The year was either 1994 or 1995, and the draft pick was Shawn Kemp. I needed points, rebounds and blocks, and we had already protected a few players on our fantasy basketball teams, five I think. I was surprised to see Kemp available in the draft. This was a 20-and-10 guy, still rather young and capable of improving. Why was he in the draft at all?
Then someone tapped me on the shoulder, as he saw me checking out Kemp's stats in some magazine. Hey, way back then everyone in the room didn't have a laptop and Internet access, you know. "Eric, you know we have assist-to-turnover ratio as a category, dontcha?
Well, I didn't much care. At the time, even knowing what all the league rules were, I still drafted for the big categories and didn't pay any mind to those secondary numbers. Even now, in fantasy baseball for example, some people totally disregard batting average and WHIP. Bad idea. You can draft someone who won't hit any home runs and compensate, but those percentage categories will kill you.
And Kemp sure did. His other numbers looked fine when that season ended, but I finished last in assist-to-turnover ratio and didn't win the championship. I came close, but it's hard to punt a category and still win it all. I learned a lesson. All the numbers count, not just the good ones.
In ESPN leagues, which didn't exist at the time, the turnovers would be no big deal. It's not one of our offered statistics, and the only percentages you need to be wary of are field-goal and free-throw percentage. It's why Shaquille O'Neal was rarely a coveted player, even in his heyday, because shooting 50 percent from the line with as many times as he went there was a total liability to your team.
Anyway, I still play in a league in which turnovers count, though I have long since left the league with assist-to-turnover ratio. I still pay attention to it, however, because it's important in real NBA life. Jose Calderon isn't just piling on the assists, you know, he doesn't turn the ball over! His 5.06 ratio is stupendous, and while Brevin Knight isn't all that interesting in the ESPN format, for those in turnover leagues, this careful point guard is.
On Monday night, Al Thornton turned the ball over 10 times. I got to thinking, that has to be one of the worst totals for this season, and if he's done it once, he's probably been a turnover liability all year. Again, I know some of you play your fantasy hoops elsewhere, so you care about this. Not to mention, if a guy keeps turning the ball over to that degree, in some cases, he's going to lose playing time. Thornton appears safe, since the Clippers are so terrible and he's a rookie just learning how to play at this level. Dwight Howard could turn the ball over 10 times per night and it wouldn't matter, he's not going to sit.
A look at the turnover leaders in the league shows a healthy number of point guards up there, but some other interesting names. Let's discuss.
Dwyane Wade, PG/SG, Heat: He's a very good player having a very good season, but I can tell you those in turnover leagues didn't want him in Round 1. Wade led the league in turnovers per game in 2006-07, barely topping Allen Iverson, and now he's destroying the field, averaging 4.4 per game. Second most, surprisingly, is Steve Nash at 3.9. But true point guards can turn the ball over as long as they earn 3.0 assists per turnover. Nash does this, as do Deron Williams, Jason Kidd and Baron Davis. By the way, to put the terrific Chris Paul season in even more perspective, it's incredible to note he is No. 33 in turnovers per game. As for Wade, I was avoiding him this season because of the potential for injury. He's surpassed my expectations, frankly.
Carmelo Anthony, SF, Nuggets: He's fifth in turnovers per game, and since he's got more of them than assists, in turnover leagues this is a problem. Anthony is a better fantasy player than he used to be, as his 7.4 rebounds per game are finally a serious number, and he shoots well and hits a few more 3-pointers each season. But man, those turnovers might be enough to make you think twice about trading for him, and there is no end in sight. A season ago he was No. 6 in turnovers per game.
Dwight Howard, C, Magic: The No. 16 guy on our Player Rater would be top 5 if not for that free throw percentage. In leagues that don't count turnovers and use free throws made rather than percentage, the guy is a fantasy monster. He's basically what Shaq was a decade ago. Of course, to some of you those turnovers really do matter, and Howard doesn't make much effort to pass. While Anthony has close to the same amount of turnovers and assists, a 0.95 ratio, Howard is 0.43. He's not even close. Then again, he doesn't get paid to pass.
Kevin Durant, SG/SF, Sonics: Rookies make mistakes, and Durant, while he's still on his way to the Rookie of the Year award because his 19.4 points per game easily trump all the other first-year players, is making mistakes. His 2.9 turnovers per game aren't good at all. A season prior, no rookie averaged as many as two turnovers per contest, as Randy Foye, Marcus Williams and Rudy Gay led the way. In 2005-06, rookies Chris Paul and Raymond Felton were at 2.3 turnovers per game, but as pure point guards, nobody complained. Durant is turning the ball over a lot. I think there are similarities between Durant and Anthony, incidentally. It might take a few years for Durant to become the rebounder people expect him to be, and that big-time scorer as well, but I do think it's coming. If you're in a keeper league that counts turnovers, however, be prepared for Durant to continue to provide them.
Al Thornton, SF, Clippers: Another rookie, and his 10 turnovers are easily his most of the season. Credit Philadelphia's ballhawking defense for saving the day! OK, but hey, can't I enjoy what might be a playoff season for my sub-.500 team? Thank you. As for Thornton, he did score 20 points, grab six rebounds, hit a few 3-pointers and shoot well, so chances are most of you didn't care about the mistakes, especially in ESPN leagues. Thornton is averaging just 1.49 turnovers per contest, though that number was at two per game in February, so be careful in pertinent formats. For the season, Kobe Bryant committed 11 turnovers on Jan. 31, and Thornton joined Nash (Feb. 6) with a 10-turnover game. Since 1986, the most turnovers in a game are by Jason Kidd with 14, Chris Mullin had 13 in a 1988 game and Wade has 12 in a game to join a host of others, including Scottie Pippen and Paul Pierce.
We should also give some attention to those who do take care of the ball. Calderon is a joy to own in turnover leagues. A season ago, the qualified NBA leader in assist-to-turnover ratio was Washington's Antonio Daniels at 4.20, and in 2005-06 it was Detroit's Chauncey Billups at 4.11. That puts into perspective just how careful Toronto's Calderon has been. If you're looking for those not-so-big names that do not play the point guard spot and whom feature a positive ratio, look at Richard Hamilton, Luke Walton, Boris Diaw and Andrei Kirilenko.