What is a Turnover in Basketball?


So, what is a turnover in basketball?


Basketball may seem like a simple sport upon initial observation, but there are many complexities involved in the game.


In addition to learning fundamental skills and strategies, players must also learn all the rules of the game in order to become elite.


Part of that is also learning about the terminology surrounding the gameplay.


You may have heard basketball coaches or commentators talking about turnovers.


If you’ve been listening carefully, you can probably tell that turnovers are something that you don’t want to commit. 


If you are new to the game of basketball, you might be wondering what a turnover is, and why coaches want you to avoid them.


Turnover Definition


In essence, a turnover is when a player on one team loses possession of the ball before a shot is attempted, and possession is gained by the opposing team.


Missing a shot and giving up a rebound is not a turnover, but anything that gives the ball to another team before a shot can be attempted would be considered a turnover.


Why is a Turnover Bad?


Any time you put the ball in the hands of your opponent, you are opening up an opportunity for them to score and putting more stress on your defense.


Since the purpose of the game is to score more points than the other team, you want to limit the number of scoring chances that you give them.


Minimizing turnovers is one important way to keep the ball in your court, so to speak.


Can a Turnover Be Good?


Yes – but it is only good for your team if it is committed by the other team.


Types of Turnovers


There are several different types of turnovers, and you can learn about them below.


Forced Turnover


A forced turnover is when the defense causes the offense to lose the ball. Defensive coaches will often try to teach their players to attempt to cause forced turnovers as often as possible.


When you steal the ball or intercept a pass, you have forced a turnover on the other team.


This is good if you are on the defensive team when the turnover happens. However, it is something that you don’t want to happen to you when you are on offense.


Still, forced turnovers are going to happen for both teams in every game, so it isn’t something you need to be distraught about.


Sometimes it is nearly impossible to stop a fantastic defensive play, and at least you know that you didn’t make a major mistake and just got outplayed by the other team.


You can use this to motivate you to make an even better play the next time around.


Examples of Forced Turnovers


  • Stealing the ball


  • Intercepting a pass


  • Drawing a foul


  • Causing an opposing player with the ball to step out of bounds


Unforced Turnovers


Unforced turnovers are those that happen when the offensive team gives up the ball without the defense needing to make a play.


These are usually the result of a mistake or miscommunication between teammates.


Unforced turnovers are more embarrassing and often more costly, but a team can minimize these by practicing fundamentals and having solid coaching.


You might throw the basketball too hard, sending it out of bounds, or it might bounce off of your own foot into the hands of the opponent.


Whenever the turnover is caused by the team in possession of the ball, it is an unforced turnover.


Examples of Unforced Turnovers


  • Double Dribble


  • Traveling


  • Offensive or Charging Fouls


  • Shot Clock Violations


  • Going out of bounds


  • Throwing the ball out of bounds


  • 5-second or 10-second violations


  • Offensive goaltending


How Turnovers Affect the Game


A team that is giving up a lot of unforced turnovers is far less likely to win the game because they are giving the opponent more shooting opportunities.


Even if the opposing team is not made up of the best shooters in the league, the odds are more in their favor every time they have the ball.


An abundance of turnovers can also have a negative effect on a team’s psyche, causing them to feel less confident and perhaps even blaming each other for their mistakes.


This leads to sloppier overall gameplay and even more turnovers. It is basically a repeating cycle in which the negative energy continues to grow, making turnovers more likely.


How to Minimize Turnovers


Turnovers are going to happen in every game of basketball – it’s just part of the sport. But a good team knows how to minimize these mistakes and how to create them on the other end when they are on defense.


Essentially, you want to have a favorable turnover ratio – one where you have forced more turnovers than the other team.


Here are some words of advice that can help you to reduce the number of turnovers you commit in any given game.


Practice the Fundamentals


It should go without saying, but you will be doing yourself a huge favor if you practice fundamental movements and plays every single day.


This means perfecting your dribbling, passing, and shooting so that you aren’t making errant throws or opening yourself up for a steal.


The more you practice, the more skilled you will become at avoiding defenders and minimizing mistakes.




Turnovers can also be the result of mental mistakes being made by a team that isn’t very disciplined. The best way to fix this is with quality coaching.


It is important for a coach to emphasize the importance of fundamentals and teamwork to ensure that any given player can hold onto the ball and prevent turnovers.


Coaches should also study the strategies of other teams and point out the ways in which they will try to force turnovers so that players can be prepared to defend against them.




Turnovers are a basic part of basketball, and teams with lower turnover rates are far more likely to win more games.


It is not fun to commit a turnover, but it is part of the game and the best players will do their best to practice and make sure that they keep their turnover numbers down.

  1. This is an excellent article, players need to be aware of their ball-handling skills. You can be a good scorer but should never try to dribble in when there is a good defensive player on you. I was a decent defender, and an ok scorer but my ball-handling skills were ok at the playground but terrible in an officiated game.


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