By Luke Winn
February 29, 2012

A few things I believe to be true about the NCAA tournament: Point guards matter, and it's more important to have a steady one than a flashy one. Games get played even more in half-court settings, deflating the number of possessions. Because it's a single-elimination setting, the significance of every possession is amplified. A handful of sloppy possessions can bring an early end to a good team's season. Turnovers matter.

With Selection Sunday 11 days away, now seems like a good time to discuss point guards and turnovers. I'm not here to tell you that the team with the point guard who commits the fewest turnovers is going to win the NCAA title. It's not that easy. What I will say is that studying the way a point guard commits turnovers can tell you something about him, and perhaps affect your perception of him heading into March. Do you believe he'll thrive in tournament conditions, that he's cutting down on mistakes, or that what he's doing is correctable?

North Carolina's Kendall Marshall, Kansas' Tyshawn Taylor, Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor and Kentucky's Marquis Teague are four very different point guards who will matter in this NCAA tournament. As an experiment -- inspired by Hickory High's discussion of Jeremy Lin's turnover rate -- I charted film of every turnover that quartet has committed this season, logging the situation (half-court or transition), type of turnover (bad pass, travel, ball stolen, etc.), type of play (pick and roll, isolation, fastbreak, etc.) and floor location (lane, top of key, right wing, etc.). In each player's case, all but a few turnovers were available in Synergy Sports Technology's archives.

Before getting into the turnover data, though, the point guards' contrasting roles need to be put in context. The adjoining charts below look at their assists and turnovers per 100 possessions played (on the left), and their pace-adjusted possessions and assists per game (on the right). You'll see that Marshall's assist-turnover ratio is incredible, but that he plays a minuscule role in UNC's scoring; that Tyshawn Taylor commits a ton of turnovers but has to co-carry KU's offense; and that Jordan Taylor manages to take on a huge offensive role while protecting the ball. Teague falls somewhere in the middle.

* Charting sample: 69 turnovers

* Turnover distribution: 79.7% bad passes, 13.0% ballhanding, 7.3% offensive fouls

What the charting data reveals:

1. The country's assist leader remains addicted to the risky pass. He's aware of his condition -- in the preseason, he said, "As many good passes as I've made, I have to settle down and not get overzealous about it, because I've thrown some away" -- and yet an amazing 79.7 percent of his turnovers (55 in all) have come on bad passes. (Tyshawn Taylor had the second-highest portion of TOs on bad passes, at 53.2 percent, with 50 total.)

2. Tyler Zeller is Marshall's favorite risky target. While 29.3 percent of Marshall's assists go to Zeller, a team-high 40.0 percent of his bad passes have been intended for the senior big man. Eleven turnovers occurred on post/wing entries to Zeller, eight were overthrows on fast breaks, two were off of pick-and-rolls and one was an isolation dish-off.

3. In all other situations, Marshall is exceptional at protecting the ball. Only one of his 55 bad passes came on a drive where he left his feet and ran out of options. He's only had the ball stolen from him seven times, which equates to 0.4 percent of his total possessions played. And he has yet to commit a single traveling or carrying violation, which is somewhat stunning.

4. The question remains: Could Marshall be more conservative and still be as successful, or is he like a slugger who can't put up high home-run totals without also striking out frequently? According to Synergy, Marshall's PPP+A rate (points per possessions used plus assisted plays) of 1.56 still blows the three other guards away: Jordan Taylor's is 1.28, Tyshawn Taylor's is 1.26 and Marquis Teague's is 1.23. If Marshall were to take 2-3 fewer risks per game, could Carolina's offense (which currently ranks 12th in efficiency) get better, or would it not be able to remain as fast and dynamic as it currently is?

* Charting sample: 94 turnovers

* Turnover distribution: 53.2% bad passes, 34.0% ballhanding, 12.8% offensive fouls

What the charting data reveals:

1. Taylor is almost the anti-Marshall, in that the Kansas point guard has to take on a huge scoring role that occasionally lends him hero status, but he's neither a flashy assist man or a sure-handed dribbler. He commits more turnovers (6.26 per 100 possessions) than any of the other three point guards, and 34.0 percent of his turnovers are due to sloppiness with the ball (steals, travels, stepping out of bounds, etc.).

