Turnovers are an undesirable aspect of the game that shows up on players' box scores at the end of contests. The worst thing that can happen on the court is probably a turnover, which results in a lost possession without a shot being taken. Teams should, at the very least, try to keep the ball and set up a shot before the shot clock runs out rather than giving it to the opposition team.
Turnovers are a key component of the stat sheets at the conclusion of games, especially when you consider how superstars control the game in the modern NBA. There are currently a lot of possessions in a game, therefore, players that handle the ball will commit more turnovers as time goes on. One factor stands out when examining the all-time leaders in turnovers: players who handle the ball frequently have the most turnovers in league history.
LeBron James currently has 4,652 turnovers, which is more than any other player in NBA history. The King is a talented passer and has always been the one who makes the majority of the decisions for his teams on the court, which is why he has a high turnover rate. The fact that John Stockton, the all-time leader in assists, is fourth on the list with 4,244 errors is interesting. It appears that a player is more likely to turn over the ball the more he controls the ball, which could be a reason why James has a massive edge.
LeBron James leads the pack in turnovers, but where do other stars rank on the all-time list and have made the most turnovers in their whole careers? It is time to find out, and we compiled the 20 players with the most turnovers in NBA history.
20. Dwight Howard - 3,302 Turnovers
Dwight Howard was a superstar center in his prime for the Orlando Magic, which is why he had to handle the ball a ton when he received it down low. Facing constant double-teams, Howard was usually forced to pass out of the post, although he was never an elite passer. He averages 1.3 APG for his career and never averaged above 1.9 APG in a single season. Clearly, Howard could not take advantage of the double teams to set up his teammates.
Dwight has a career average of 2.7 TOV, which is probably a factor in why he did not make the NBA 75th Anniversary Team. Howard would lose the handle more times than he would like in the post because he did not have an elite set of post moves either. But opponents often swarmed Dwight in the post and forced him to throw the ball away.
19. Shaquille O'Neal - 3,310 Turnovers
Similar to Dwight Howard, Shaq was often swarmed by defenders, which caused the big man to turn the ball over a lot of times. Except with Shaq, he was a far more dominant player than Dwight on the offensive end and would score almost every time if he was not double and triple-teamed. The center averaged 2.7 TOV and accumulated over 3,300 turnovers over his Hall of Fame career. Not to mention, Shaq played longer than Dwight has so far, with an extra season under his belt.
Considering Dwight has enough appearances in 2023, he will likely pass Shaq in total turnovers. But O’Neal suffered the same aspect of being a dominant center in terms of facing aggressive defenses and having to make quick decisions with the ball. Oftentimes, the big man was also fed lobs that could or could not be easily catchable. That also led to turnovers, but O’Neal won’t mind considering he won 4 NBA titles and 3 Finals MVP awards playing the way he did.
18. Dwyane Wade - 3,326 Turnovers
A player of Dwyane Wade’s stature for the Miami Heat will always be allowed to attempt risky passes, exciting lobs, and surprising moves. Wade accumulated most of his turnovers by carrying Miami’s offense for years, especially in his younger days. Wade was a shooting guard, but he was also a point guard at times, which naturally increases turnovers.
In fact, Wade’s number of turnovers is quite low, considering he had to do so much on the floor. The Miami Heat legend has a career average of 3.2 TOV and had his career-high come in 2008 when he posted 4.4 TOV. But he only had 3 seasons averaging at least 4 TOV, a surprising figure when the shooting guard played an impressive 16 years in the NBA at a high level.
17. Charles Barkley - 3,376 Turnovers
Charles Barkley is a dominant power forward who was often in the post. Not to mention, he was an MVP player for the Phoenix Suns who averaged at least 21 PPG for the four straight years he was in Arizona. Barkley was a force down low, scoring the ball around the rim and also rebounding the ball at a high level. Naturally, Charles had a lot of turnovers for carrying a team for so long.
Barkley was also a superstar player for the Philadelphia 76ers before he joined the Phoenix Suns, averaging under 3 TOV only once in his career (the first season of his career). A player of this status will always accumulate a ton of turnovers, and ranking 17th all-time is not too bad considering how many times Charles was forced to make plays. It is certain the Hall of Famer won’t mind considering he won an MVP award and made 11 All-Star Teams before he retired.
