What Is A Turnover In Basketball? (Complete Rule Guide)

A basketball match consists of hundreds of possessions combined from both teams. In a perfect match, there would be no mistakes.

But since the players are only human, there are bound to be mistakes made in some possessions called turnovers.

But what exactly are turnovers?

A turnover occurs when a team loses possession of the ball through a variety of reasons. Usually, the common reasons for this are traveling, fouling, and losing the ball. A high turnover volume for a team is bad since it means there are a lot of mistakes being made.

What is a turnover in basketball?

As explained, this is when one’s team gets dispossessed of the ball by their opponents before they get to shoot.

This is not to be confused with a steal. A steal takes place when a team member that is on defense takes possession of the ball from a player of the other team. On the other hand, a turnover occurs when a player in possession of the ball loses it due to an error.

Common Examples of Turnovers:

Common reasons why there is turnover are the following examples executed by the basketball players:  

  • Double Dribble: Repetitive dribbling or stopping the ball using two hands.
  • Stepping out of bounds: When the offensive player steps to obstruct the ball out of the bound, the team in defense now gets the ball.
  • Bad pass: This happens when passing the ball is done poorly and aimed inaccurately at the team members.
  • Traveling: No dribble from the player while taking three steps.
  • Shot Clock Violation: If the attempt to field a goal has failed within the provided time.
  • Goaltending: Illegal stopping of the ball for a field goal
  • Illegal Screen: An offensive foul is committed due to an illegal contact or way of screening the player.
  • Five Seconds Violation: If within more than five seconds, the player does not pass, shoot, or do any movements.
  • Fouls: This includes technical, offensive acts or conducts not from sportsmanship.
  • Backcourt Violation: Failure of the team possessing the ball to bring the ball from the backcourt to the frontcourt within 8 seconds.

Among all these common reasons, bad passes and traveling are the most committed violations by the players. In determining the percentage of turnovers done by the team, there is a formula to be discussed later.

What is a team turnover in basketball?

A team turnover is the collective number of times all team members have lost possession of the basketball. Teams with a high team turnover are considered either sloppy, aggressive, or careless about the rules.

What is a turnover percentage? 

A turnover percentage in basketball is the total number of possessions that end up as turnovers. This percentage is defined as the estimate of total turnovers for every 100 plays. The following are formulas that help to calculate this.

  • Turnover percentage per possession: TOV/(FGA-OR) + TOV + (.475 X FTA)
  • Turnover Rate per 100 possessions: TOV X 100/(FGA-OR) + TOV + (.475 X FTA)

The turnover percentage or turnover rate is a statistic that helps compare how opponents in a game are faring. It can also be used to compare performances of different teams or the same team over different seasons. 

What is a good turnover percentage in basketball?

As explained, turnovers are a bad thing since they represent losing possession. Therefore, a high turnover percentage is undesirable since it shows that loss of possession takes a lot.

A turnover rate of around 20 per 100 possessions is considered average. Therefore, to have a turnover percentage that is considered good, they ought to strive to maintain it below this. Anything above 33, on the other hand, is considered hazardous.

What is the assist to the turnover ratio?

An assist to turnover ratio is used in the context of ball control in turnovers. This statistic compares the player’s skills in controlling or handling the ball as seen in his ability to assist his team members.

This is another metric established to gauge the performance of basketball players. It places a player’s number of assists in context to their number of turnovers. An assist in basketball is a pass from a teammate that directly leads to a score. Therefore, the more assists a player has, the more their team scores.

Thus, a player should aim to have a huge number of assists, and a low number of turnovers since a superior assist to turnover ratio (AST/TO) translates to better ball control, while a lower ratio means a player has less ball control.

What is an excellent assist-to-turnover ratio in basketball?

As explained, a superior assist to turnover ratio is more preferred than a low one as the player has better ball control. This is because, on average, the number of times they have the ball will avoid turnovers, meaning their team will likely retain possession of the ball.

Also, a superior assist to turnover ratio means that the player is contributing a lot of assists to their team members, directly resulting in scores. Therefore, as a benchmark, a player or team should target an average of a 2:1 ratio, meaning that for every turnover, they provide two assists.

So, if the entire team gets ten turnovers, they should at least count 20 assists to ensure that the game is still in check.

If there are more percentage of wasting opportunities or losing the ball, this means a higher percentage of turnover rate. The baseline for Turnovers (TOV) should generally be at 12.5. If a team produces more turnover rate higher than the baseline, that turnover percentage is terrible.

The lower the turnover rate is, the higher the positive contribution it would be for the offense.

For example, in the 2016 NBA Finals between Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, the low turnover rate by now golf player and former Cleveland Cavaliers player J.R. Smith helped his team during the 2016 Finals. Smith has contributed so much to his team with only a 5% turnover rate in the regular season and a consistent low TOV in the finals. 

4 Effective Tips to avoid turnovers

The basketball game turns are inevitable as they are part of the game. However, a player can use plenty of practical tips to avoid a higher turnover rate.

Although, in general, the “in the game” mindset can help avoid a greater amount of turnovers, these tips can prove better when the player is in-game and are still beneficial:

1. Self-awareness

A player can try to identify their biggest weakness, leading to turnovers the most, even before the coach points it out.

2. Master ball handling

To be in control of the ball, from dribbling without violation and taking shots not beyond the time and ball violation. 

3. Communication and Coordination

Within the team, the capacity to convey actions, even gestures, and coordinate them through body movements with the other team members can help prevent a high percentage of turnovers.

4. Good Estimates for Angles

This allows the player to ensure that an opportunity will not be wasted, such as an attempt to field a goal.

NBA Players with the most turnovers In history

Many great players have played basketball over the years, and many even went on to be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame due to their various contributions, such as assists, rebounds, and so on.

However, a fair share of them was also guilty of recording high turnover numbers despite being a dreaded statistic. Some recorded a high turnover due to their longevity in the game, while others started with a high turnover and reduced it as they got better.

Below is a table that attempts to rank players with the most turnovers.

1. LeBron James4788
2. Russell Westbrook4188
3. Kobe Bryant4010
4. Isiah Thomas3682
5. James Harden3539
6. Magic Johnson3506
7. Steve Nash3478
8. Dwyane Wade3326
9. Shaquille O’Neal3310
10. Dwight Howard3302


In summary, statistics in basketball help identify the strengths and weaknesses of a player and a team and hence, help point out the potential areas that need improving.

Turnovers are among these statistics that help indicate where a player is lagging. This is because a turnover occurs when a player in possession of the ball loses it due to their error. 

The other essential statistics discussed were turnover percentage and assist to the turnover rate. The turnover percentage has been described as the number of turnovers occurring per 100 possessions. A lower percentage is better.

On the other hand, the assist to turnover ratio places a player’s number of assists in context to their number of turnovers. Players and teams should aim to have a high ratio because a superior assist to turnover ratio means the player has better ball control.

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