Tag Archives: NBA Official

Giannis and Frank Kaminsky and Dwight Howard (or how this blog is not about referee Marc Davis)

In the 2nd quarter of their home opener Friday (Oct. 20), the Charlotte Hornets found themselves down 40-20 to the visiting Atlanta Hawks and looking for answers. And then Frank Kaminsky happened.

Frank “the Tank” Kaminsky by unknown artist. License: Standard non-commercial use.

For a stretch that went on for 8:30, Buzz City in Charlotte looked a lot like how the Kohl Center in Madison used to look when Frank the Tank was rolling and spinning to the rim, old school footwork confounding defenders, shooting touch getting every roll, Frank playing with the supreme confidence and determination that made him the college player-of-the-year in 2015.

By the time Kaminsky was done, the Hawks lead was down to seven, 56-49 at half and the Hornets had their mojo back. Frank had 15 pts in the quarter, nine of them on 3-point plays: two from downtown and one on a classic Frank spin move to the basket going to his left hand for a layup — and one. He found Kemba Walker with a pass for an open 3 that helped get the Hornets going. He grabbed three rebounds. He did it all, put his team on his back and led them and the home crowd back into the game. The Hawks folded in the 2nd half (with some help from a crew of very unsympathetic referees) and Charlotte won going away, 109-91.

Nights like this haven’t happened too often for Kaminsky in his two-plus years in the NBA. More often than not, he has struggled to make shots. In his rookie year he hit just 23.8% of his mid-range shots, and 30% in his second season. Overall he shot a very un-Frank-like 41% from the floor and was even worse in his 2nd season – not even 40% (39.9). His three-point shooting was no compensation, as he barely made a high enough % to justify shooting them – 34% his rookie year and 33% last season. Frank Kaminsky a 47% effective shooter in the NBA? Say it ain’t so. The league averages were 50% his rookie year and 51.4% last season — the all-time high.

Frank’s troubles, from what I could tell, stemmed from a lack of definition to what position he was playing on the court. He could no longer play post-up center like he did in college, but he had always roamed out to the 3-point line at Wisconsin, anyway; it’s what made him such an obvious pro player. But for whatever reason — the quicker, bigger NBA defenders or poor conditioning or plain old bad luck — the shots were not falling for Frank; and, unlike in college, he couldn’t dictate when and where he was going to get the ball on any given possession. Kemba Walker, not Frank Kaminsky, dictates the offense in Charlotte. So forgive the rookie and 2nd-year-player-learning-the-ropes stuff or not — Frank was not much of a factor for the Hornets in his first two seasons.

Dwight Howard looks very happy in Charlotte. The Hawks actually had Ersan guarding Howard at times during Friday’s game. It didn’t work. License: Standard non-commercial use.

But things are different in Charlotte this season. The Hornets now have Dwight Howard manning the paint, and, no matter how maligned Dwight has been during his five years of team-hopping, he is still a top 5 rebounding defender in the game, still the best of his generation. Dwight’s defensive rebounding %, total rebounding % and defensive rating are No. 1 among active players. The rebounding % is 3rd All-Time, a hair higher than %-haul by the late great rebounding legend, Moses Malone. Dwight’s not the shot-blocker he once was, but few teams challenge him inside anymore. Dwight Howard is a beast, how quickly NBA fans and media have forgotten, and he’s only 31 years old (32 in December). His Atlanta Hawks were on pace to win 48 last season before the injury bug hit the team after the All-Star break.

Ahh, there’s the rub — nobody likes to make excuses for “Superman”. And as the game has moved out beyond the 3-point line in the new, faster paced, bombs-away NBA, post-centric big men like Howard are viewed as dinosaurs. The new NBA center is Nikola Jokic, agile and versatile with a “European” shooting touch. Dwight Howard — though still a great athlete who can outrun most other bigs — has no shooting touch. But in Charlotte, Dwight doesn’t have to shoot; he has Frank. And while Frank the Tank is no quick-footed sprinter, he shoots with a feathery touch around the rim and has a crazy toolkit of moves that make him a versatile, creative scorer who can get almost any shot he wants if he works the defense.

Frank Kaminsky is everything Dwight Howard is not; and Dwight is one of the best in the NBA at all things Frank the Tank struggles to do well in the NBA — rebounding, defense, rim protection. If Dwight can’t make his free throws, Frank shoots 90% from the line. Together, they’re a monster combo.

BUCKS-HORNETS 10/23/2017

Giannis led the Bucks to victory, Monday, but Dwight and the short-handed Hornets made it tough, tying the score at 94 with 2 mins to play. License: Standard non-commercial use.

If the early games are any indication (and there have only been three for the Hornets as of this writing) , Dwight is easily the best thing that ever happened to Frank in the NBA. Though he, himself is a limited offensive player, Dwight’s ability to set granite stone screens and move people around in the paint has instilled a sense of clarity to the Hornet’s approach, and opened the game up for Frank, whose confidence over the weekend returned to a Bucky-on-a-Final-Four-run level.

