Posted by Mike Lynch on September 29, 2023
While player turnovers have only been officially tracked in NBA games since 1977-78, team turnovers have been tracked in official scorer's reports for nearly a decade longer. Per the official NBA Guide, team turnovers have been compiled since 1970-71. However, the official NBA Guide also only shows team and opponent turnovers comprehensively since 1973-74. Team and opponent turnover totals for the 1970-71, 1971-72 and 1972-73 seasons have always been a bit of a mystery. Ostensibly the NBA has these totals, but for some reason they have never been printed in NBA Guides.
Well, we're proud to announce that this mystery has been solved and there's one man to thank: Harvey Pollack.
Pollack, an NBA and statistical legend, was an employee of the Philadelphia Warriors from the start of the BAA who later worked for decades for the Philadelphia 76ers until his 2015 death. He printed these league-wide totals in 76ers media guides before the 1971-72, 1972-73 and 1973-74 seasons (showing the numbers from the previous season). Thankfully he printed these numbers, which the NBA never did, and now these numbers can be preserved for future use. We have added these season-level team and opponent turnovers for every NBA team in 1970-71, 1971-72 and 1972-73. We also added these numbers for the 1968-69 and 1969-70 76ers since Pollack included them in his media guides (information for the other teams, however, was not available).
Since these figures were never printed in the official NBA Guides, they were mostly lost to time with one exception being the 1972-73 Buffalo Braves. Their 2,001 turnovers is listed as the all-time record in the official NBA Guide, beating out 1,965 turnovers by the 1976-77 Denver Nuggets. However, that same Nuggets team is listed with 2,011 turnovers in the official NBA Guide's section showing turnovers for every team in the NBA in 1976-77. We have decided to use that number (which is also the number Pollack printed in his turnover table in the 1977-78 76ers media guide). Somewhat ironically, these two teams were coached by legends Jack Ramsey and Larry Brown.
Nonetheless, the 2,001 turnovers for the Braves is confirmed by Pollack's data. It makes them one of two teams on record with over 2,000 turnovers in a season. You can see the all-time record for turnovers in a season in this Stathead query. The most opponent turnovers in the new data is 1,833 by opponents of the 1970-71 Pistons, which is well short of the record of 1,980 turnovers by opponents of the 1977-78 Hawks.