The Brooklyn Nets have worsened a trend that hurt them last season as it relates to turning over the ball. While it will normalize, it’s still a concern.
On today’s episode of “Small Sample Size Theater,” we will examine the Brooklyn Nets and their ridiculously high, completely unsustainable turnover differential through the first three games of the 2018-19 NBA season.
The Nets have turned the ball over 20.3 times per game in the early going — two more than the next-worst team, the Atlanta Hawks at 18.3 a game.
The Hawks are operating with a rookie point guard and a roster assembled to pursue ping pong balls in the lottery, so that’s not encouraging.
Brooklyn, meanwhile, has forced 10.3 turnovers per game, tied with the Portland Trail Blazers for the fewest in the NBA. So there’s that.
If you’re thinking a minus-10.0 per game turnover differential is unsustainable over 82 games, you’re in luck — it isn’t.
This is where small sample sizes come in: The Nets’ numbers through three games are definitely skewed by the ridiculous 22-3 difference in turnovers they had in their win over the New York Knicks on Friday night.
Per Basketball-Reference.com, that differential tied for the fourth-worst in a victory since 1983-84. The worst was set by the Denver Nuggets in an overtime win against the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 11, 1994, when they turned the ball over 32 times to 11 for the Lakers.
It’s the worst ratio in a win since the Lakers beat the Golden State Warriors on March 15, 2010, with 24 turnovers to just five for Golden State.
But Brooklyn had more turnovers than the Detroit Pistons on opening night, 19-17, and had 20 turnovers to the Indiana Pacers’ 11 in Saturday’s loss. So they’ve been on the wrong end of this all three games.
The 1984-85 Los Angeles Clippers posted the worst turnover differential in the NBA since 1983-84, with an average of minus-4.2 per game. Shockingly, that Clippers team missed the postseason with a 31-51 record.
Only one other team in that span, the 1988-89 Indiana Pacers, has had a differential worse than minus-4, checking in at minus-4.0 and some spare change. That team was 28-54.
So, the conclusion one can draw is that a poor turnover differential will mean the theme for your season will likely be, “Not good, Bob!”
However, there are two teams in that rogue’s gallery of the 10 worst teams in terms of turnover differential in the last 34 seasons that won 50-plus games and made the playoffs.
The 1997-98 San Antonio Spurs were 56-26 despite a minus-3.3 differential, the same differential posted by the 1989-90 Boston Celtics when they finished 52-30.
Of course, that Spurs team lost in the second round to the Utah Jazz in a five-game series in which San Antonio turned the ball over 69 times to just 50 for the Jazz — a differential of minus-3.8.
The 1989-90 Celtics, meanwhile, lost a decisive Game 5 at home to the New York Knicks in the first round in a series in which their differential was minus-4.8.
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So one can posit that a massive turnover differential is not the path to attempt to travel to winning an NBA title.
For the record, the worst Nets team on that list was the 1986-87 group that has a minus-3.097 differential en route to a 24-58 record — one of 18 teams to have a differential of minus-3 or more (and a group that included the 2016-17 Brooklyn Nets at minus-3.085).
The turnover gap was a problem for the Nets last season as well. Brooklyn was 25th in the NBA with an average of 15.2 turnovers per game and while their opponents’ average of 12.4 was the lowest in the league.
The obvious problem with turnovers is that they lead to transition opportunities — easy points for the opponent.
Against the Pistons, the Nets were outscored off turnovers 26-14 in a three-point loss. Against New York, it was 29-5 in a two-point win. With the Pacers, the margin was 30-12 in a game Brooklyn lost by 20.
Add it all up and the Nets — who have been outscored by 21 total points thus far — have been crushed in points off turnovers by a whopping 85-31 margin — a difference of 54 points.
Turnovers happen (except, apparently to the Knicks) and against Indiana, in particular, so many of the 20 turnovers were of the careless variety.
D’Angelo Russell trying to feather a soft pass through two defenders in the paint, Caris LeVert getting caught in the air under the basket with nowhere to go with the ball. Russell flinging the ball from the baseline back out to the 3-point break without looking.
All of those turnovers mentioned above led to fast-break points, of which the Pacers scored 24.
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There have been other unforced mistakes as well that have cost possessions, if not break opportunities — Rodions Kurucs and his sometimes-happy feet after catching the ball on the wing, Ed Davis clutching at the defender he’s supposed to be merely screening, Treveon Graham and Allen Crabbe each stepping out of bounds after catching the ball in the corner.
Those have to be considered preventable and those are the mistakes the Nets have to eliminate sooner rather than later.
Wednesday’s game marks their second straight on the road and their third road encounter in their first four games. Friday night against the New Orleans Pelicans is also away from home and after one game at Barclays Center on Sunday, the Nets head back to Manhattan to face the Knicks.
Road games in the NBA are difficult enough to win without putting yourself behind the proverbial 8-ball with self-inflicted mistakes.
The Nets have more talent than they had last season with the additions of veterans such as Davis and Jared Dudley and the energetic youthful spark that is Kurucs. They certainly are much better on paper than they were in 2016-17.
But unless proper care and handling of the orange becomes priority No. 1, there is nothing on paper that will stop Brooklyn from another season of 50-plus losses.