16. Tim Duncan - 3,381 Turnovers
Tim Duncan is another big man appearing on this list, and he occupied the power forward spot for most of his career. The Big Fundamental averaged 2.4 TOV over his career and accumulated almost 3,400 turnovers over his career. Duncan was often the key star for the San Antonio Spurs, so everything normally went through the big man in the post. It often led to more positive than negative, obviously.
But just like other star players on a team, Duncan’s usage rate was very high, and he was forced to make quick decisions. He was a very solid passer with an average of 3.0 APG with a career-high of 3.9 APG in 2003, so clearly he could set his teammates up. But beyond being a solid passer, Duncan’s usage rate led him to turn the ball over more than he would have liked over 19 years.
15. Steve Nash - 3,478 Turnovers
Steve Nash is one of the greatest playmakers of all time, and he made a living out of being an elite passer and ball-handler. Under Mike D’Antoni’s “7 seconds or less” system, Nash completely controlled the ball and was a usage rate machine. Naturally, he was always going to have a lot of turnovers. Over his career, the 2-time MVP averaged 2.9 TOV with his highest coming in the 2007 season when he posted 3.8 TOV.
But somehow, Nash only ranks 15th all-time in turnovers. Very few players in NBA history had the usage rate of Steve Nash, and somehow he does not even crack the top-10 list despite handling the ball and setting up his teammates consistently. The Canadian star was always willing to take risky passes, which he often made, and sometimes they would miss the target. Leading the NBA in assists 5 times, Nash will take his turnovers with a grain of salt.
14. Reggie Theus - 3,493 Turnovers
Reggie Theus occupied both the shooting guard and point guard position, meaning he was often tasked with handling the ball and creating for others or forcing the action to score. Theus averaged 3.4 TOV over his career, and the highest number came in 1980 and 1986 when he posted 4.2 TOV and 4.0 TOV, respectively. Clearly, those are high averages and he did have only two seasons averaging under 3.0 TOV.
Theus was a solid passer, averaging 6.3 APG, but it also came with an average of 3.4 TOV. He clearly lost the ball more times than he liked, considering the guard played 13 years in his career. Despite being a player who attempted risky passes or dealt with inaccurate plays, he was a solid passer and capable scorer who averaged 18.5 PPG in his career. Of course, Reggie made 2 All-Star Teams and the 1979 All-Rookie Team.
13. Magic Johnson - 3,506 Turnovers
Magic is the greatest point guard of all time, make no mistake about that. He won 5 NBA championships, 3 MVP awards, and 3 Finals MVP awards. The legendary Lakers star was the architect behind the “Showtime” Lakers that ran, scored quickly, and made highlight plays. Of course, it was only natural that Magic would lose the ball and make misplaced passes when going for the highlight play.
Magic averaged 3.9 TOV in his career and had 5 seasons of averaging at least 4.0 TOV. If Magic would have played longer and not retired for the 4 years he was dealing with HIV, his turnover total might have been even greater. Johnson was a special player with a special ability to handle the ball and make pinpoint passes, and with his usage rate, he was no stranger to having a ton of turnovers at times. Being the best point guard ever is by far the most important fact, however.
12. Paul Pierce - 3,532 Turnovers
Paul Pierce played 19 seasons in the league, and for the majority of his career, he was the primary scoring option for the Boston Celtics. That meant “The Truth” had to handle the ball, create for others when double-teamed, and also take risks by attacking the defense and trying to make things happen. He averaged 2.6 TOV in his career, with the highest number coming in 2004 when he posted 3.8 TOV. That number is quite high, especially when Pierce occupies the small forward and not the point guard spot.
Pierce was never known to be an elite passer, although he averaged 3.5 APG in his career and had seasons posting 5.1 APG and 4.8 APG in 2004 and 2013, respectively. The Truth tried to find his teammates consistently, and while he was a solid passer, he wasn’t excellent. That is why Pierce accumulated so many turnovers, although the biggest reason is that The Truth was forced to make things happen for years until he had Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo by his side.
