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Thursday, January 03, 2013

LeBron James is Rarely Called for Fouls

LeBron James recently went 254 minutes--a six game stretch--without being whistled for a single personal foul. That is remarkable considering how active James is both offensively and defensively--he attacks the hoop so much that he leads the league in points in the paint and he leads the Miami Heat in scoring, rebounding and assists. How could a player be so productive and engage in so much contact without committing any fouls? Skeptics will surely say that James benefits from superstar calls (or no calls, as the case may be) and there may be some truth to that but, as someone who witnessed many of James' Cleveland games in person, I can say that James' athletic ability and terrific body control enable him to avoid fouls more effectively than just about any player I have ever seen; he goes for blocked shots by taking angles that avoid either slapping the shooter with his hand and/or contacting the shooter with his lower body. Consciously or subconsciously, referees at any level of the sport tend to give a good player some benefit of the doubt regarding innate aspects of that player's game. For instance, old school basketball observers know that Oscar Robertson so frequently used his off hand as a club to ward off defenders that referees gradually accepted that as part of Robertson's game even though similar gestures by another offensive player might lead to a foul being called. I suspect that referees are so used to seeing James avoid making contact that they may subconsciously give James the benefit of the doubt in close call situations.

I did not see all 254 of James' foul-free minutes but it would be interesting to know if an objective, unbiased observer has watched those minutes and made a serious effort to determine how legitimate James' streak was; I charted assists for Chris Paul and other players and I found strong evidence that assist totals are inflated: I never discovered a pass that should have been called an assist but was not called an assist but I found many passes that should not have been classified as assists but were classified as assists; it is reasonable to assume that when the errors are uniformly distributed in one direction that this is a result not just of human error but that rather there is some bias--or at least an extreme loosening of standards--involved. It would be interesting to determine to what extent James' low foul totals can be attributed to his body control as opposed to him benefiting from lenient officiating.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:30 AM