The Jazz Working to Correct a Turnover Problem

March 1st, 2018 | by Steve Godfrey

A key to the Jazz’s playoff hopes will be protecting the basketball. (Gregory Shamus via

Monday night against the NBA-best Houston Rockets, the Utah Jazz gave away too many possessions and points by coughing up 22 turnovers, eight more than their average. Consequently, the Jazz let their 15-point first-half lead evaporate as the Rockets took advantage of Utah’s carelessness and won 96-85. You don’t often win ball games with 20 or more turnovers, especially against good teams. Simply, if the Jazz want to be a playoff team they need to reel in on the giveaways. Are TOs becoming that big of a problem? 

Rocket Hangover

After the basket of gifts the Jazz gave Houston on Monday, head coach Quin Snyder was hot. He was frustrated and almost at a loss for words on how the Jazz handled the ball. He said: 

“Some of the turnovers, there’s no, there isn’t any, ya know, it’s…. don’t throw the pass, there’s a guy there. You can’t throw the ball to the other team. We had a lot of turnovers that were just careless. If they are unforced, it’s on us. We just have to be mentally tougher.”

You can view his full quote below:

Strong words from the coach, which meant the next day of film and practice would be even stronger. Snyder continued his sermon on turnovers on Wednesday. “We showed every turnover that we made against Houston on film this morning to try to really draw the connection between that you’re not going to win if you turn the ball over 22 times,” the coach said. “The most notable time is when we were up 15 and gave it back on a bunch of consecutive possessions.”

Snyder continued, saying that it’s more about focus than practicing specific things. “Ultimately in some of these situations, guys just really have to concentrate while they’re on the floor. The kind of drills you do not to turn the ball over are very mundane. We’ll do them, but more than anything, it’s just a mindset that we have to be tougher.”

Translation: take care of the ball. How? Be smart. A lot of the turnovers Monday were unforced, mental errors like Snyder noted. Simply clean things up on your end and that will pay dividends throughout the entire game and then the rest of the season. You can’t practice not turning the ball over, Snyder points out, because some situations are just basketball 101. 

Donovan Mitchell vs Ben Simmons: Turnover Style

One specific problem Monday night was one of the main floor generals, rookie Donovan Mitchell. While Mitchell certainly proves his value on a nightly basis, he has also struggled as the focal point of the defensive game plan during this second half of the season. He is bound to commit playmaking errors as he is A) doing so much already B) only 21 years old and C) a rookie. Monday was a prime example of this as DM committed EIGHT turnovers. 

A hot topic right now, and continuing until the end of the season, is whether Mitchell or Sixers guard Ben Simmons will take home the Rookie of the Year trophy. Simmons claims the versatility and triple-doubles. DM is Mr. Clutch and a leading scorer. The two are also close in performance when it comes to the T word. 

Turnover stats per ESPN.

While Mitchell ranks first in the league for rookie scoring per game, at 19.6, he let fellow ROY candidate Ben Simmons take the TO title. Simmons averages 3.6 turnovers a game, while DM has 2.6 a game. If we take them out of the rookie class, Simmons is still worst 5, while DM is in the bottom 20 among this year’s qualified NBA players. 

Taking it a step further, we can look at how many steals or assists they have in ratio to turnovers. This stat shows the ratio of how many assists or steals a player gets in comparison to their turnovers. Ideally a perfect poing guard averages 10+ assists and turns the ball over minimally, maybe 2-3 times. So, for perspective, Russell Westbrook, who seems reckless, gets 2.22 assists per turnover. Chris Paul, nicknamed Point God, gets 3.54 assists per turnover. Former Jazz backup Shelvin Mack is at 3.48. Simmons, who leads the charge and offense more often for Philly, sits at 2.04 and DM, who hardly plays a playmaking role in Utah, is further behind with 1.32. It’s closer for steals, however,  as DM gets .56 steals per turnover and Simmons is .57 (league leader is Trevor Ariza with 1.77 steals per turnover). 

What this shows is that Donovan is a rookie and is bound to have growing pains alongside his thunderous dunks. It’s just as expected now for him to put up 20, while also making some poor playmaking decisions along the way. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the way of life with a rookie leading the team. Monday was an aberration with eight, as Snyder believes Mitchell will continue to learn and grow as he progresses in the NBA. 