2. He might be better off not pushing the pace, due to his control issues. Even though only 14.1 percent of the Jayhawks' possessions occur in transition (according to Synergy), my charting has 26.1 percent of Taylor's turnovers occurring either on fastbreaks (19) or press breaks (6).

3. The good news is that Taylor is on an upward trajectory. Whereas Marshall's rate of turnovers per 100 possessions is worse in ACC play than it was in the non-conference season, Taylor has actually cut down on turnovers down the stretch. In non-conference games, he committed 7.0 TOs/100, but in Big 12 games he's committing just 5.67 TOs/100. That's a solid improvement.

4. The noticeable thing Taylor has eliminated is passes on which he leaves his feet, then makes a bad decision. He did that six times in non-conference play, but has yet to do it once during Big 12 games. It's a sign that he's started driving to the basket with more of a plan.

* Charting sample: 46 turnovers

* Turnover distribution: 41.3% bad passes, 43.5% ballhanding, 15.2% offensive fouls

What the charting data reveals:

1. Taylor's turnovers (3.10 per 100 possessions) are up from last season, when he committed just 2.38 per 100 possessions. Still, he's one of the nation's most under-control point guards; he has fewer giveaways on the season than Tyshawn Taylor and Teague did in their non-conference games alone.

2. Of the four point guards studied, Taylor was by far the least likely to throw away a pass. He has just 19 bad-pass turnovers, or 41.3 percent of his overall total. (Only eight of those have come in Big Ten play.) He doesn't have problems feeding his big men, either; he's committed only five turnovers while trying to pass to 4-5 combo Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz.

3. Last season, Taylor had great pick-and-pop targets in Keaton Nankivil and Jon Leuer, who helped increase their point guard's assist totals. This season, Taylor has had to operate more in isolation, which has led to him taking a few more risks. He commits more turnovers in isolation (16, or 34.8 percent of them) than any other situation.

4. Wisconsin doesn't get pressed very often, but it's worth noting that Taylor has committed just one behind-the-halfcourt-line turnover all season. And it wasn't entirely his fault; it came in the Badgers' home loss to Ohio State on Feb. 4, when he was thrown an awkward press-break pass by a teammate, and collided with a defender who'd stepped up to try to take a charge.

* Charting sample: 83 turnovers

* Turnover distribution: 47.0% bad passes, 42.2% ballhanding, 10.8% offensive fouls

What the charting data reveals:

1. He's been thriving in a slower-paced setting. Teague, as you probably know if you watched Kentucky in November and December, had some growing pains. But as he's slowed down -- and the Wildcats have slowed as a whole -- his turnover numbers have improved. In non-conference play, he committed 5.89 TOs/100, while UK played at an average pace of 70.7 possessions per game. In SEC games, he's committing only 5.02 TOs/100, while UK is playing at an average pace of 62.6 possessions per game. That's a massive difference in pace.

2. Specifically cutting down on fast-break turnovers has made a difference. Teague had 14 fast-break turnovers in the Wildcats' 15 non-conference games. He has just five in their 14 SEC games. He's also making better decisions around the basket, nearly halving his turnovers committed in the lane (from 22 in non-con to 13 in the SEC).

3. Teague still struggles with decision-making on pick-and-roll plays, as they account for 25.3 percent of his overall turnovers. He's committed more turnovers on P&Rs (21) than on any other play type.

4. Anthony Davis is the main target of Teague's bad passes. Davis accounts for 23.4 percent of Teague's assists but also 30.8 percent of his bad-pass turnovers (12 in all). Davis has to be the most tantalizing risky-play target for any point guard in America, though. It's hard to not want to throw lobs to him in traffic, just to see what might happen.

You May Like

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)