In basketball, a steal occurs when a defensive player legally causes a turnover by his positive, aggressive action(s). This can be done by deflecting and controlling, or by catching the opponent's pass or dribble of an offensive player. The defender must not touch the offensive player's hands or otherwise a foul is called.
Steals are credited to the defensive player who first causes the turnover, even if he does not end up with possession of the live ball. To earn a steal, the defensive player must be the initiator of the action causing the turnover, not just the benefactor. Whenever a steal is recorded by a defensive player, an offensive player must be credited as committing a turnover.
Stealing the ball requires good anticipation, speed and fast reflexes, all common traits of good defenders. However, like blocked shots, steals are not always a perfect gauge of a player's defensive abilities. An unsuccessful steal can result in the defender being out of position and unable to recover in time, allowing the offense to score. Therefore, attempting to steal is a gamble. Steals, though risky, can pay off greatly, because they often trigger a fastbreak for the defensive team.
There is no prototypical position from which a player may get many steals. While smaller, quicker guards tend to accumulate the most steals, there are many exceptions. For example, forward Rick Barry led the NBA in steals in 1974-75, and for many years centerHakeem Olajuwon led his team in the category, consistently ranking among the league's leaders, and is the only center ranked in the top 10 all-time in steals. Karl Malone, a power forward, is currently number ten.
A young defender (left) steals the basketball from an opposing ballhandler
NBA steals records
Steals were first recorded in the NBA in the 1973–74 season, while the rival ABA league first recorded steals during the same season.
Kendall Gill and Larry Kenon are tied for most steals in a regular season NBA game with eleven. Kenon's was recorded on December 26, 1976 while Gill recorded his on April 3, 1999.
Some of the greatest defensive specialists in the steals category in the NBA include:
Hakeem Olajuwon - ranking in the top 10 All-Time in both steals and blocks.
Walt Frazier – renowned for his masterful defense, which culminated around his ability to deflect dribbling and passes using his incredibly quick hands. Steals were not recorded during the early part of his career. Frazier once made 8 consecutive steals during a third quarter against Atlanta in 1971.
Allen Iverson – led the league in steals three times (consecutively); most steals in a playoff game.
Michael Jordan – led the league in steals and steals per game three times, #3 all-time in career steals and #3 all-time in steals per game. #2 all-time in career steals in the playoffs behind Scottie Pippen.
Chris Paul – holds the NBA record for most consecutive games with a steal, led the league in steals and steals per game six times.
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