Final Four numbers: Efes's ball-handling

May 25, 2021 by by Darius Garuolis Print
Final Four numbers: Efes's ball-handling

No team has taken better care of the basketball over the past two seasons than Anadolu Efes Istanbul. To properly evaluate such a statement means looking at more than just how few turnovers a team has committed – although Efes shines that way, too. Efes's 11.26 turnovers per game are second only to AX Armani Exchange Milan's 11.0. Efes is second to CSKA Moscow in points scored this season with 85.1 points per game. This comes after Coach Ergin Ataman's club led the league in both scoring (87.1 ppg.) and fewest turnovers (11.43) last season.

Over the past three seasons, Efes's assist-to-turnover ratio has twice ranked among the best single-season marks in EuroLeague history, with its 1.62 this season coming 11th all-time. The chart below shows the 20 best seasons in terms of assist-to-turnover ratios by clubs. Though the list is dominated by the Real Madrid teams under Coach Pablo Laso, Ataman's teams make a strong case. His Efes squad from 2018-19 is fourth-best at 1.70 and Ataman's Galatasaray Istanbul team from 2016-17 is 10th at 1.63.

Efes graphic

In contrast to Efes's low-turnover play, one of its players has been something of a turnover magnet. The 115 turnovers committed by All-EuroLeague guard Vasilije Micic so far this season are the second-most in a single season in EuroLeague history. Vassilis Spanoulis has the distinction of making the most turnovers ever in a season, 131. He did so in 2016-17 when he led Olympiacos Piraeus to the EuroLeague championship game.

Both Efes's and Olympiacos's results in those respective seasons show that a team can contend for titles even with the league's turnover leader on its roster. However, opponents have also surely seen that Achilles heel, too. Efes is 3-3 this season when Micic has committed at least 5 turnovers and 11-4 when he's made no more than 2 turnovers, including wins in the last nine of those.

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The reasons that Efes can keep winning even when Micic is among the leaders in turnovers are twofold. First, Micic is among the league leaders in minutes played (29:42), thus his total turnovers come less often. In fact, on a per-minute basis, he is only 16th with 4.1 turnovers per 40 minutes. Second, Micic is fifth in the league in possessions based on stats from Synergy Sports. He is credited with 15.8 possessions per game, which counts the number of times an Efes possessions ends with a shot, foul drawn or turnovers by Micic. Considering that he also ranked ninth in the league with 4.8 assists per game and those are not possessions attributed to Micic, it is easier to understand: Micic has the ball in his hands so much that his total turnovers are a small price to pay for the points he generates.

Micic isn't the only Efes guard with a high usage rate. Fellow All-EuroLeague selection Shane Larkin is 14th in the league with 13.8 possessions per game. When you add in Krunoslav Simon's 9.7 and Rodrigue Beaubois's 9.2, you get to 48.5 possessions per game - or 62.2% of all Efes possessions (Efes has 78 possessions per game). It makes Efes the only team where four guards rank as the team's top four in this category, showing that no other team relies on its guards as much as Efes.

The quality of the players in the Efes backcourt, the freedom that Coach Ataman gives them and the combination of depth and willingness to play three-guard lineups all combine to shine a light on one of this team's greatest strengths and one that is very difficult to counter.