In the doldrums of the NBA offseason, I’ve been doing a whole lot of digging, a whole lot of research, with NBA.com’s “new” stats tool, which will supposedly become available to the general public at some point during the coming season. I’ve spent entirely too many hours searching through all kinds of stats, but somehow I was able to unearth one that I hadn’t seen before today: personal fouls drawn, by player. It’s not often that we see fouls measured this way. We generally see fouls measured in terms of personal fouls against, team fouls, or free throw attempts.
NBA.com’s stats tool allows you to sort through this database on a total, per game, per-48/40/36 minutes or per-minute basis. With that in mind, I decided to take a look at some of the best foul drawers in the league and uncovered some interesting tidbits.
Nineteen players drew more than 250 personal fouls last season. Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, LeBron James, DeMarcus Cousins, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, John Wall, Marc Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Russell Westbrook, Andrew Bynum, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce, Josh Smith, Tyson Chandler, Chris Paul, James Harden and Deron Williams. That’s three players from the Thunder, two each from the Knicks, Lakers and Clippers, and one each from the Magic, Timberwolves, Heat, Kings, Wizards, Grizzlies, Mavericks, Hawks, Nets and Celtics. The offensive efficiencies of these teams ranged from 2nd (Thunder) to 28th (Wizards). It wasn’t as if having more players on the list directly correlated to a better offense – the Knicks ranked just 19th. The Lakers and Clippers did rank 10th and 4th, respectively, however.
Howard and Griffin were head and shoulders above the competition as the only players who drew at least 400 personal fouls. Howard led the league with 458 despite playing in only 54 games. Griffin was 2nd at 456, and he played in all 66 regular season games.
Wall was probably the most surprising name on the list above, but he does fit in with the themes of the list. Those players generally fall into one of three groups: 1. bigs that tend to operate close to the basket; 2. guards or wings who take a lot of shots; and 3. point guards that attack the basket. Wall falls in the third category along with Russell Westbrook, and to a lesser extent, Chris Paul.
When we look at fouls drawn on a per game basis, the list changes a bit. Eighteen players drew at least 4.5 fouls per game. Holdovers from the first list include Howard, Griffin, Love, James, Bryant, Cousins, Nowitzki, Anthony, Durant, Gasol, Wall, Bynum, Williams and Westbrook. They’re joined by Eric Gordon, Andrea Bargnani, Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez, who each played 35 games or fewer but still drew fouls at a prolific rate on a per-game basis. Pierce, Smith, Chandler, Paul and Harden dropped off this list.
For fouls drawn per-36 minutes, I limited the list to players who appeared in at least 20 games and played at least 20 minutes per game. The leaderboard changed even more. A whopping 41 of those players drew at least 5.0 fouls per-36 minutes. Among those who fell just short of appearing on that list: Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Tim Duncan, Chris Paul, LaMarcus Aldridge, Roy Hibbert and Josh Smith. Among players who made it: Jon Brockman, Samardo Samuels, Chris Anderson, Tyler Hansbrough, Ryan Hollins and Chris Wright. So… yeah.
Some of the names that took a big bump when I sorted the list on a per-36 minute basis were Cousins (who jumped LeBron and Love to move from 5th to 3rd), Jeremy Lin (6th), Maggette (8th), Nene (10th) and Hansbrough (11th). Falling far were Wall (23rd), Gasol (24th), Bynum (25th), Westbrook (31st), Durant (33rd) and Williams (36th).
The most interesting thing I looked at was the distribution of fouls drawn and free throw attempts. Some players – like Hakim Warrick and Kobe Bryant – had FTA per-36’s at least 130% of their fouls drawn per-36. Others – such as Dirk Nowitzki – had much lower ratios, around 111% (Zach Harper pondered if this may be because Dirk often gets fouled while fighting for position. I’d say this is likely the case, but would have to look at video to confirm). The oddest of the bunch was Kyle Lowry, who drew 5.5 fouls per-36 minutes, but attempted just 5.2 free throws per-36, making him one of four players among those with at least 5.0 fouls drawn per-36 minutes to have a ratio under 100% (the others were Brockman, who played just 243 minutes all season, Kemba Walker and Ivan Johnson). The leader in this ratio? Kevin Durant, at 154.9%. He was followed by Corey Maggette at 146.8%, and Russell Westbrook at 139.2%.
I’m not entirely sure what much of this information really means or how useful it is just yet. Does the fact that Durant draws such an exceedingly large percentage of shooting fouls make him a “better” foul-drawer than Nowitzki, whose percentage is lower? Probably, but what does that mean? How does it translate on a team and game level? Does it translate at all? Should we value total fouls drawn more than per-game or per-36? Do per-36 foul-drawing numbers stay consistent on a year-to-year basis, or even when a player gets a jump in minutes played per game? I’ve only just begun my research into this topic, and I’ll certainly be writing more on it in this space in the days and weeks to come.