Overturning Jrue Holiday’s Turnover “Issue”

Published: October 12, 2013

Much has been made of Jrue Holiday’s turnovers in the first three New Orleans Pelicans preseason games. In fact, Ryan took note of them before they happened. For the purposes of this article, we take the 2013 preseason statistics to date and the idea that they predict regular season performance without quibble and examine Holiday’s performance with respect to turnovers.

Since we take the turnover stats at face value, we take them all as such. If small sample size can be ignored when causing worry, then it can be ignored when attempting to cure it. If the potential irrelevance is set aside for the purposes of causing worry, then it can be set aside when attempting to cure it. And so on.

Preseason Statistics

In about 78 minutes of play, Holiday had 17 turnovers: 8 against Houston (27 minutes), 4 against Dallas (24 minutes, I hate the Mavericks), and 5 against Orlando (27 minutes). The 8 turnovers against Houston really set the tone of the discussion, since the per 36 minutes rate was through the roof, and the rates against Dallas and Orlando, though better, are nowhere near what is considered acceptable. Last season, the worst per 36 minutes turnover rate by players with at least 1000 minutes logged was 3.7 (Will Bynum, Rajon Rondo, and Ricky Rubio). Jrue Holiday and James Harden were behind them at 3.6.

The above should give one pause. First, it is just unrealistic for turnover rates to remain that high according to the data from last season, which is nice to know. Second, Jrue, through among the highest-turnover-producing guards, is in good company: Rubio and Rondo are known as very good passers who are not skilled shooters.

So, what’s missing?

Taken alone, turnovers are not an effective measure of point guard prowess, as shown above. Turnovers can be a product of passing, and point guards are supposed to pass to other players to help them score. Said another way, the price of assists is turnovers. While turnovers can be generated by other means, looking at assist-to-turnover ratio gives a more complete picture of point guard skill. For example, last season there were 33 players who met the following criteria:

  • Played at least 1000 minutes
  • Averaged at least 24 minutes per game
  • Averaged at least 5 assists per game

The criteria were chosen to make sure that the players were guards who distributed the ball. Of the 13 players with a TOV% below 8, only 4 are guards, showing that the people who turn the ball over the least are not really guards. The four guards all have single digit AST%, so even they are not really tasked with distributing. For reference, they are Willie Green, Marcus Thornton, Nick Young, and DeShawn Stevenson.

Chris Paul, Monte Ellis, and Stephan Curry all had 13.7 TOV% in that group. Paul’s AST%-to-TOV% ratio, however, was the highest in that group by a wide margin, 3.39:3.11, or almost 10% (relative) over Tony Parker. Stephan Curry was tenth at 2.27, and Monte Ellis was twenty-second with 1.98.

The switch to pace-independent statistics is done to better compare (not perfectly compare) players on different teams. The discussion was spurred by raw numbers, so per-time rates were quoted to better project the rates into regular season minutes.

A table with the players from that query, their AST%, their TOV%, and the ratio of those two statistics is included at the conclusion of the article for reference. Also, Derrick Rose does not appear, but his stats from 2011-2012 would place him ahead of Holiday.

So, we go back to the start but with a more complete analysis.

In about 78 minutes of play, Holiday had 18 assists and 17 turnovers coming the following pairings: 3-8 against Houston (27 minutes), 6-4 against Dallas (24 minutes, I hate the Mavericks), 9-5 against Orlando (27 minutes). Converting to AST% and TOV%:

Game AST% TOV% Ratio
1 16 31 0.5
2 44 24 1.8
3 62 26 2.4

Looking at just the turnovers, one can see a reason to be concerned (again, assuming preseason stats predict regular season stats). Adding assists onto the canvas provides a clearer picture of the source of worry in the first game and the improvement since then, with the AST%-to-TOV% ratio hovering around the commonly-accepted-as-acceptable mark of 2:1. One can argue the sample size is not enough to show improvement, but there’s twice as much data showing improvement up to an acceptable level than there was to support the worry.

Past Passing Prowess

Maybe someone is worried that Holiday lacks the capacity to be a competent point guard, despite the All-Star selection. People have pointed to Derrick Rose being hurt as the likely cause of him being selected in an attempt to cheapen the achievement, as if Jrue Holiday did not beat out other guards in the Eastern Conference to be selected.