It appears Hornets coach Steve Clifford will keep Frank and Dwight on the floor a lot. Dwight is averaging 33 mins per game and Frank is getting 30 mpg. Combined, they’re averaging 27.0 pts and 22.3 rebs per game. Frank didn’t play well in the opener in Detroit, but he came alive against the Hawks on Friday with 17 pts, 6 boards and 3 assists for the game. On Monday in Milwaukee, Howard and Kaminsky took only 14 shots but scored 26 points (18 from Frank, who led the Hornets in scoring) and hauled in 27 rebounds (22 by Dwight).

Okay, Dwight missed all nine of his free throws in Milwaukee, and perhaps the outcome would have been different had he made four or five of those — but Dwight shot 53% from the line last season, and has made nearly 4 out of 7 for his career (56.5%), better than Wilt, Shaq, DeAndre and Drummond. He won’t shoot 0 for 9 often, but the Bucks were glad to have it in Milwaukee.

The Hornets not named Dwight and Frank shot just 36% for the game, and were 5 of 20 in the 4th Quarter, yet somehow managed to tie the score at 94 inside of two minutes (thanks to a big three by Frank). Most teams would have stolen this game from the Bucks, but not the short-handed Hornets. They were missing two starters, injured guard Nic Batum and forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who hasn’t played since pre-season due to a death in the family. Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 pick in the 2012 NBA draft (Anthony Davis draft; John Henson for the Bucks) has missed 40% of his career so far due to injuries, but played in 81 games last season.

The Hornets were also missing Cody Zeller, who bruised a knee against Atlanta. They’re down to Kaminsky, Jeremy Lamb and former Buck Johnny O’Bryant off their bench, plus rookie Malik Monk — yet the Bucks needed a big three and defensive heroics from Khris Middleton, another MVP performance from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Dwight’s missed free throws to ice the game. How do the Bucks match up against Charlotte at full strength? Not so great, outside of Antetokounmpo, and maybe Middleton when he’s on, though Kidd-Gilchrist’s scrappy defense might have some effect on Khris. The Bucks were lucky to catch the Hornets when they did.

The Hornets are a big reason why I didn’t listen much to the off-season talk about how weak the East was going to be after four All-Stars — Jimmy Butler, Paul Millsap, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony — went West to win more on national TV. The Bucks were 9-3 last season against Chicago, Indiana and New York, so New York and Chicago committing to rebuilding and Indiana clearing out George, Jeff Teague and Monta Ellis isn’t going to change much in the East for the Bucks or Wizards, two teams that stood pat and watched these stars and lesser stars move around.

The moves that mattered more were Cleveland trading Kyrie Irving to Boston, obviously; Boston signing Gordon Hayward, obviously again; Toronto foolishly resigning Kyle Lowry for 3 yrs/$93 million; and then this interesting business between Atlanta and Charlotte involving Dwight Howard. Charlotte in the Dwight trade gave up only streaky shooting gun Marco Belinelli, Miles Plumlee (remember him?) and a 2nd round draft pick. “Superman” for next to nothing, to a team that won 48 games in 2016 but lost a step last season and missed the playoffs. It seems that Hornets owner-GM Michael Jordan had a plan in mind when he made that out-of-nowhere trade for Plumlee last season.

With Irving and Hayward in Boston, Dwight in Charlotte and the Cavs adding Derrick Rose  and Jae Crowder, the top six of the East looked to be tougher than last season, even if Toronto is prolonging the inevitable. (Raptors broadcasters in week 1 were hyping C.J. Miles as the new secret weapon off the bench who will make a big difference this season. Really. C.J. Miles who played for the Pacers last season, and I had to look it up to be able to write that. A Snell-avedova moment in Toronto? NBA Free League pass preview is a beautiful thing.)

Then Hayward got hurt in the season opener against Cleveland. Joel Embiid took a health game in Philly. Rose is hurt again (only a sprained ankle this time) and Isaiah Thomas won’t be available until maybe January. In Milwaukee, coach Jason Kidd has played John Henson as much Greg Monroe, and has had to play Dellavedova more than Brogdon (sprained ankle) so far; it’s as though last season never happened. Middleton is off to another poor start shooting (47.1 efg), shades of two years ago.  In just a week, the East went back to being the East.

Or did it? The Wizards are the only undefeated team in the conference, which makes a lot of John Wall sense. Giannis is so good that nothing his coach or teammates have done (or not done) has kept the Bucks from winning 3 of 4. The Magic jumped Cleveland in Florida the day after the Cavs humbled the Bucks in Milwaukee, handing the Cavs their first loss. The Magic have three wins!! Brooklyn has two, and doesn’t appear to be a joke this season!! So does Boston after the Hayward injury! And Dwight and Frank have a buzz going in Buzz City.

Did the East get worse in the off-season? I’m not sure that was possible, and it really is too early to tell. What I do know from gorging on NBA League Pass free preview all weekend, is that Aaron Gordon down in Orlando (41 pts, 12 rebs in the Magic’s third win last night) looks a lot more like an All-Star/All-Pro than Carmelo Anthony or Paul George or Paul Millsap.

