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.
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.