Earlier this year, this website tackled bad quadruple-doubles, wherein a player gets double-digits in three of the five positive counting statistics (points/rebounds/assists/steals/blocks) and double-digits in the game’s single negative counting statistic: turnovers.
At the beginning of this season, the league had seen four such performances since 1982: Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Fat Lever, and Jason Kidd had each achieved the feat once (curiously, those players were 3-1 in those games). But now we’re almost three full months into this season, and we’ve seen that total doubled. Between them, Russell Westbrook and James Harden have accounted for an additional four bad quadruple-doubles (those players were 2-2 in those games). That brings the aggregate record of bad quadruple-double getters to 5-3.
Which leads us to a brief, albeit bigger, conversation: are turnovers even that bad? Or at least, are they bad in this case?
It is tempting to believe that turnovers are an enormous deal. “One guy turning it over more than 10 times?” we want to scream. “That’s how you lose basketball games!” The very small sample size says otherwise and there are other confounding factors too. The players who have turned the ball over the most? They happen to be the among the game’s greatest ever players.
But then, it makes perfect sense that the game’s greatest ever players turned it over the most. You have to have the ball to turn it over, and what team anywhere isn’t going to constantly get the ball into the hands of their best players? Harden and Westbrook don’t have four bad quadruple-doubles between them by accident. Both are by far and away the best players on their respective teams and those teams don’t go unless Harden and Westbrook have the ball constantly.
This is reflected in their usage rates, a hugely useful statistic that reflects how often a player has the ball, although it should be noted that there are competing ways to specifically calculate usage rate. But all calculations point to one very obvious thing: Harden and Westbrook have the ball constantly.
It naturally follows then that each of them would have an incredible number of opportunities to turn the ball over and, as expected, both Westbrook and Harden have been aggressively doing so. Westbrook coughs it up 5.5 times a game and Harden is even worse, at 5.7. That’s good for first and second in the league. Their next closest competitor is John Wall, who is losing the ball 4.3 times per game, or more than a full turnover less than Westbrook and Harden. But each of these three are also the league’s leaders in assists-per-game.
What exactly are we seeing? Given the success that both Westbrook and Harden have had (and, frankly, Wall too, given the recent play of the Washinton Wizards), turnovers seem suspiciously meaningless in the grand scheme of things, especially among truly great players. Or, to put that another way, three teams whose best players average the most turnovers-per-game are at a collective 81-50 in league play. All three teams would make the playoffs at this point.
So are there any conclusions to be drawn about bad quadruple-doubles?Well, they are very funny. Turning the ball over 10+ times a game is obviously not great, and it makes for a fun bit of apparent statistical failure. But in the broader scheme of things, they barely seems to matter.