Come to think of it, none of those three “stars” made the All-Pro teams last season, did they? Maybe ESPN or some other media has some old shoe commercial footage to remind us all what the fuss is about. Perhaps Russell Westbrook will be able to figure it out. Not so far — the Thunder lost two out of three to open the season, including a loss at home to the Timberwolves, led by Jimmy Butler, one team-changer who did make the All-Pro teams last season.

Referee Marc Davis, more than a slap on the wrist

Many Bucks fans may have noticed (how could you not?) that Marc Davis refereed the Bucks home opener against the Cavs last week. I don’t know whether or not this should be considered a response to the “More than a Slap on the Wrist” series during last season’s playoffs. But it sure felt like a slap in the face when the officiating in the first half was atrociously pro-Cleveland, confirmed by the official scorers’ report. For the game, a 17 to 10 fouls called disparity against the Bucks. Yes, the refs saw fit to call only ten fouls on the Cavs all game long.

The Kevin Love at center experiment will work wonderfully well if the referees refuse to call a foul on him when he tries to rebound and play D against much bigger, longer-armed players. The Bucks lost their cool on offense and chucked 21 threes in the first half, immature basketball at best. Kyle Korver had no such problems in the 3rd quarter, and hit a barrage of threes that drained the life out of all Bucks but Giannis, a lone star on a mission. The Bucks roster has a long way to go if they’re going to matter in the playoffs. On the bright side, Korver was cold in Orlando the next night, and the Magic handed the Cavs their first loss. There is hope.

I stopped writing about the NBA refs last season for a very good reason: I wanted to enjoy the NBA finals, the basketball part of it. And NBA Official wasn’t responding to my calls or emails for comment. Maybe they’ve responded now, by scheduling Davis to work the Bucks home opener, though I’m sure they wouldn’t characterize it as a response to anything. And so it goes.

In any case, this business reminds of a funny story about retired ref Joey Crawford, whose rottenness became so legendary that players had fun with it, and “Joey” became part of the show. I think there’s a message therein about the “legendary” refs in NBA history and how their legends were won. Coming soon to a Bob Boozer Jinx near you.

Happy start of the 2017-18 NBA season, all!!! It’s been a long summer.

Source-erole and other notes:

  • Bucks-Hornets 10/23/17 gamebook and more at NBA.com: https://data.nba.net/10s/prod/v1/20171023/0021700044_Book.pdf
  • Hawks-Hornets gamebook and more at NBA.Com: http://www.nba.com/games/20171023/CHAMIL#/video
  • Also, links boxscores, roster info at (as always) basketball-reference.com – What would bloggers do with BBR?

NBA promotes referee Marc Davis again – he’ll work Spurs-Warriors Game 1

He’s baack. NBA official Marc Davis.

Screw the Bucks in Milwaukee, throw out the rule book on flagrant fouls in Boston, get into it with James Harden in Houston, incite the home crowd in each city and get promoted to officiate in the NBA Conference Finals.

That was one message sent by the NBA today (May 14) when it released the list of officials for today’s Game 1 of the Spurs-Warriors Western Conference Finals in Oakland: Official Marc Davis is assigned to work the game with refs Dan Crawford and Tom Washington.

An hour before the game, NBA Official posted its conference finals pool of 20 officials. Davis made the cut despite, in three games worked April 27-May, actually doing all those things mentioned in the lead paragraph. This raises some questions about whether the evaluation process for playoff officials touted by the league amounts to anything but press releases and blog posts at NBA Official. Those questions can wait until after the Spurs-Warriors game.

Crawford, the NBA’s most experienced official — 32 years on the job — will be the crew chief. Crawford was crew chief in the last game officiated by Davis, May 5 in Houston for Spurs-Rockets Game 3. The 3rd official is Washington, who last refereed Game 2 of the Celtics-Wizards series in Boston May 2, with Davis as crew chief. This crew combines 77 seasons and 61 playoffs of NBA officiating experience. Seniority counts, obviously.

The mix of referees for today’s (May 14) game is interesting to say the least. While Davis had a visiting team win rate of 54% in games he worked this season and seems to have a habit of inciting the home team’s crowds, Washington trends the other way and had a 65% home team win rate in 2016-17, according to referee stats at basketball-reference.com. The home teams won 58% of the regular season games this season. Crawford’s in the middle, just 3% off the average. The NBA seems to have put some thought into the make-up of this crew. Maybe not, but they did issue a press release March 2 about a host of officiating initiatives, including plans to give more weight to the chemistry of its referee crews when assigning them.

