High turnover games not costing Spurs


Many people in the sports world are just getting back to their lives after a couple of days in Boston for the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Among the plethora of topics covered at the event, Timothy Varner touched on something about mistakes over at TrueHoop that provides another way to look at the San Antonio Spurs.


Varner? That sounds familiar. I can’t put my finger on it. Can it be? Yes.

Why you’re wrong about the teams that make the most mistakes: More successful teams and coaches have more leeway for experimentation, and that often winds up creating more errors. Less successful teams play it safer and try not to rock the boat; they can’t afford to risk as many errors.”

The topic seems appropriate after we recently witnessed the Spurs take down the Charlotte Bobcats despite 19 turnovers. I realize the above quote doesn’t directly refer to turnovers, it could be any sort of mistakes, be it on court or off, but you could make the argument that the statement applies.

Better teams sometimes take more chances because they’re confident enough in their abilities to be successful. By proxy of them being better teams, they’re going to capitalize on those risks more often, even though they may also have more than their fair share of misses.

San Antonio averages a shade under 15 turnovers per game this season, which puts them squarely in the middle of pack. In advanced metrics, the Spurs give the ball away on about 15 percent of their possessions in a given game, also in the middle of the league.

In more than a third of its games this season, San Antonio has turned the ball over at least 17 times. And yet, in those 21 games, the Spurs have won over 70 percent of the time. As Dan McCarney pointed out on Twitter, the Spurs have a great record in high turnover games, lending some credence to the excerpt above from Varner’s post. After the win over the Bobcats, San Antonio is now 15-6 in games where they’ve coughed the ball up at least 17 times.

“Success in a game isn’t always because of one thing, but in all those games, we ended up probably making a decent amount of 3s, I would imagine,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said when asked about his team’s achievements in error-prone games. “That saved us on several occasions and down the stretch we played pretty good defense in most of those situations.”

There’s definitely some truth to Popovich’s assessment. 11 of those 15 wins in high-turnover games came with the Spurs hitting at least a third of their 3-point attempts. And in three of those four games when they didn’t shoot at least 33 percent from 3, San Antonio made up for it in volume, knocking down at least six 3-point attempts.

But the high-turnover games, are they because the Spurs are taking more chances, confident in their abilities to push the envelope?

“I think it’s playing too quickly,” he said. “In that sense, I mean playing fast rather than solid, trying to make maybe some passes that aren’t really there, too anxious to score, trying to score in a hurry maybe.”

Popovich also sees the lineup instability the Spurs have experienced this season, with so many players missing time with injuries in 2014, as a cause for some of the miscues.

“I think another factor, now that I’m thinking about it… I think when you have a lot of different lineups out on the court, that happens too,” Pop said. “A lot of different people out there not really knowing what each other’s gonna do and a variety of combinations can help.”

With Tony Parker returning to action for the Spurs and San Antonio finally fielding a full lineup, Popovich hopes to curtail the turnover problems that have plagued the team.

“Hopefully as Tony comes back, maybe we can limit [the turnovers] by three or four a game,” he said.

Through three quarter of Sunday night’s win over the Mavericks, the Spurs committed 13 turnovers and looked destined to continue the trend of winning despite a high amount of giveaways. But in the fourth quarter, San Antonio managed to avoid coughing it up once, which was necessary as Dallas shot 67 percent in the period and the final margin of victory ended up at six.

There’s a fine line when it comes to mistakes and turnovers. They can be viewed as a sign of weakness, a sloppiness that is a characteristic of poor teams. But some might view them as the product of the risks better teams are willing to take. San Antonio boasts an excellent record despite a nasty habit for high-turnover games.

It’s not the way Gregg Popovich would like to see his team win games and probably not one that will be effective come playoff time, but it may not be the red flag that it appears on the surface.

  • I need more cowbell

    Manu is a turn-over machine. #overrated

  • Mr. Ramirez

    Overrated? Always a contender for 6th man, 3 NBA Champs, Euro Gold, Olympic Gold, practically brought the Euro Step to the NBA. He’s getting up there in years but he’s not overrate by any means.

  • Obadiah

    Is anyone else at least a little intrigued at the possibilty of adding Antawn Jamison to the Spurs roster? He would be a solid vet ( thats always been at least a little bit of a good luck charm for the playoff / championship formulas) with a good baskeball IQ, character / team first type of player that could bring some solid offensive and passing prowess to our second unit. If he wants to partner up with a solid team that could offer him decent minutes in a playoff run, I think we’d be a great fit for him.
    Parker – Mills – Joseph
    Green – Ginobili
    Leanord – Belinelli – Daye
    Duncan – Jamison – Bonner – Ayers
    Splitter – Diaw – Baynes
    Any thoughts other than than the obvious fact that he’s old?

  • Obadiah

    cowbell – he’s human, brother… certainly the countless good that he’s brought to the city, the fans and the organization outweigh the costly turnovers in the finals? Why not use the rule rather than the exception?

  • Tyler

    Do we need him? I think he duplicates a lot of what Diaw does, only not nearly as well. He’d probably also be behind Bonner. Not a bad idea, but given his age and recent production, I personally don’t think he’s worth the minimum.

    If SA is desperate on signing someone (assuming they can’t find a vet that has even a remote chance of playing), might as well sign a Malcolm Thomas-type – experience a playoff atmosphere, learn the system, etc. Use it as time to evaluate him, and hopefully a springboard for him going into next year’s training camp.

  • Chuck E Cheese

    It’s worth looking into what kind of turnovers the Spurs are committing. Obviously all are bad, but something like a pass out of bounds or a traveling violation allows the defense to head back and set up, in contrast to, for example, having the ball stolen from you and needing to play transition defense on your heels. If it’s more of the former I can see the effects of a turnover being mitigated somewhat.

  • I need more cowbell

    He was a great player and he will always be a great Spur but his time is done.
    I just don’t want a repeat of last year’s finals.

  • Brandon Brown

    I wouldnt mind but i thought they should have added him 2-3 yrs ago, Iknow one thing Danny green better start shooting the rock better..

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