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Tracking the Turnover Crisis

(Two thousand thank-yous to the irrepressible section214 for holding down El Fort de StR during my [impeccable] holiday. He didn't kill any of my plants, and he even left one beer in the fridge! Three cheers for Rob: hip hip hurrah! hip hip hurrah! hip hip-- oh damn, there's a Game 7 tonight?!?!)

As section214 wrote yesterday, Amick's Q&A with Geoff Petrie is a must-read for any Kings fan. There's plenty of meal to gnaw through, and I'll try to slip myself back into the flow by attacking one of them: turnovers.

Not long ago, we were among the most careful ballhandlers. In 2007, under Eric Musselman's (cluster)flex offense, the Kings were #5 in the league in turnovers. (Which is to say: the fifth best team at not turning the ball over.) The offense, as I remember it, was far from pretty. Statistically, it was below league average. But the team didn't turn it over much.

This season, the offense was better. It finished #13 in the league, on par with San Antonio. But that was built on opportune foul-drawing and improved shooting numbers, as the turnover figures sunk like a stone to worst in the NBA. Yep, the Kings were more likely this season to turn the ball over in any given possession than the Heat, the Sonics, the Grizzlies, or the Knicks. Real bad.

What caused it?

Either the personnel or the offensive system Reggie Theus implanted. Much of the personnel stayed the same, so we can either blame that one or rule it out pretty simply. Let's begin.

Kevin Martin played increased minutes and saw increased possession usage in 2008, but saw his turnover rate (the percentage of his used possessions which ended in a turnover) climb only slightly (from 9.3% to 10.1%). It remained quite low for a high-usage shooting guard.

Ron Artest also saw his possession usage increase in 2008, but his turnover rate also increased only a small amount (from 10.7% to 11.9%).

Brad Miller's usage moved back up toward its natural level, but his turnover rate stayed level from his (bad) 2007. He did play 800 minutes more in 2008 than 2007, and his is one of the higher turnover rates on the team.

John Salmons increased his minutes and usage and saw his turnover rate get better in 2008. Of course, his turnover rate is still loads worse than those of either Martin or Artest, so the extra minutes hurt the team's mark when you consider he was often replacing one of those two fellows.

Francisco Garcia also saw more minutes and a much higher usage, and rewarded the team with better turnover marks. Don't blame El Flaco's mistake-a-game.

So of those five core players who played under both Musselman and Theus, none became significantly worse ballhandlers in 2008. A piece of the unfortunate turnover turnaround can be explained by increased minutes for Miller and Salmons (two surprisingly turnover-prone players), but the offensive system seemingly should not be fingered for blame.

Let's then look at the core rotation spots where the personnel changed.

Point guard. Mike Bibby in 2007: 13% turnover rate. Beno Udrih in 2008: 16.1% turnover rate. That's a huge difference, especially when you consider Bibby handled the ball much more than Udrih does (for all the talk about Udrih being a pure point).

Power forward. Shareef Abdur-Rahim wasn't asked to do much under Musselman; "don't turnover the ball" was a central priority. Reef was good at that -- in 2,000 minutes, his turnover rate was 13.1%. Mikki Moore, God bless him, had a turnover rate of 16.2% in 2,300 minutes in 2008.

(There were other significant personnel changes: Kenny Thomas and Corliss Williamson became Spencer Hawes and some extra Brad Miller, Ronnie Price became, um, Orien Greene and, um, Anthony Johnson, and QUINCY DOUBY! became "Quincy Whatshisname-by." But all the guys above are the real big tickets in terms of playing time and possessions used.)

So the reason for the dissolution of the Sacramento hallmark of ball protection: Beno Udrih and Mikki Moore. One's a stopgap forward whom you hope touches the ball only when he is a) rebounding it, b) dunking it, or c) firing it in Robert Horry's general direction. The other is the potential point guard of the future. In Amick's Q&A, Petrie says this:

When you look at style of play vs. personnel, what ultimately happens on the court is always some function of what you're doing and who's doing it. But the whole assist-to-turnover ratio issue is probably a little bit more weighted toward style of play issues than personnel, whereas I think you could probably fairly say that the rebounding is more weighted on the personnel side. So going forward, those are things that hopefully we can address to some extent by working through it during the offseason.

Might strategy alone fix the new turnover problem? That seems a bit hard to swallow, considering Beno has now recorded three bad turnover rates in his four NBA seasons. What style of play covers up Beno's weakness here? A slow-down San Antonio-style offense relying on guard penetration and post play?

It seems Hawes, Petrie's prototype and clearly a central slice of the future, is more suited for an up-tempo high post offense, relying on guard cutters and shooters galore. Martin, Hawes, and Garcia seem to fit Petrie's manual to a tee. Beno can shoot, but more often wants to drive. That results in ... suprise! turnovers.

If style's the problem, it's because Beno doesn't really fit the style. That makes it a personnel problem. And that makes it something to watch come July.