The fast-paced action and strategic gameplay of basketball keep fans on the edge of their seats. Game flow can be significantly affected by turnovers, one of the most crucial aspects. In this article, we explore what is a turnover in basketball, their types, causes, and significance within the game of basketball.

Maryland men's basketball reached new low in turnover-laden Rutgers loss

What Is A Turnover In Basketball?

The term itself gives away the game. When you “turn” the ball over to the opposing team, it is because you made a mistake. It dramatically impacts winning (and losing) when you give up possession of the ball before you even take a shot. As we will discuss in the next section, turnovers can occur in various ways.

Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe reports that Jack Barry conceived the turnover concept first. At the American Basketball Association (ABA), turnovers were not officially recorded until 1967-68. After the NBA-ABA merged during the 1977-78 season, this practice was adopted by the NBA.

Types of Turnover

Basketball turnovers can be divided into two types. The following are among them:

Forced Turnovers: Good defense leads to forced turnovers. An offensive team that employs a full-court press would be forced into a poor pass if the defensive team employed a full-court press. Turnovers like that are considered. It’s also a turnover if an offensive player steps out of bounds when he’s trapped by the defense. This is an example of a forced turnover in both cases.

Unforced Turnovers: Turnovers caused by poor defense, also known as unforced errors. There is either a mistake, a miscalculation, or the offensive player is unaware of what is going on. A basketball was accidentally bounced on Steph Curry’s foot while he was casually dribbling to the frontcourt. Then Luka Doncic throws a weak pass that’s intercepted after trying to drive-and-kick. Both cases result in an “unforced” turnover.

The majority of turnovers fall into one or both of these categories. There are still many ways in which a turnover can occur. More of them are below:

  • Double-dribbling and palming are dribbling violations
  • Fouls committed by the offense (moving screens, charging, etc.)
  • Foul on technical grounds
  • (Violations of the shot clock, of the eight-second violation, of the three-second violation, of the five-second violation, of the goaltending, etc.)
  • Throwing the ball out of bounds or stepping out of bounds
  • Pass intercepted or stolen

What is a Turnover in Basketball? Definiton + Types

Causes of Turnover in Basketball

1. Defensive Pressure

The primary goal of defense is to prevent the opponent from scoring, but some defenses are designed to force the other team into mistakes. This type of defense includes half-court and full-court pressure defenses.

When defensive pressure is applied, it disrupts the opponent’s offensive flow, frustrates their personnel, and dictates the tempo of the game. An offensive team that struggles to adjust to defensive pressure may immediately turn the ball over. A pressure defense may cause players to force passes, step out of bounds, or commit clock violations. 

2. Lack of Awareness

In basketball, there’s so much speed that if you blink, you’ll get eaten alive, metaphorically speaking. It is therefore crucial to pay attention to detail and stay on top of everything at all times-shot clock, game clock, and where you are at all times. To ensure their teammates are ready to receive passes, players must also know where their teammates are.

Here are some examples of a lack of awareness on the player’s part that led to turnovers:

  • One of the funniest travels ever committed by Russell Westbrook
  • As Rajon Rondo walked through the park, he thought he was in a park
  • The ref receives a pass from Paul George

3. Taking Risks

The thrill of taking risks is part of life, and basketball is no exception. When it comes to taking risks, however, you need to know when to take them and when to tone them down. From time to time, taking risks can elevate a team, but they can also backfire. The turnovers may result in easy points on the break, but could also lead to easy points on the break.

You may be instructed by the coach to run at every single opportunity. Are those opportunities really available to you, or should you choose them? Run the break if you have the numbers, but pull back if you don’t. By cutting down on turnover, you will avoid costly mistakes caused by forcing the issue. It is important to remember that good teams value every possession they have.

What is a Turnover in Basketball? Definiton + Types

How to Avoid a Basketball Turnover?

There will always be turnovers in basketball, and the game’s speed makes it virtually impossible to avoid them. It is already a cause for celebration when you turn the ball over less than 10 times in the NBA. Despite living and breathing basketball, these guys still make basketball mistakes!

Therefore, teams must make sure the ball is handled consciously. A turnover robs you of shot opportunities, which negatively impacts your chances of winning. A careless turnover is the worst thing a coach can do to his blood pressure. However, good coaching can help a team reduce turnovers.

Coaching simple, fundamental basketball plays is a good example. In situations where players are pressured, they should learn how to manipulate their defenders and use angles. In order to prevent interceptions, you should also reinforce the importance of simple passes. Additionally, players receiving the ball must provide their teammates with a target to pass to away from the defense to prevent ball theft.

Dribbling and ball control are also important skills for your players. Dribbling and ballhandling drills should be done at every practice if they lack this skill. A generous amount of time should be devoted to ballhandling drills for youth teams. A reason why youth players often commit double-dribble violations can be found here.

During dribbling, perimeter players and point guards should avoid carrying the ball. Under the ball, their hands must not be caught.