11. Patrick Ewing - 3,537 Turnovers
All-Star center Patrick Ewing was arguably the most consistent player in New York Knicks history with his toughness down low proving to be one of the brightest spots in the most recent franchise’s history. Ewing was often fed the ball down low and had the eyes of the defense on him most of the time. Over his career, Patrick averaged 3.0 TOV with a high coming in 1987 and 1991 when he posted 3.6 TOV.
Ewing was faced with double-teams at times, and that led the big man to force passes out of the post, which would often fall to unanticipated receivers. The center tried his best to make things happen on offense, but dealing with strong defenses for most of his career forced him to accumulate over 3,500 turnovers in his Hall of Fame career.
10. James Harden - 3,539 Turnovers
Unsurprisingly, one of the NBA's all-time ball-dominant stars is on this list. James Harden is an elite passer and scorer at his position, but he also commits a ton of turnovers. Despite being 32 years old, Harden now holds the 10th-highest career turnover total and is predicted to reach the top-5 list before the end of his career.
Harden has always been sloppy with the ball, however, this was primarily because of his desire to score points for his team. James has had at least 5.0 turnovers a game on average over the past three seasons, with a high of 5.7 TOV in the 2017 campaign. Additionally, The Beard has 5 more seasons with an average TOV of at least 4.0. As long as Harden continues to have such strong ball management, he will continue to be a turnover machine who has won the scoring title three times.
9. Hakeem Olajuwon - 3,667 Turnovers
A player of Hakeem’s dominance down low would naturally attract constant double-teams throughout the player’s career. Olajuwon had every move in the book, whether it came from pump fakes, jab steps, or the patented “Dream Shake”. Hakeem was a force down low and completely dominated defenses year after year. Of course, Olajuwon won 2 championships and 2 Finals MVPs as a result.
Hakeem was forced to pass out of the post at times and was an excellent passer with an average of 2.5 APG as a center. His highs came in 1994 and 1996 when he posted 3.6 APG. However, Hakeem was also quite a turnover machine considering he averaged 3.0 TOV. A score-first player who faced constant double teams, Olajuwon was forced into turnovers.
8. Isiah Thomas - 3,682 Turnovers
An all-time great playmaker and point guard, Isiah Thomas often handled the ball for his team and was ultra-aggressive when it came to creating offense for his team. Thomas was a very solid scorer, posting 19.2 PPG over his career, and had 5 seasons posting at least 20 PPG. Of course, Thomas was also a solid playmaker, posting 9.3 APG in his career, including 4 seasons posting at least 10 APG.
Naturally, Thomas’ excellent production came with turnovers. The point guard was a fierce competitor and often had to lose the ball when trying to make passes, rim drives, or other critical plays. The Detroit Pistons legend played 13 seasons, and with a career average of 3.8 TOV, Thomas has to go down as one of the most turnover-prone players ever.
7. Moses Malone - 3,804 Turnovers
Moses Malone was always known for being loose with the ball because his size and impact made him a target for double-teams down low. Moses averaged a career 3.1 TOV in the NBA, with his high coming in 1979 with the Houston Rockets when he posted a very high 4.0 TOV. Not to mention, Moses had at least 3.0 TOV 11 times in his NBA career. That is quite a statistic to make an inference about.
Malone could pass the ball quite well, but he would need to turn it over more times than not. Of course, Moses was often fed the ball down low and was extremely active around the rim. When it came to receiving lobs, making passes, or dealing with swiping hands down low, Moses was often the victim of losing the ball for his team. No player is perfect, and Malone lost the ball on the other end of being an elite rebounder and scorer.
6. Jason Kidd - 4,003 Turnovers
Jason Kidd ranks 2nd all-time in assists for a reason, because the point guard handled the ball for most of his career. Kidd’s floor leadership was truly exceptional, and he often made others around him better by passing the ball. He led the NBA in APG 5 times and was one of the most gifted passers of all time.
A first-ballot Hall of Famer, Jason Kidd was a force on the court year after year but that also came with turnovers. There was not much Kidd could do to cut down on turnovers, because he had a career average of 2.9 TOV in 19 years played. A point guard with this amount of success handling the ball should not have that much issue turning the ball over 4,003 times in his career.
