Ref, Help Me Out!?! Which Teams Get Bailed Out By The Refs?


Have you noticed how often superstars get bailed out by suspiciously soft foul calls? (Full disclosure: before you get your tighty-whities all in a bunch, obviously LeBron and Wade are included in the “super-star foul bailout package” group).

That being said, are there some teams, especially those laden with superstars (or in the case of the Los Angeles Lakers, one superstar in particular) that get a ton of generous foul calls?  And I’m not just talking about the blatantly biased, Joey Crawford-like calls either, but teams that generally tend to get more of the benefit of the doubt than not.

The Invisible Foul:

Tim Duncan gets ejected for laughing:

It can also work in reverse, where refs might swallow their whistle against certain teams….as Ricky Rubio found out on Thursday:

The big question is how to measure disparities in free throws amongst teams?  Luckily, the NBA has a stat called Free Throw Attempt Rate (FTA Rate), which measures “free throws attempted relative to field goals attempted by a player or a team”.  As FTA Rate is already adjusted for the number of field goals attempted by a team, comparing a team’s FTA Rate to the FTA rate of their opponents can show whether or not some teams get preferential treatment by the referees.

  • Many people would make the point that it is not just the number of field goals a team attempt that affects its FTA Rate, but where those field goals were attempted from.  Obviously, players tend to get fouled a lot more when they are in the paint/restricted area versus when they are shooting a mid-range jumper.  So teams that attempt a lot of field goals in the paint/restricted area should get more fouls.
  • The Los Angeles Lakers have the greatest differential in FTA Rate. This is surprising given that the Lakers are 23rd in the NBA in restricted area field goal attempts, which means that the Lakers get a lot of fouls even though they are not shooting a lot from areas where shooting fouls tend to occur.
  • Ditto with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are actually 25th in the NBA in restricted area field goal attempts.
  • The Brooklyn Nets were 17th in the NBA in restricted area field goal attempts.
  • The Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves are 4th and 9th in the NBA in restricted area field goal attempts, so it is no surprise to see them getting a lot of foul calls.

The Los Angeles Lakers and the Oklahoma City Thunder get a lot of foul calls relative to their opponents given the fact that they don’t shoot much from areas where shooting fouls usually occur.  This could be that they are just really good at making opponents foul them in the act of shooting in other areas of the court (unlikely) — or it could be that they just get a lot of easy foul calls, relative to their opponents.