Taking a Charge in the NBA
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NBA Foul Drawing Leaders

Taking the Charge in NBA Basketball

There's been a lot of talk lately about foul drawing, and in particular how it relates to the calls a certain Mr. Wade receives in today's NBA. So it seems a timely moment to look at fouls on the big stats stage that only 82games can provide...

To clear the air though of any sense of this being a hit job, we should point out that this site has presented Wade time and time again as one of the very best players in the NBA. Indeed Wade last season was the league leader in our "On/Off" ratings, the "Roland Ratings" and the revised Fair Salary ratings which account for both regular season and Playoffs performance.

So casting aside any preconceived notions, let's examine the actual data!

2006-07 NBA Player Foul Drawing Leaders (through Feb. 13th)
Shooting Fouls
1  Wade MIA 202
2  Curry NYK 202
3  Stoudemire PHO 194
4  Arenas WAS 187
5  Howard ORL 181
6  Duncan SAS 179
7  James CLE 178
8  Bryant LAL 169
9  Iguodala PHI 154
10  Bosh TOR 153
11  Randolph POR 150
12  Maggette LAC 145
13  Carter NJN 141
14  Nowitzki DAL 140
15  Brand LAC 136
16  Martin SAC 127
17  O'Neal IND 126
18  Garnett MIN 121
19  Boozer UTA 119
20  Wallace CHA 116

Personal Fouls
1  Bryant LAL 177
2  Carter NJN 144
3  Johnson ATL 130
4  Randolph POR 124
5  Wade MIA 119
6  Arenas WAS 117
7  Howard ORL 117
8  Nowitzki DAL 115
9  Billups DET 111
10  Gordon CHI 110
11  Garnett MIN 109
12  Duncan SAS 108
13  James CLE 107
14  Hamilton DET 106
15  O'Neal IND 100
16  Brand LAC 99
17  Davis GSW 98
18  Paul NOK 94
19  Bibby SAC 93
20  Curry NYK 91
Conspiracy theorists are pretty jubilant right about now, since yes D-Wade is the league leader in shooting fouls drawn, but hold on -- he's only tied for the lead with Eddy Curry, and while Dwyane also gets his fair share, or perhaps more, of personal fouls called, when you combine the two major foul drawing areas, it turns out he is only second:

Combined Foul Drawing (Shooting Fouls + Personal Fouls)
346 - Kobe Bryant
321 - Dwyane Wade
304 - Gilbert Arenas
298 - Dwight Howard
293 - Eddy Curry

Of course, let's face it, no one gets too worked up about personal fouls that don't lead to free throws, what we really care about is the charity stripe visits gained from the ref's whistle. Here are the current league leaders on that front:

Free Throws Attempted per game
11.2 - Wade
 9.9 - Iverson
 9.2 - Arenas
 9.1 - Bryant
 9.1 - Bosh

Hmmm. That is a tad more suspicious, since if you take away AI, D-Wade's lead is a huge 2.0 extra free throws a game over similar high scoring, high ball handling superstars like Arenas and Kobe.

Now you can put the FTA on a per shot basis of some kind ala the "Foul Drawing" rating here at 82games listed on each player's individual stats detail page under the mysterious DrawF label. The problem though with a raw percentage is it doesn't account for the fact that certain types of shots have widely divergent league wide foul drawing averages. Three-point attempts for example seldom lead to free throws, where intrepid drives into a paint full of defenders has a much higher rate of contact and thus whistles.