In any case, Davis hasn’t worked since he incited the Houston crowd in Game 3 of Rockets-Spurs by making a couple of bizarre calls against the Rockets, which were contrasted by whistles few and far between against the Spurs (Spurs center Pau Gasol, didn’t pick up a foul until the 4th quarter, hard to believe). As the game wore on Davis engaged in an ongoing debate with James Harden over the injustice of things, which ended in the 4th quarter when hit Harden with a technical foul for arguing. He dispensed another T to Rockets guard Patrick Beverly before game’s end, bringing his technical fouls-called total in his last four games to seven in all. No other official working those games issued a single technical foul.

On the other hand, Davis didn’t issue a flagrant foul to the Wizards’ Markieff Morris after Morris threw Al Horford into the photographers row along the sidelines in Game 2 in Boston May 2,  In that game, Washington served as a counter balance to Davis, with his whistle blowing 12 times against the Wizards and only 5 on the Celtics. The Celtics enjoyed an overall 29-21 personal fouls disparity in their favor and won the game in OT.

Davis’ officiating in Raptors-Bucks Game 6 in Milwaukee belonged in the realm of the absurd, as the Bucks were denied a Game 7 in no small part due to the officiating. He called 0 fouls on the Raptors through the first three quarters despite how bad that looks, and then blew two calls early in the 4th quarter, leading to a rare technical on Bucks coach Jason Kidd (called by Davis) and another outraged reaction from the home crowd.

The NBA also ruled in its Last Two Minutes (LTM) Report on the Raptors-Bucks game that Davis and crew chief Tony Brothers missed a rather obvious shooting foul (Giannis Antetokounmpo fouled by Patrick Patterson) with the game tied at 82. Unfortunately, those LTMs are more for the public and the media than for the evaluation of referees, the accountability of referees being a nebulous thing that may or may not exist.

On the bright side, today’s game is Game 1 of the Spurs-Warriors series. Nobody’s being eliminated from the playoffs today.

More than a Slap on the Wrist, Part 3: Referee Marc Davis vs. James Harden in Houston

The boos began as a smattering but became a steady chorus, raining down on the officials and the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard as he stepped to the free throw line with 10 seconds to go in the 1st half of Friday night’s Spurs-Rockets game in Houston. It wasn’t this shooting foul on Ryan Anderson that the Rockets fans were booing, or Leonard, really. It was a culmination of calls and non-calls made and not made in the 2nd quarter by the referees — five on the Rockets and two of them on star James Harden — but not a single call against the Spurs by refs Marc Davis and Brian Forte.

This foul putting Leonard on the line was called by Forte. It wasn’t a terrible call. There was contact, not a lot, but enough, as Leonard pulled up for a jumpshot.  But the Rockets hadn’t been getting calls like this, hell no, and Harden had been attacking the Spurs defense most of the half. And so the boos began. Although Forte had made the call, Harden approached Davis. It was Davis who had called two fouls on Harden, his 2nd and 3rd of the game, the last one on an odd, awkward play with 5:18 to go before halftime as Harden was shooting a three. Spurs center Pau Gasol had moved into Harden as The Beard shot, exaggerating his follow through to ensure that he got the call. But he hit Gasol in the head with his off hand, and Davis didn’t like it. An unlikely offensive foul on Harden. Harden couldn’t believe the call then, and didn’t still, so it was Davis whom Harden approached now as Leonard shot his free throws and the boos rained down.

James Harden pleads his case to official Marc Davis during Game 3 of the Spurs-Rockets series Friday night in Houston, May 5, 2017. USA Today photo.  Licence: Standard noncommercial purpose.

Davis, the official who was the bane of home teams during the 2016-17 season, had done it again. He had the Houston crowd’s attention, Harden made sure of that in walking over to him. He had the players’ attention — the player as far as the Rockets go — and he had the focus of the cameras, ESPN’s and those on photographer’s row. He was part of the show, the character the fans love to hate, a foil written in to draw out the best and worst of the show’s stars. Not the ideal part, no, but no minor role by any means, and for the moment the man at the center of it all. Forte might not have been in the building as far as the Rockets crowd in Houston was concerned.

While Harden pleaded his case to Davis, the ESPN broadcast team decided to help him out. They ran a series of low-lights showing Harden driving through the lane, taking hits from Gasol and other defenders but coming up empty. Harden wants the call on every drive to the basket, and in this game he is determined. Instead of retreating, he advances, demanding an official response. He’s put Davis on the spot in front of a hostile home crowd, precisely the place where Davis wants to be, based on the trend that emerges in games he referees.

During the season, the visiting teams had a 35-30 record in games Davis officiated, a 54% win rate, a remarkable thing in a league where the home teams have won about 60% of the games, historically. The visitors fared better than the league average when Davis worked their games in 10 of the last 14 seasons, though never quite like this season, where the divergence from the norm was a whopping 24.4%.

It hasn’t worked out that way in the playoffs so far, largely due to the Round 1 mismatches and the NBA not scheduling Davis to officiate a contender on the road until the Spurs-Rockets game (whether the Spurs remain a contender without injured Tony Parker is the question of this series). The Bucks on April 27 in Milwaukee were the first home team of these playoffs to fall with Davis as the ref. (See “More than a Slap on the Wrist (Part 1)“) The Wizards nearly had a road win with Davis as crew chief May 2 in Boston, but 2nd official Rodney Mott bailed the Celtics out by putting Isaiah Thomas on the line to tie the game with 14 seconds left. The Celtics won in overtime.