Season Stats

What might be concerning, however, is that the turnover problem isn’t just a rookie problem. 

In 61 games this season, the Jazz have committed 882 turnovers which ranks around the middle of the league. Philly, interestingly enough with Simmons leading the way, tops the league with 1,024 as they average 17.5 a game. The Jazz’s average of 14 per game has them in the middle of the pack, while the Mavericks and Timberwolves set the standard for ball security with 12 on a nightly basis. 

Since Utah plays at a slower pace than most teams, those 14 turnovers hurt their offense more on a percentage basis. All told, 13.6 percent of Jazz possessions end in a TO, a bottom-10 figure. They do, however, make up for it on defense, forcing 14.1 turnovers per 100 defensive possessions. Perhaps they study the Bible in that locker room and have adopted the mantra “the turnover giveth away, the turnover taketh away.”

Turnover Detail

NBA Miner is a cool website built and run by two guys in Turkey who love the NBA and advanced metrics. Using play-by-play data, they take traditional stats and break them down into more categories. With regards to turnovers, fans can see where the Jazz rank with total turnovers, sure, but also categories like bad passes or traveling or stepping out of bounds. Here’s how it breaks down from NBA Miner


If you play around with the table, you’d see that the Jazz are one of the 10 teams with the most bad passes that lead to turnovers (5.5/game).

What this shows is that the motion offense swings the ball around a lot. Utah has a pass-first point guard in Ricky Rubio and many other selfless players like Joe Ingles who don’t mind kicking out the extra pass. That’s fine and that’s great until it becomes part of this statistic. Too often, the Jazz force the extra dish or unnecessary pass which leads to a turnover in this category. The rookie mistakes from Mitchell and Royce O’Neale don’t help, and new guy Jae Crowder is still learning the offense and learning to make the right reads. 

Moving Forward

The Jazz have played 30 games when they commit less than 14 turnovers. In those games, they sit 19-11. Better yet, if they commit 11 or less, that record becomes 12-3. During their recent 11-game win streak, there wasn’t a single game in which they topped the 20-turnover threshold, while overall they have crossed that border four times too many.

Oh, want a random stat? The two games with the lowest turnovers of the season are losses to Denver and Houston when they coughed the ball up only six and seven times.

That aside, turnovers are a key part of every win and every loss. Take care of the ball, you’ll be in a great position at the end of the day. And at the end of the day, what do the Jazz want? Playoffs. 

Currently, the Jazz sit two games back from a playoff berth and will have to clean up play to make it happen. FiveThirtyEight pegs the Jazz as 55% likely to make the big dance, but the number will take a dip with each extra possession wasted or easy point given up. Since the All-Star break, turnovers have been at a high point. It’s not time to panic yet as Snyder & Co. are obviously making TOs a conversation and point of emphasis. While the Jazz are average in comparison to the rest of the league, it’s statistics like turnovers that make the difference in playoff positioning. The quest to postseason continues on Friday, when they take on Minnesota. Utah trails the Timberwolves 0-2 in the season series, due in part to an early season home loss that ended in a familiar way: with a turnover.

Steve Godfrey

Steve studied journalism and English, and now teaches high school in Northern Utah. He started his own website and writes about being a Tortured Jazz fan at: He joined the Salt City Hoops team at the start of the 2017-18 season to connect with more Jazz fans and to continue to apply his passion for writing and for basketball.


  1. John Jenkins says:

    Also part of the problem is that teams are now clued into the Jazz offense. The players are simply passing “memory passes” to where the offense is supposed to go. Now they need to follow the progressions for the other options. Shot selection has also been a problem.

    • Steve Godfrey says:

      That’s a great point, John, especially as it pertains to Mitchell. He’s on his second or third go around with many of these teams and they are noticing some tendencies. I think Quin even mentions that in one of the videos in the article. He does some things, naturally, that defense is cueing in on. Same could be said with the offense where we go through the motions, but the D knows those motions and force TOs. Like you said, we do the lazy, memory passes to where things usually go or are supposed to.

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