Then another problem is that lots of free throws arise for certain players through two extra channels -- technicals and intentional fouls in the waning seconds of games. It's easy enough for us though to remove those two types of freebies from a player's stats, and it has a little of the feel of a baseball batting average to it since the league average is .313

aFTA/FGA (adjusted free throw attempts divided by shots)
[Minimum 400 FGA]
.732 - Dwight Howard
.729 - Maggette
.658 - Curry
.611 - Stoudemire
.550 - Wade
.546 - Iguodala
.546 - Bosh
.525 - Warrick
.486 - Duncan
.479 - Kevin Martin
.476 - Billups
.467 - Gerald Wallace
.459 - Pierce

Based on this, you would have to think Corey Maggette should be the most closely scrutinized player for getting a few too many whistles in his favor, since with Howard and Curry and co. you have players at power positions who a) live in the paint, and b) don't shoot free throws that well to the point it's often worth fouling them rather than give up the easy two. Wade is noticably prominent again though...

Another idea would be to track the percentage of a player's total points scored that come from the "adjusted free throws made" (eg leave out the technicals and intentional fouls again).

Percentage of Points from aFTM
41% - Maggette
32% - Iguodala
31% - Wade
29% - Billups
29% - Stoudemire
29% - Bosh
29% - Iverson

So how do we solve this mystery of which NBA players are really getting the calls, and which ones are just so skilled they earn more than is typical? Well, touching again on the notion that different shot types have different "league average" foul drawing rates, an "Ultimate Foul Drawing" rating would perhaps attempt to adjust by the expectations of the type of shot being launched. One public exploration of this we made in the past can be seen in the Floor Location Value charting project, but we have refined things considerably from there.

Going further you might add in how often a player is called for an offensive foul versus getting the block call, how often the player has the ball while dribbling through traffic (thereby increasing the likelihood of a personal foul trip to the charity stripe), and other variables.

I won't trot you through the complicated mess of a formula that ultimately was arrived at, but here for your viewing pleasure is the first pass at "Star Treatment Ratings" and again limiting the player population to the high attempts/scoring crew...

"Star Treatment" Ratings
(Free Throws awarded versus expected FT awarded,
omitting technicals and FT's via intentional foul)
1  Billups DET 1.55
2  Maggette LAC 1.53
3  Wade MIA 1.51
4  Pierce BOS 1.44
5  Iverson DEN 1.42

We wouldn't have expected Chauncey Billups to top the charts on this, but for a guy who doesn't shoot from inside very often (only 18% of attempts), even taking away his frequent technical free throws, he's still at the line a whole bunch. By our measure, he takes 55% more free throws than would be expected based on his characteristics. One wonders if a few intentional fouls aren't slipping into the mix.

Maggette doesn't handle the ball as much as the other guys in the top five, but makes a living at the line, as we saw in some of the metrics above.

And then we come back to Mr. Wade. The center of attention lately, and indeed he's riled up all kinds of folks, including one Moeko Fujima who sent us a lengthy missive with some recent quotes from around the league:

"He gets all the calls, that's what makes him special.'' - Gerald Wallace

"It's unbelievable what he gets away with.'' - Bob Hill

"I can't believe he has the audacity to complain to the refs, he should be grateful for what they've done for him in his career. He is what he is today because of them." - P.J. Brown

"He travels on that spin move. He picks up that pivot foot... everybody knows it. Dwayne Wade can cover so much ground when he makes that move. As you know, he can go 20 feet with that spin move and get to the basket." - Phil Jackson

In fact, Moeko seems a touch obsessed with this subject, including endless links to YouTube footage of phantom calls (and indeed some of the videos were a little bit ridiculous). The truth is that even with our sophisticated number crunching above the only real way to totally assess the D-Wade situation is to actually track every call involving him in his every game. A "WadeWatch" if you will. However it's hard not to think that an exercise like this would call up the nefarious can't measure a system without changing it principle -- that by scrutinizing Wade's calls you would perhaps exert some influence on them going forward.

The frank truth is that this may have already happened! Since Wade's Hardaway-esque comments about Nowitzki provoked a response from various quarters, Wade's free throw attempts since then have been 9, 7, 7 -- a stark contrast to his 11+ per game season average!

We wouldn't be surpised if the tide has turned on the refs generosity to Dwyane, and post all-star break free throws for #3 are harder to come by...

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