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New Orleans Pelicans

Swallowing the Whistle

Alex Harari

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Mar 7, 2018; Sacramento, CA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry and referee Ron Garrison on the court during the third quarter against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of Pelicans fans have gotten angry with Alvin Gentry throughout this season because he hasn’t said a word about some questionable officiating against the Pels, and specifically Davis and Jrue.

I guess we can change that to hadn’t, as Gentry went on a 3-minute rant after the game against Houston about the lack of calls coming the Pels way.

 

Gentry had every right to be mad. The plays he called out in the interview are all legitimate griefs. There’s the foul they called on Jrue when Harden attempted a corner 3, in which Gentry subsequently got a tech (side note: Capela is clearly out when he passes to Harden and the refs missed this).

Harden does an incredible job of selling like there is contact – his head flies back like there’s more than Jrue’s hand being near his body.

Then there is Harden tackling Davis as they try to in-bound it with less than a second on the shot clock.

 

Listen as even the Houston announcers say that Harden should be called for the foul. And lastly, there’s PJ Tucker taking out Ian Clark on a ball that goes out of bounds, forcing the ball out off Clark.

It’s easy to understand why all of those plays would frustrate Gentry. They are either obvious fouls or guesswork calls in favor of the MVP (I think we can all agree that Harden will win it).

But Gentry’s frustration stems from a bigger issue for the Pels over the last few weeks – the refs are swallowing the whistle against the team.

Now every fan of every team in every sport thinks the refs are against their team. But let’s take a look at the stats (all per Cleaning the Glass).

In the Pels first 48 games (until Boogie got injured), they got fouled on ~19% or more of their shot attempts in 25 games, and fouled opponents on ~19% or more in 20 of those games. 11 of those were in the same game, which means the refs were calling plenty of fouls in those games.

But what about since Boogie got hurt?

The Pels have only gotten whistles on ~19% or more of their shot attempts in only 6 of the 21 games. That is absurd. In their 10 game winning streak, it happened only 3(!) times.

In the last 5 games, which the Pels have gone 1-4, they have only gotten fouls on more than 17% of their shots in 1 game (against Washington). Against Charlotte, they were fouled on 5.8% of their shot attempts, which ranks in the 0th percentile for all games in the NBA this year.

That is 0, as in zero, as in the lowest of the low. In that game against Utah last week where the Pels went a staggering 32 minutes between free throws, they were fouled on 11.8% of attempts (or the 13th percentile).

They got called for fouls on over 25% of Utah’s shots. It’s hard to win when you keep putting the other team on the line but can’t get there yourself.

What Changed

There are a few things that go into the number of fouls called against the Pels going down so drastically.

  1. Boogie got hacked a lot – Boogie was fouled on 18% of his shot attempts this year, which is in the 88th percentile for bigs across the NBA.
  2. The guys getting Boogie’s minutes don’t get the foul calls – For the season, the Pels only have two guys who have played over 500 minutes and have gotten fouled on more 7% or more of their shots. As you could guess, that’s Boogie and AD. Let’s take a look at how often the rest of the team gets fouled:

Yikes. Some of those are not surprising (Rondo, Miller) but some of them are (Jrue, Clark, Moore). Both Jrue and Clark are above the 70th percentile for shots at the rim for their position, but neither of them are getting the calls at the rim.

In fact, Clark has taken 77 shots at the rim this year and hasn’t gotten one call. Jrue has drawn 36 fouls on his 380 shots at the rim, or just shy of 9.5% of his shots.

Why are Jrue’s numbers so low?

One of the points raised in the Locked on Pels chat was that Jrue does a great job of controlling his body on his drives to avoid contact. Then his historical numbers should reflect what he is getting this year. But when you look at the Jrue’s career, it’s just not the case.

Two years ago (the 2015-16 season), Jrue got fouled on 20% of his shots at the rim. That number dropped to 14% last year, even with Jrue taking a few more shots at the rim. But this year, Jrue has taken almost 90 more shots at the rim and drawn 23 less fouls.

Just for context, Harden is getting fouled on 22% of his drives this year (which is down from from the 31% he was at two years ago). All of this makes Jrue’s 19 points per game even more impressive.

What About Anthony Davis

One of Gentry’s main points in his rant is that Davis doesn’t get as many calls as other stars because he doesn’t ask for them. And as we saw from Harden’s numbers, there is a case that being more vocal in asking for fouls will get you more foul calls.

But is Davis actually getting fouled enough to justify the calls. You tell me if Davis is being held by Ariza on this play:

 

The ref is staring right at Davis and Ariza as the ball comes up and chooses to ignore how Davis needs to twist to get away from Ariza.

None of these calls against Houston matter anymore. The Pels lost that game. And moving forward, it doesn’t matter whether or not they get the calls other teams are getting, the Pels will need to start winning again to get into the playoffs.

Gentry’s speech might have been just the thing to energize them for the final stretch.

Alex Harari is a converted Pelicans fan, hoping this team won't let him down like the Knicks always did.

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