him the most. I don’t think Rajon will need to score that much. If he takes the head of the snake, the other team’s point guard, out of the game defensively (ball pressure, lane denial, forces them to take long jumpers) & rebounds then you will see other teams struggling to adjust to our unorthodox all star guard.

  • Ray Leighton

    Nice little stat explanation on the TOs.

    Interesting that we are all more concerned about the defense though….

    I’ve thought this a lot this season, but I am convinced that although Rondo may have carried it to an extreme with the “sideways” defensive approach, that he actually has been told to do it by the coaches. One of the problems that the team/coaching has is a lack of flexibility. The Cs defensive strategies and rotations are some of the most sophisticated in the league, but they are fundamentally based on KGs ability to help out and to get back quickly after helping out. I think that Tibs and Doc have gotten so used to having a defense built around KG that they are not acknowledging that, for whatever reason, age or injuries, KG has not been as quick this year. He’s still a great defensive player but a step slower later in this season. At the beginning of the year, even in the pre-season, Rondo was already playing sideways — and getting a ton of steals. I think that the coaches were encouraging him to do so. But Rondo also had a healthy KG helping out and shutting down penetration. And the Cs were just destroying everyone on defense. Now that KG has not been 100%, nobody on the coaching staff seems to be telling Rondo that he can’t afford to be so aggressive.

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