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A.P. Hoops: A Closer Look at Ball Control

All season long, will be looking at its top prospects and teams through the lens of advanced stats. Today, we focus on which teams do the best job of controlling the ball and making the most out of their possessions.

Kevin Galloway's average of 5.0 assists compared to 2.0 turnovers per game have helped the Stampede rank second in TORatio.
Otto Kitsinger/NBAE/Getty Images

For those struggling in the memory department, last week we discussed effective field goal percentage (eFG%) which measures shooting efficiency by accounting for the difference in value and difficulty between three-pointers and two-pointers. As you may also remember (or maybe not), I mentioned that eFG% was one of Dean Oliver’s Four Factors of Basketball Success. As you can deduce, we are left with three remaining factors to address and there is no time like to the present to venture ahead.

Much like our past discussions, I will introduce our next concept with general, “user-friendly” basketball talk. As you know, one of the most important factors in basketball is ball control. The reason is very basic: in order for a team to score, it needs to possess the basketball. As we discussed previously, a possession is defined as the period of time between when one team gains control of the ball and when the opposing team gains controls of the ball. Each possession can yield several different outcomes:

1. Field goal attempt (FGA) – team takes a shot at the basket
2. Free throw attempt (FTA) – team shoots one of more free throws
3. Turnover (TO) – team loses possession of the basketball
4. Offensive Rebound (OREB) – team misses a shot and retains possession of the ball by securing the rebound

Armed with this information, we can now take a look at the formula for possessions.

Possessions = FGA – OREB + (0.44 * FTA) + TO

As you may notice, each of the aforementioned possession outcomes make an appearance in the formula.

Since possessions are essential for success on the court, you can imagine that forfeiting possessions by turning the ball over is perhaps the most detrimental thing a player or team can do as it eliminates the possibility of scoring and gives that opportunity to its opponent. However, similar to many statistics that we will discuss, raw turnover totals are inherently flawed in comparing the ball control ability of teams and players. If a team plays at a rapid pace, they will have more possessions per game and therefore have more opportunities to turn it over and vice versa. So what’s the solution? (drum roll please….) Turnover ratio (TORatio). This statistic controls for pace by measuring turnovers per 100 possessions. The formula is as follows:

TORatio = (TO * 100) / POSS

Below I have included this year’s team rankings for TORatio which will give you a sense of the best teams at taking care of the basketball. Since teams have not all played the same number of games, I calculated turnovers per game and possessions per game to illustrate how raw turnover data can be deceiving. For instance, the RGV Vipers turn the ball over an average of 19 times per game which ties them for second worst in the league. However, because they average 107 possessions per game (most in the league), their TORatio ranks them 7th.

Fort Wayne Mad Ants65111819693165889811.72
Idaho Stampede756315480107156589411.96
Bakersfield Jam76042331151191771110212.12
Erie BayHawks8664232106127167879812.14
Los Angeles D-Fenders10775348127170179719712.89
Texas Legends7594171108120176819712.93
Rio Grande Valley Vipers98022751361731996010713.07
Canton Charge754119773113166689513.08
Springfield Armor651216296107185949913.66
Dakota Wizards645813770103175519213.86
Reno Bighorns6473209541131962410413.90
Sioux Falls Skyforce751921962127186809714.66
Maine Red Claws648711868114195859715.08
Iowa Energy8637204891602079810015.08
Austin Toros646818782119205879815.39
Tulsa 66ers8626221144160207399215.96

Note: All data was provided by NBA StatsCube.