5. Kobe Bryant - 4,010 Turnovers
Very few players in NBA history had the usage rate of the late and great Kobe Bryant, a player who handled the ball more than almost any player ever. Bryant was a score-first and score-second player, meaning he was looking to make things happen on the court every possession. Naturally, a player with Kobe’s amount of usage rate would come up with at least 4,000 turnovers over his career. In fact, Bryant had a career average of 3.0 TOV.
Kobe’s high came in 2014, at age 35, when he averaged an incredible 5.7 TOV. The second-highest number came in 2005 when he posted 4.1 TOV, meaning the 2014 season might be an anomaly. Bryant was a gifted passer so his turnovers did not come from his inability to pass the ball, it just came from Kobe wanting to do everything on offense, and he often dealt with consistent double, triple, and even quadruple teams as a result.
4. Russell Westbrook - 4,188 Turnovers
Russell Westbrook is the NBA's most infamous turnover generator, along with James Harden. Russ has exceptional athleticism and is a threat to score three goals and double-digit points. The point guard is able to shoot over smaller opponents and grab every rebound that hits the hoop. He or she can also assault the paint to create for others.
The 2017 MVP and two-time scoring champion has never had a season with fewer than 3.3 turnovers per game, with highs of 5.4 and 4.8 TOV. At the age of 33, Russ has over 4,000 turnovers in his career and averages 4.1 TOV. Westbrook is currently fifth all-time in turnovers, and he will move up the list.
3. John Stockton - 4,244 Turnovers
The all-time leader in total assists, John Stockton, was the man responsible for giving the ball to Karl Malone for possession after possession, year after year. Stockton was an incredible passer, and he never missed the playoffs as the point guard of the Utah Jazz alongside The Mailman. Stockton averaged a career 2.8 TOV, which is not bad for the all-time assist leader, but he did play 19 years.
That meant a player with a very high usage rate will tend to lose the ball most time on the court. The Utah Jazz star point guard averaged a career 10.5 APG and had led the NBA in assists per game an amazing 9 times. Naturally, Stockton’s passes to Karl Malone would not always go through and the pick-n-roll would fail as a result. But most times, Stockton’s passes were on-point, which is why he leads the NBA in assists.
2. Karl Malone - 4,524 Turnovers
Speaking of all-time great Utah Jazz players, Karl Malone actually leads John Stockton in total turnovers. Amazingly, despite receiving the ball from one of the greatest passers ever, Malone often lost the ball. Whether that was due to his “wild” hands or the aggressive defenses he dealt with, Malone had to make quick decisions by shooting the ball, drawing a foul, or passing the ball back out. Remember, Malone is 3rd all-time in total points scored. A player of Malone’s caliber as a scorer attracted a ton of attention after all.
The Mailman had over 4,500 turnovers in his career and had 10 seasons posting at least 3.0 TOV. Malone’s highest number came in 1988 when he posted 4.0 TOV as a member of the Utah Jazz. Malone also played an incredible 19 years in the league, and that meant his average of losing the ball would only lead to a large number of total turnovers. An all-time great scorer, Malone’s turnovers should not take away from his greatness as a top-15 player ever.
1. LeBron James - 4,788 Turnovers
LeBron James leads all players with almost 4,800 career turnovers and will continue to rack up more the longer he plays. The King consistently contributes more than 3.0 TOV because he is the team's top playmaker and scorer. LeBron had the weight of entire organizations on his shoulders, yet his worst season in terms of ball handling was in 2018 when he averaged 4.2 TOV. That is not too bad considering everything else The King does on the court for his team, year after year.
The King has only had two seasons with an average of more than 4.0 turnovers per game and has never even come close to Harden or Westbrook's average of 5.0 TOV. LeBron has 19 seasons of excellent play under his belt, and because he is the main decision-maker, longevity has sadly contributed to this dismal record. Considering how Harden and Westbrook have slowed down, it is likely they won’t greatly usurp what The King did in terms of turnovers, although anything is possible.