Friday night in Houston, Harden and the Rockets were the home team feeling a pattern of injustice from Davis. Harden took the bait, and as the game wore on Davis drew more and more of the Beard’s attention, culminating in a technical foul on Harden in the 4th Quarter. Davis is notably more approachable for the players than many of the league’s longtime officials (Davis is in his 19th NBA season), a practice that helps build the drama for the spectator, but doesn’t do the protesting player much good.

“He’s cool as they come, but he’s so arrogant,” one player said in an anonymous survey the LA Times conducted during the 2015-16 season to find the best and worst officials of the NBA. Davis was named one of the three worst. “He instigates things sometimes. Marc will go back at a player. He forgets that he’s talking to another man. Don’t challenge a man’s manhood. Now you are going too far.”

Davis is “hands down the worst,” another player said. “He acts likes he’s your friend, but he’ll just screw you. He’ll screw you and he’ll get the biggest attitude about it.”

While Harden and the 3rd-worst referee in the NBA engaged in ongoing debate about how the game was being officiated, Forte was the ref making most of the calls against the Rockets. Whatever Harden was saying, it wasn’t helping. Entering the 4th quarter, none of the three officials had bothered to call a foul on Spurs center Gasol; and Harden had the same number of fouls (3) as Spurs stars Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Gasol combined.

Below is the breakdown of the calls in the game. Note that the average number of fouls called per team per game this season was about 20, and this has held true in the playoffs.

Source: NBA.com, official play-by-play, Spurs-Rockets Game 3, 2017-05-05.

For the game, we see five personal fouls fewer than the league average (20 per team), not including the technical fouls Davis called on Harden and Beverley in the 4th quarter when the Rockets players frustrations with Davis flared, all negotiations failed. Other key points:

  • The Spurs 17 fouls were below even their average of 18.3 per game.
  • Forte, in his 10th NBA season, saw only two fouls on the Spurs through 36 minutes of play. No, not as bad as Davis was in Milwaukee (not a single Raptor foul called by Davis in the first 36:52 of the game), but a 9 to 4 disparity suggests a rather one-sided view of the action.
  • Danny Crawford, a 32-year veteran who was named the best ref in the NBA in the LA Times survey, set an odd tone at the start of the game by taking two Rockets’ fast break baskets points off the scoreboard and calling a blocking foul on Patrick Beverley behind the play. He then put his whistle away, using it just twice more in the half.
  • Crawford called the first fouls on all three Spurs stars, Leonard, Aldridge and finally Gasol in the 4th. If the officiating “game plan” was to “let them play” and not call touch fouls, it certainly worked for the Spurs.
  • Davis was the most balanced in his calls, though most of them were called on the Spurs bench players and role players such as Danny Green and Dejounte Murray. The Davis-Harden story was about the non-calls as much as it was about the calls, and the three fouls on Harden in the first half.

The Spurs were the No.1 rated defense in the league this season (103.5 pts allowed/100 possessions). If the refs are letting them play their physical, constant pressure defense with less scrutiny than even their usual low foul rate, they’re very difficult to beat, and it’s bound to frustrate the opposition. The Rockets, with the Spurs defense in their grills, didn’t shoot well enough to win this game or any game (36.4% a team), though Harden himself did (14-28, 43 pts).

James Harden protests one of the two fouls referee Marc Davis called on him in the 2nd quarter of the Spurs-Rockets Game 3 in Houston, May 5, 2017. Photo by Karen Warren, Houston Chronicle.  License: Standard noncommercial purpose

Yet despite the focus on the referees that clings to this game like a lingering doubt, it was all eminently watchable. The Spurs would go on to win, 103-92, taking a 2-1 lead in the series. They pulled away late in the 4th quarter by playing the most efficient offense either team had played all night (31 pts in the quarter), with Danny Green hitting two big shot threes.  In the absence of Spurs injured point guard Parker, Patty Mills (Parker’s backup) and the Rockets’ Beverley were water bugs on a lake of hardwood, chasing each other all over the court in high speed bursts.

Harden’s trials and tribulations were made-for-TV drama, and his determination was remarkable. He drove down the lane at every opportunity, whether he was getting the calls or not. no matter how much he was being hit near the basket. Whether or not this was good basketball or something else entirely is debatable, but with his teammates struggling to make shots (an arctic 18-60, or 30%), Harden kept the Rockets in it until late in the 4th, when the Spurs fired up a 9-2 run.

The free throws capping the run brought Davis back into the picture, as he sent Mills to the line on a Beverley shooting foul with 2:38 to go in the game. It was Beverley’s 5th foul. The Spurs were up 94-82 at that point, and Davis’ call felt like the game clincher. Beverley turned his frustrations on Davis, and Davis hit him with a technical foul, the second on the Rockets in the quarter (Harden got the first). The Spurs made all three free throws, running the score up to 97-82 with 2:38 to play.

