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Jrue's Miscues

Sunday nights are great for testing out theories. After the jump, I'll put another to the test with none other than Jrue Holiday.

The Theory: I've long believed that assists have varying degrees of usefulness. A pass from the perimeter (where the odds of scoring on the possession are basically 50%, meaning the value of the possession is 1 point), to a guy for an easy dunk (where the conversion rate is say 85%, meaning 1.7 points) is worth more than a simple pass around the perimeter for a mid-range jumper (the pass really didn't do anything to increase the odds of a score on the possession). If this type of stuff interests you, a good place to start is HoopData. Take a look at assists at the rim, and other categories.

In this exercise, we'll take the logic I laid out above and apply it to turnovers. Jrue Holiday's turnovers, to be exact. I sat down with my Synergy Sports subscription and watched video of all 149 (he actually had 156 turnovers, only 149 of them were available in the video archives) Holiday turnovers from this season, and broke them down into categories. Here's the logic I used.

There are three types of turnovers: Terrible, bad and somewhat acceptable. I defined them as follows:

Terrible: The play leading to the turnover added absolutely no value to the possession. Lazy passes on the perimeter, ballhandling miscues on the perimeter or in the back court, catching a pass with a foot on the line, for example.

Bad: The play leading to the turnover may have added limited value, but certainly wasn't worth the risk. A perfect example is a pick-and-pop, with the pass to a shooter for a 15-footer from the elbow.

Somewhat acceptable: The play leading to the turnover added significant value to the possession. A lob to the hoop, a drive to the hoop. Feeding a player deep in the post, drive and kick for a corner three, an aggressive drive to the hoop, backing down a smaller player on the blocks, hitting the roll man in a pick-and-roll on his way to the hoop and kicking the ball out ahead of the break are all examples of this type.

I further broke down the turnovers into either ballhandling (travels, coughing up the dribble, palming, stepping out of bounds) or passing, for each turnover type. Here are the results:

Terrible Turnovers
  • Ballhandling - 36
  • Passing - 30
  • Total - 66

Bad Turnovers
  • Ballhandling - 8
  • Passing - 20
  • Total - 28

Somewhat Acceptable Turnovers
  • Ballhanding - 14
  • Passing - 41
  • Total - 55

So what does all this mean? I have a couple of takeaways. First, Jrue was absolutely sloppy with the ball on the perimeter, and this is the area he needs to improve upon the most for his game to evolve. The good news is he seemed to get better as the season progressed. There were fewer lazy passes on the perimeter, but he did get his pocket picked too many times.

Second, and this one is actually heartening, the kid is always trying to make plays. Again, with some experience he's going to recognize who can and cannot catch tough passes. He's going to become a better judge of the athletic ability of defenders. He's going to get a better grasp of the risk vs. reward ratios for certain passes, and hopefully he'll be able to do all of that without losing the attack mentality he displayed with his passing this season.

There were a few things notably absent from this film study as well. Not once did I see Jrue blow a fast break when the Sixers had numbers. Not with a charge, not with a dribble off his foot, not with a bad pass. Not once did Jrue misfire on a pass to a wide-open teammate. His turnovers really fell into one of two categories: Carelessness or trying to force the action.

As I was watching the tape, I thought it was only fair to also keep track of the turnovers that obviously shouldn't have been turnovers. By this, I mean turnovers credited to Jrue in which the player on the other end of the play either blatantly dropped a pass, wasn't paying attention, didn't expect the pass or was generally lazy in coming to the ball. There were 21 such plays, and just for kicks, here are the culprits:

  • Dalembert - 5 times
  • Kapono - 5 times
  • Jason Smith - 4 times
  • Carney - 2 times
  • Brand - 1 time
  • Thad - 1 time
  • Lou - 1 time
  • Speights - 1 time
  • Willie - 1 time
Dalembert you'd expect to see here, and five actually seems kind of low considering the number of lobs Jrue threw to him. They were mostly due to bad hands. Kapono's problems, though, were much more troubling. He was just so damned lazy, he never came to the ball, he wouldn't move a foot in any direction to receive a pass. Smith is basically just clueless. Two passes hit him in either the face or the chest, he also ducked out of the way of a pass, so as not to catch it with his teeth.

This exercise is completely incomplete, I realize that. We have Jrue's ratio, and the assumptions I've drawn from it, but we don't have anything to compare it to. Even the breakdowns I've made are woefully incomplete. The math can and should get much deeper than what I've attempted to do here. I've really only taken the reward portion of the equation into account, without the risk. For example, say a pass from the three-point line has a 75% completion rate, and if completed it would result in an 80% layup. The true value of that pass is not 1.6 points, that's only the value if it gets caught. The true value of the pass is more like 1.2 points. A pass with a 50% completion rate for an 80% shot is only worth 0.8 points, and probably not worth the risk.

When you start mixing basketball and math there's really no end to the number of layers, I'm just scratching the surface with a quick analysis like this. The point, for me, was as usual to see if the evidence backed up my thoughts. In this case, I think it does. Jrue will probably never be a league-leader in assist-to-turnover ratio. He's not wired to only make safe passes, that's part of what I believe will make him an exceptional playmaker as he matures. He sees plays that others don't and he isn't afraid to try to make them. That type of play has its drawbacks, but the more comfortable he gets with the level of play and his teammates' abilities, the lower the risk will become. Paramount to his development, though, is cutting down on those pointless turnovers.

Thoughts in the comments, as usual.