Since day one of this season, we have been talking about turnovers. They kill us. Badly.
As a team, the Rockets commit 16.28 turnovers per game (1042 total!). That puts us at #1, ahead of Washington (15.59), OKC (15.48), Golden State (15.38), and the Lakers (15.27) to round out the top five. We commit .69 more turnovers per game than the second place team.
One other stat to note (somewhat feebly, I might add) is that, of the teams in the NBA, we are 14th in turnovers forced (14.98 per game). One thing I am sure all of us are aware of is the pace our team plays with, which has a lot to do with those turnovers and the rates by which our opponents turn the ball over. Regardless, the Rockets rank 8th worst in turnover differential (+1.3 per game. The Rockets are one of only 10 teams in the league to have a turnover differential of +1 per game so far this season.
While the gross turnover stats are just that, gross, the per game differentials help put our pace and our ability to create havoc on the defensive side of the ball a little more in perspective.
Both Lin and Harden find themselves in the top 10 in total turnovers so far this year. The only other team with two players in the top 10 is OKC (Westbrook/Durant at 4th and 5th, respectively). The difference, however, is that to find the third and four Thunder violators in terms of turnovers you have to reach all the way to 89th (Serge Ibaka) and 117th (Kevin Martin) on the list. For the Rockets, we have two more players in the top 50 (Omer at 39th, Parsons at 47th).
I had been thinking over several days for ways to explain some these statistics outside of the basic ‘we play at a higher pace' argument. One TDS'er (makinmajik) suggested that our back-to-back games in particular could represent one culprit. This question approaches the ‘pace' argument from a different angle in that it analyzes our propensity to commit turnovers based on how tired and beaten up we are as a team. Is it possible that our offensive style accentuates our turnover disadvantage on the tail end of our back-to-back games?
The following are the teams that we have played this season on no days of rest:
Home: Portland, Detroit, Dallas, OKC, and Brooklyn
Away: Utah, OKC, Knicks, Minnesota (x2), Cleveland, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Dallas, Miami, LA Clippers, Washington, Phoenix.
To begin, that's a lot of back-to-back games ending on the road!
In fact, the NBA schedule has the Rockets tied for 2nd in most back-to-back games this season at 21 (for clarity's sake, 1st place is a 9-way tie with 22). We are in the top 10 as far as the number of those back-to-backs that have us playing on the road on the tail end. Compare this to Atlanta and Milwaukee who each have 22 back-to-backs and only 10 and 11 of those that end on the road. It's not the worst schedule, but we certainly aren't being done any favors by the league schedule. One thing to note is that during our 7 game losing streak in January the schedule was particularly unfavorable to us. 6 of those 7 losses came in sets of back-to-back games.
Now, let's break these numbers down a bit more to see if we can shovel some of the blame for our turnover woes on these games in particular.
In the regular season so far, in 29 home games, the Rockets have committed a total of 450 of their 1042 turnovers on the season (43%). That's good for 15th in the league in terms of turnovers at home, very much in the middle of the pack. In 35 road games (tied for first with GSW before this home stretch we have coming up), we have committed an away team leading 592 turnovers (57% of our total).
16.91 per game on the road. 15.51 at home (even bigger difference per game home versus road than the difference between first and second place in overall turnovers per game). 1.4 more turnovers per game on the road this season on average.
In our 5 back-to-backs where we have finished at home our turnovers look like this:
Portland: 18 TOs (L)
Detroit: 14 TOs (W)
Dallas: 19 TOs (L)
OKC: 24 TOs (L)
Brooklyn: 11 TOs (W)
Totals - 5 games, 2-3 record, 86 TOs, 17.2 per game.
In the 13 back-to-backs we have on the road, our turnovers look like this:
Utah: 14 TOs (L)
OKC: 16 TOs (L)
Knicks: 17 TOs (W)
Minnesota: 16 TOs (W)
Minnesota: 20 TOs (L)
Cleveland: 17 TOs (W)
New Orleans: 22 TOs (L)
Philadelphia: 16 TOs (L)
Dallas: 16 TOs (L)
Miami: 16 TOs (L)
LA Clippers: 21 TOs (L)
Washington: 16 TOs (L)
Phoenix: 19 TOs (L)
Totals - 13 games, 3-10 record, 226 TOs, 17.3 per game.
Out of our total 1042 turnovers this year, second games on back-to-backs have accounted for 312 of them (30%). Those 30% come in 18 of our 64 total games so far this season (28%). These stats make it hard to argue that there is a massive difference in our rate of turnovers on the end of back-to-backs. Sure, the per game stats generically (15.51 at home, 16.91 on the road) are lower than the numbers in this 18 game stretch (17.2 at home, 17.3 on the road) the percentage of our overall turnovers this data set represents is fairly on par with the percentage of our overall games played so far. The home games disparity is likely more of a sample size issue than anything else. Regardless, these numbers still stick us at top of the league in number of turnovers on no days of rest. Dallas is closest (16.8) but after that there is a steep drop-off into a cluster of teams with between 15 and 15.5 per game.
Despite how marginal these differences seem in comparison to how we normally fare, they are definitely marginally worse. To me, this data speaks more to how bad we are overall than it does on just back-to-backs in particular but it certainly does indicate a statistical likelihood to turn the ball over more on the tail end of back-to-backs, however small difference is.
Digging a little deeper into 2 and 3+ days of rest stats gives these numbers a bit more weight, however. With 1 day of rest the Rockets average 15.2 turnovers per game (still highest in the league with those splits, however). With two days of rest, that number falls to 13.6 per game which, impressively, puts us in the bottom half of the league (18th, specifically) in turnover rates compared to the rest of the league with the same number of days of rest.
Ironically enough, with 3+ days of rest we actually turn the ball over more than on the second end of back-to-backs (17.4 per game). I am more than willing to chalk that up to small sample size as we only have 6 such games even scheduled this season (this upcoming Suns game being the last), but for those who were frustrated with the Phoenix game on Saturday, these numbers may offer you little solace in hoping for us taking better care of the ball.
Basically, we are a young team with many of our youngsters playing the most minutes they've gotten in any season in a fast paced offense. We can seek all of the statistical end arounds we want to make us feel better about this unavoidable fact, but it's not going anywhere anytime soon.
But this data does offer some promise. The drastic decrease in turnovers after 2 days of rest is certainly a sight for sore eyes. That combined with how well we have done to this point and that the team getting more comfortable playing with each other over the course of the year, I'd say we are headed in a good direction at the very least.
And during the playoffs, the number of games with 2+ days of rest will be sizable. We will be a scary team in the playoffs if we can keep our turnovers down come April.
Here's to hoping that our TO rate doesn't rob us of the opportunity to be that scary playoff team.