By the final horn, 25.7% of the fouls called in the game had been called on two players, Harden (4) and Beverley (5), the guys doing the most to force the action and keep the Rockets in it. In addition to the nine fouls, each had a technical foul issued by Davis, bringing their foul share up to 11 of 37 total calls, which looks more than a little odd in a game where the other key players were allowed to play with minimal interference from the refs.

The T’s marked the 4th game in a row for Davis in which he had called the only technical fouls in the game, going back to the last time Davis saw the Rockets, in Houston April 25.

  • May 2 in Boston, Wizards-Celtics Game 2. Double technicals to Isaiah Thomas and Wizards PF Markieff Morris after a confrontation in the 3rd Quarter.
  • April 27 in Milwaukee, Bucks-Raptors Game 6. Bucks coach Jason Kidd for arguing a missed slap call on a rebound and a blown charge-block call, both by Davis within 30 seconds of each other in the 4th quarter. Davis had called only one foul on the Raptors at that point, and that call was made 36:52 into the game.
  • April 25 in Houston, Thunder-Rockets Game 5. Davis issued double technicals to Beverley and Russell Westbrook for “arguing” (trash talking) in the 4th quarter.

Is the NBA watching?

It would be difficult to believe that the NBA isn’t keeping tabs on these developments, and possibly even on Davis himself, given the infamous inbound play from last year’s Thunder-Spurs series and the ensuing  public scrutiny  of Davis, who was the official right on top of three obvious inbound violations. That got the attention of everyone who follows the league or watches sports news, as well as a statement from the league acknowledging that the game officials had blown the call.

“The Playoff Selection Process” page posted at NBA Official is the only document I can find relating to the league’s evaluation process of referees. (Note: An NBA press release dated 3/2/17 announced the launch of an Officiating Advisory Council and a number of other initiatives “with an eye toward continuous improvement” to take place over the next few years.) Davis has survived two personnel cuts for this year’s playoffs, the first to qualify as one of the 37 officials working Round 1 games, the second to advance into the pool of 30 working the semifinals. The evaluation process, assuming it is more than just a corporate rubber stamp, is described in two sentences:

“The determination on playoff advancement for referees is based on referees’ overall evaluations from the regular season, as well as their performances in the previous round of the playoffs.  Those evaluations factor in analytical data and ratings by coaches, GMs and referee management.”

Okay, so surveys involving players such as the LA Times survey don’t matter. Davis having called the only technical fouls (six in all) in his last four games, however, seems like the sort of data that can’t be ignored, in particular the technicals issued in Milwaukee and Houston, where the crowds were already riled up over Davis’ calls and non-calls when Davis called the Ts.  The decision not to give Markieff Morris a technical foul (flagrant 1) after throwing Al Horford into the sideline area also seems like the sort of thing the league office would take note of.

It is possible that only geeks who study referee data at basketball-reference.com are aware of Davis’ visiting team .540 win-loss record, or that Danny Crawford is the living embodiment of the league averages — but this doesn’t seem likely. The existence online of analytical stat pages for each referee is a sure sign that this writer is not the only NBA geek who has ever looked at them (I didn’t know those pages existed until last week). The NBA, apparently, does not.

The league announced on March 2 a number of new initiatives, including expansion of officiating staff over the next three years, an Officiating Advisory Council, a new scheduling system to “optimize the chemistry and composition of crews”, and “the use of a new data-driven review system”, among other things. The review system will “create objective referee measurement standards and track progress regarding call accuracy and errors per game over multiple seasons” — which is to say, whatever the NBA does now probably doesn’t track progress or trends such as Davis’ visiting team win rate over time. Whatever the NBA does now in the 2017 playoffs isn’t exactly clear, but they do mention the use of “analytical data” in the playoff referee selection process.

The questions begged here are whether or not the NBA assigns refs to playoff games randomly or whether there is a thought process involved in, for example, sending Davis to Houston for Game 5 of the Rockets series with Russell Westbrook and the Thunder, OKC facing elimination on the road. And if there is a thought process in place, what is it?  It’s obvious that Davis is not worried at all about incurring the wrath of a home crowd or going head to head with a star player — this much was evident in Houston on Friday and in Milwaukee April 27.

If it’s not random, and there is a thought process involved in making the officials’ assignments, do we really want to know why — with the Bucks needing to win to stay alive in the playoffs — the official who was the bane of home teams this season was assigned to referee a Game 6 in Milwaukee?

Note: As of games through Wednesday May 10, including Wizards-Celtics Game 5 in Boston, neither Crawford or Davis has worked another game since Game 3 in Houston May 5. Forte was 4th “alternate official” for one game. The officiating pool will be cut from 30 to 20 after the semifinals round.

Source-erole

This post has been edited to include notes about the NBA’s new officiating initiatives announced in March. Source for player stats, regular season and playoff averages is basketball-reference.com. Sources for game play-by-play data are the Official Scorer’s Reports posted at NBA.com at bottom of AP recaps.