Protecting the ball requires toughness, intelligence, and aggression from the point guard. The opponent gets an easy double-double when your point guard “gets stripped.”. There is nothing worse than this type of turnover.

It is also important to accept that changes will not occur overnight. However, it’s your responsibility as coaches to refine these things during team practices. Coaches also need to make sure their teams are mentally prepared and focused during the game. When coaches are frustrated by the number of turnovers on their teams, it is often the fault of their poor coaching that causes the problem and the fault of their good coaching that fixes it.

How Many Turnovers Can a Team Have in an Entire Game?

Teams are not limited to how many turnovers they can have in a game. In their game against the Boston Celtics on March 9, 1971, the San Francisco Warriors committed 45 turnovers. John Havlicek and Dave Cowens led that Boston team to the third-best defensive rating in the league.

According to StatMuse, the most turnovers by a team in a game occurred before the 90s. 

All games under that record took place before 1990. On Feb. 15, 1989, the San Antonio Spurs played Golden State Warriors and committed 40 turnovers. Among the 22 games played, only eight ended with a win. You have a higher chance of winning when you take care of the ball.

Kyrie Irving Vs. Stephen Curry Career Breakdown

Which NBA Players Have the Most Turnovers?

Basketball players of all levels can make mistakes and make bad decisions, as previously mentioned. In the NBA, these players hold some records when it comes to turnovers:

Most Career Turnovers

  • LeBron James (4,788)
  • Karl Malone (4,524)
  • Moses Malone (4,624)
  • John Stockton (4,244)
  • Russell Westbrook (4,188)

Most Turnovers in a Game

  • Jason Kidd (14)
  • Chris Mullin (13)
  • James Harden (12)
  • Gilbert Arenas (12)
  • Dwyane Wade (12)
  • Paul Pierce (12)
  • Allen Iverson (12)
  • Jason Kidd (12, twice)
  • Damon Stoudamire (12)
  • Scottie Pippen (12, twice)
  • Sleepy Floyd (12)

Turnovers by a team in a game

  • San Francisco Warriors (45)
  • Los Angeles Lakers (43)
  • New Jersey Nets (41)
  • San Antonio Spurs (40, twice)
  • Phoenix Suns (39)

Most Turnovers in a Single Season by a Player

  • James Harden (464)
  • Russell Westbrook (438)
  • George McInnis (422)
  • George McInnis (401)
  • George McInnis (393)

Turnovers in playoff games

  • James Harden (12)
  • Luka Doncic (11)
  • Trae Young (10)
  • James Harden (10)
  • LeBron James (10, twice)
  • Tim Duncan (10)
  • Kevin Garnett (10)
  • Moses Malone (10)
  • Penny Hardaway (10)
  • Kevin Johnson (10)

In the list of NBA players with the most turnovers, which surprised you the most? It was rather surprising to see John Stockton on the all-time turnover list, but he handled the ball a lot during his career and played over 1,500 games. Over the course of his career, Stockton has averaged 2.8 turnovers per game.

Here’s how Steph Curry learned to cut turnovers

When Steph Curry plays, his pace is frenetic, but he has few turnovers during his career. On average, he commits only 3.1 turnovers in almost 35 minutes of play per night. Is Curry able to cut down on his turnovers in any way? Actually, it was his mother, Sonya Curry, who had the idea.

Sonya wanted her son to improve his game by reducing the mistakes he made on the court. She had an idea, though it was unconventional, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Every time he turns the ball over after the third time, she charges him $100.

Was it successful? That’s what it seems to have done!

Curry said it keeps him on the edge every game. My gift is going to go to her in the form of a text, a cute one-liner, or something like that. I look forward to her jokes.”

In every Steph Curry game, Sonya earns about $110, based on Curry’s career turnover average. It’s not a bad way to earn extra money!


What happens after a turnover in basketball? 

After a turnover, the opposing team gains possession of the ball and has the opportunity to initiate an offensive play.

Can turnovers change the momentum of a game? 

Absolutely. Turnovers can lead to quick transitions and scoring opportunities, shifting the momentum in favor of the team that forces the turnover.

Are turnovers solely the fault of the player with the ball? 

Not necessarily. Turnovers can result from various factors, including defensive pressure and miscommunication among teammates.

How do turnovers affect a player’s statistics? 

Turnovers negatively impact a player’s statistics, as they represent lost opportunities and potential defensive lapses.

Is there a limit to the number of turnovers a team can make in a game? 

No, there is no specific limit to the number of turnovers a team can make in a game. However, minimizing turnovers is a key goal for any team to enhance its chances of winning.


Basketball turnovers have a significant impact on games and strategies. They emphasize the importance of ball control, decision-making, and teamwork for players. Teams and players can maximize their chances of success by understanding the causes and types of turnovers.


David Harris is a former player and after many years of writing and testing hundreds of products associated with the game, created this website to share his tips, basketballs and gear.  I look forward to continuing to grow and build this site and sharing great content.

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