In Philadelphia:

Season AST% TO% Ratio
2009-2010 24.4 21.9 1.11
2010-2011 29.0 16.7 1.74
2011-2012 21.6 13.2 1.64
2012-2013 36.5 17.3 2.11

Looking at the more effective measure, the one that distinguishes Chris Paul positively from Monte Ellis as a passer, Holiday had his best passing season in 2012-2013, despite the distracting rise in his TOV%. This can explained in part by some recent comments at Pelicans practice. When asked about how he was going to work through his current turnover issues (the supposed issue discussed in this article), he said the best way to work through it is to keep trying. This is consistent with the premise for the AST%/TOV% metric and his rise in TOV% coupled with his major rise in AST%.

Here is a plot of his AST%/TOV% for all 78 games last season:

His passing effectiveness is basically unchanged through the season, with a few hints of drops in production near the end. In particular, his stellar passing games disappeared after midseason. Also, in the last 20% of the season, his very good games disappeared and 4 of his 5 worst passing games occurred. He performed worse in 3 of those games at the end than in the Houston outing. This tells me two things: the performance does not preclude a very good season as a passer, and it is possible that he formed a bad habit that he had to break / is breaking.

In any case, Holiday is a more than capable passer. In the list of 33 players noted above, Holiday is 17th, which is the median value: 16 players have better ratios (led by Chris Paul and Tony Parker), 16 have worse (Lin with the worst ratio, Hinrich and Collison slightly better). This is a short list of players, many of whom have weaknesses out side of their passing game that make them less desirable or strengths in other areas that make them harder to acquire. So, both in comparison to the 2:1 line-in-the sand and to the production of players with similar roles, Holiday fares well.


Holiday had a bad outing in his first game with a new team, and that rightly caused people to look closely at this performance, particularly in the area of turnovers. Turnovers alone do not tell the whole story of how effective or ineffective a passer is. Since a turnover is often the result of a pass attempt, or an interruption in a play where a pass to a scorer would have occurred, turnovers can be looked at as a cost that is paid as a part of being in the assist business. In business, a comparison of costs to benefits is the real measure of effectiveness, such as return on invested capital, so must assists be viewed with turnovers to get a complete picture.

Looking at Holiday’s passing numbers through three preseason games, his passing numbers through his career, and recent passing numbers of distributing guards, there is no reason to suspect that Holiday will put up significantly worse passing statistics than he has through his career. He has shown he can be quite effective, in fact. Additionally, Ryan showed that tidying up the pick and roll game will go a long way towards making reducing his turnovers while increasing his passing effectiveness, as opposed to just attempting fewer passes. This latter strategy would also be contrary to his solution: keep trying.

It would be nice for the TOV% to decrease and passing effectiveness to increase, as there is room for improvement. There’s just no need to panic at this time. There is more reason to believe that he will return not just to his mean performance, but to something better. How much better is somewhat up to Jrue, Monty, and luck.

Player AST% TOV% Ratio
Chris Paul 46.5 13.7 3.39
Tony Parker 40.4 13.0 3.11
Russell Westbrook 38.4 13.2 2.91
John Wall 43.9 15.3 2.87
Deron Williams 37.5 14.5 2.59
Jose Calderon 39.8 15.8 2.52
Kemba Walker 31.2 12.4 2.52
Greivis Vasquez 44.9 18.6 2.41
Kyrie Irving 32.7 13.8 2.37
Stephen Curry 31.1 13.7 2.27
Brandon Jennings 29.1 12.9 2.26
Kobe Bryant 29.7 13.3 2.23
Rajon Rondo 49.3 22.6 2.18
Ty Lawson 30.2 14.1 2.14
Goran Dragic 35.7 16.8 2.13
Jameer Nelson 33.3 15.7 2.12
Jrue Holiday 36.5 17.3 2.11
Jarrett Jack 29.9 14.3 2.09
Jeff Teague 36.1 17.6 2.05
Dwyane Wade 26.6 13.2 2.02
Damian Lillard 28.8 14.5 1.99
Monta Ellis 27.1 13.7 1.98
Kyle Lowry 34.6 17.7 1.95
Mike Conley 29.5 15.1 1.95
Raymond Felton 27.0 14.2 1.90
Mo Williams 33.2 18.0 1.84
Ricky Rubio 38.8 21.4 1.81
James Harden 25.7 14.9 1.72
Steve Nash 32.8 19.3 1.70
Andre Miller 32.2 19.3 1.67
Darren Collison 26.8 17.0 1.58
Kirk Hinrich 27.5 17.5 1.57
Jeremy Lin 29.4 18.8 1.56


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