  • ESPN/ABC Broadcast of Spurs-Rockets Game 3, 5/5/17. Analyst: Doug Collins
  • Official play-by-play: http://www.nba.com/games/20170505/SASHOU#/pbp
  • NBA referees data: http://www.basketball-reference.com/referees/davisma99r.html
  • Last Two Minute report, Wizards-Celtics Game 2, 5/2/17: http://official.nba.com/last-two-minute-report/?gameNo=0041600202&eventNum=558
  • LA Times survey, NBA best and worst officials, 1/31/16:  http://www.latimes.com/sports/nba/la-sp-nba-best-worst-referees-20160131-story.html
  • Playoff selection process: http://official.nba.com/playoff-officials-selection-process/
  • Fox Sports: Officiating fiasco, Thunder-Spurs, 05/03/16: http://www.foxsports.com/nba/story/san-antonio-spurs-oklahoma-city-thunder-referee-mistake-dion-waiters-050316
  • NBA press release, officiating changes, 03/02/17: http://pr.nba.com/nba-officiating-initiatives/

More than a Slap on the Wrist, Part 2: Wizards-Celtics in Boston, throwing the rule book out the window

Note: The initial post on referee Marc Davis began with the Raptors-Bucks game April 27 and, after Davis was promoted into the semifinals officials pool, was extended to include analysis of the officiating in Davis’ next few games along with his trends in recent seasons.  The next game Davis worked after the Bucks elimination was Game 2 of the Wizards-Celtics series, May 2 in Boston. For reference purposes, and because the original writing/notes were buried down at the bottom of “More than a Slap on the Wrist (Part 1)”, I’ve created a separate post here to put this game in better focus.

Davis was crew chief for Game 2 in Boston, with Rodney Mott and Tom Washington the other two officials. He wasted little time provoking the Boston crowd when, just 1:07 seconds after the opening tip, Wizards power forward Markieff Morris flung Al Horford into the photographers row along the baseline. Morris was retaliating for a play in Game 1 where he sprained an ankle shooting a jump shot over Horford, who slid underneath Morris as he shot. Though Morris had, well, thrown Horford into the stands, a technical (flagrant) foul was not issued on the play.

The Celtics play a rough brand of basketball, and have a couple of players in their rotation who might make good NFL tight ends or pass-rushing outside linebackers (Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart). They use their power to create advantage, intimidate and bully, and tend to get away with it. When they’re not getting away with it, they’re still wearing down the opposition.

The Wizards are also a rugged team, and the Atlanta Hawks complained in their Round 1 series that the Wiz were “playing MMA.” The Celtics and Wizards didn’t like each other before the playoffs, both sides admitted, and they’re going to like each other even less when this series is done.  The tricky task of the officials is to keep the rivalry under control while ensuring that the fouls and penalties don’t unfairly disadvantage one side or the other. Leniency was thus a reasonable approach once Horford picked himself up and tempers cooled down.

That said, a technical foul (flagrant 1) was the best Morris might’ve hoped for when he threw Horford into the baseline area. Davis, however, decided to disregard the rule book altogether and charge Morris with only a loose ball foul. The standard for a flagrant foul {1) is contact “interpreted to be unnecessary”, and what Morris did was certainly that (ref: Official Rules pg. 46). A flagrant foul (2) is contact “interpreted to be unnecessary and excessive”, and Morris probably did that too. A flagrant foul (2) results in the offender’s ejection from the game.

Davis had apparently decided he wasn’t going to throw anybody out of the game just yet, and didn’t feel obliged to award Boston the two free throws they had coming under the flagrant (1) rule, either. Instead of getting those, Boston on the very next possession was called for an offensive foul on Amir Johnson. Davis made that call too, denying the Celtics two free throws and a possession after their center had been tossed around like a … like a very large person being thrown into a bunch of unsuspecting photographers.

Bad officiating? Of course it was, and perhaps part of a visitors vs. home team trend with Davis. This season the visitors won 54% of the games Davis worked. Visitors have won more than the league average in Davis’ games 10 of the last 14 seasons. The Wizards were the visitors in Boston, Game 2.

The fans in Boston, where even the obvious calls against their Celtics are booed, were outraged. Davis had managed, just over a minute into the game, to incite the wrath of the home crowd. He had managed this in his previous game, in Milwaukee, but it took him the better part of a quarter to set anybody off, and until the 4th quarter to bring the building down. The early occasion set an aggressive, angry tone for the evening. There would be 50 personal fouls called in this game, 29 on the Wizards. The Celtics would go on to win in overtime in dramatic fashion and take a 2-0 lead in the series, with Isaiah Thomas scorching the nets to score 53 points on his late sister’s birthday.

Here’s how those 50 fouls, plus two technical fouls, broke down by official who called them:

Sources: NBA Official and NBA.com, official game play-by-play.

If official Tom Washington’s 12 to 5 foul disparity in favor of the Celtics doesn’t jump out at you, the fact that he called only two on the Celtics after the 1st quarter should. Home teams won 65% of the games Washington refereed this season (13% above the league avg., and he tends to call more fouls than avg.) The quarter ended with Wizards ahead 42-29, a lead that didn’t last as the refs unleashed their whistles on the Wizards bench in the 2nd quarter.

  • Davis called fewer personal fouls than Mott or Washington, and only 16 for the game. This is part of the trend that emerges with Davis over the last six seasons. Davis calls fewer fouls than the average official. Over the last three seasons about 2.6 fewer fouls per game were called in games Davis worked.
  • The per game average this season was about 40 fouls per game, meaning that even the official who made the least calls in this game (Davis) called more fouls than he typically does, adjusting for the extra five minutes of the overtime.
  • Mott was fairly balanced with his calls, just as he was in Milwaukee.
  • Nine fouls were called on the Wizards in the 2nd quarter, as all three officials unleashed their whistles on the Washington bench.
  • Six personal fouls vs. the Wizards in the 3rd quarter, only 2 on Boston, making the 2nd-3rd quarter foul disparity 15-6 in favor of Boston. (The Wizards were ahead by 14 mid-quarter and were threatening to blow the game open.)
  • Davis called a double technical on Thomas and Morris after the two former Suns teammates confronted each other. Had Davis issued Morris a flagrant (1) technical foul in the 1st quarter, Morris would have been ejected from the game with this second T.
  • Mott made the shooting foul call on Wizards center Marcin Gortat that sent Thomas to the line to tie the game with 14 seconds left in regulation. This was a highly questionable call.

There were factors not related to the officials that prevented the Wizards from putting Game 2 out of Boston’s reach. They went cold from the outside in the 3rd quarter after building a 14-point lead. Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal had a horrific game (4-15 shooting, 6 turnovers). Washington also had opportunities on the last possession of regulation to win it, but Beal and John Wall misfired on open looks, setting up Thomas’ heroics in the overtime. The Celtics’ little big man (53 points!) earned this win.

But it’s fairly obvious to say that the refs helped keep Boston in the game, given 3rd official Washington’s 12-5 disparity in foul calls, and the overall 15-6 foul count against the Wizards over the 2nd and 3rd quarters. This wasn’t lost on Wizards coach Scott Brooks, who tried after the game to remain benignly vague when approaching the taboo subject of the refs, but didn’t quite succeed. Brooks ended his post-game interview session abruptly after the following comments.

“We had a couple of leads, 14 and I think a 10 or 12 point lead, and things changed,” Brooks said. “My job is not to referee the game, my job is to coach, and sometimes I struggle doing that. It’s a tough job. And our players gotta play. We have to be able to control the game, and (he paused) it’s not our job to do that.”

Davis served as a counter-veiling influence to referee Washington, mainly through his handling of Morris. The Wizards’ power forward, coming off a sprained ankle in Game 1, played just 26 minutes due to foul trouble but had a stabilizing impact for the Wizards on the court, scoring an efficient 16 points. Not calling the first technical on Morris was a boon for the Wizards, compliments of Davis in the face of a hostile Boston crowd, part of his modus operandi in this year’s playoffs.

But with Mott making the big call to send Thomas to the line in the final seconds to send it into overtime, this game became a reminder that it’s difficult for any one ref to engineer an outcome when there are two other officials on the court.

Note: Davis has worked one game since this May 2 game, the Rockets loss at home to the Spurs May 5 in Game 3 of that series. The Washington-Boston series is currently tied 2-2, with Game 5 about to tip off Wednesday, May 10. Davis has not been assigned to work a game, even as an alternate, since May 5 in Houston.

 Source list:

  • Official Rules, NBA 2016-17: https://ak-static.cms.nba.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2016/11/2016-2017-Rule-Book-Final.pdf
  • Official game play-by-play: http://www.nba.com/games/20170502/WASBOS#/pbp
  • Wizards-Celtics Box score, 05/02/17:  http://www.nba.com/games/20170502/WASBOS#/boxscore
  • Scott Brooks post game interviews: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Mj-69Br2zE
  • ESPN story, 04/17/17: “Paul Millsap after Hawks loss: We played basketball, they played MMA”, http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/19173546/paul-millsap-atlanta-hawks-washington-wizards-were-playing-mma-game-1-victory
  • Last Two Minute report, Wizards-Celtics: http://official.nba.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2017/05/L2M-WAS-BOS-05-02-17.pdf
  • NBA Officials Data: http://www.basketball-reference.com/referees/
  • 2014-15 Phoenix Suns: http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/PHO/2015.html
  • AP report, NBA statement on 2016 non-calls in Spurs-Thunder Game 2: http://www.nba.com/2016/news/05/03/nba-on-spurs-thunder-game-2-non-calls.ap/
  • Last Two Minute Reports FAQ: http://official.nba.com/nba-last-two-minute-reports-frequently-asked-questions/