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DeMarcus Cousins, MKG Come Out on Top in New Way to Measure Fouls

Jared Dubin@@JADubin5Featured ColumnistOctober 16, 2014

Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins laughs as he walks downcourt during an NBA preseason game against the Toronto Raptors in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014.  The Kings won 113-106. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

For years, free-throw attempts per game were the only way to measure a player's foul-drawing ability, but as the analytics movement took hold, measurements like free-throw attempts per 36 minutes and free-throw attempts per field goal attempt (FTA/FGA) emerged and gave us a new way to think about who the league's best foul-drawers were.

Given that possessions ending in free throws are the most efficient ones in basketball, this is an incredibly important thing to measure.  

While all of those measurements are indeed still valuable, the release of SportVU data from the NBA allows us to dig even deeper.

The SportVU cameras track every player on the court and the ball at all times. Through analysis of the feeds from the cameras, the league has released data on things like touches and time of possession.

Nearly all NBA fouls are drawn by a player with the ball in his hands. Sure, there are off-ball fouls in the half court, loose-ball fouls, illegal screens and such, but most non-Hack-a-Dwight fouls are committed against the ball-handler, and most often while he is attempting to score.

Knowing this, we can combine touches and time-of-possession data with the Personal Fouls Drawn stat from the NBA's media-only stats site (subscriptions required) to come up with a new way to measure foul-drawing.

Take a look at the top 10 players on touches per personal foul drawn (minimum 1,500 minutes played), led by DeMarcus Cousins, who drew a foul every 8.6 times he touched the ball last season:

Obviously, a number of these names do not appear on leaderboards for free-throw attempts per game or FTA/FGA (as you can see when you toggle through the graphic by clicking on the circles at the top). Dwight moves to the top when measured by FTA/FGA, while Durant leads the way in FTA per game among this group. 

The next 10 players in touches per foul drawn include Roy Hibbert, Carmelo Anthony, Timofey Mozgov, Nick Young, James Harden, Andre Drummond, Jimmy Butler, Markieff Morris, LeBron James and DeAndre Jordan.

For comparison's sake, here are the bottom 10 in the same stat. Yes, five point guards populate that group, but there are some low-usage wings like Shawn Marion, Mike Miller and Danny Green in there, too. Kendall Marshall's one foul drawn every 83.88 touches is so far behind the rest of the pack that he can barely even see it. 

If you were surprised to see Michael Kidd-Gilchrist among the top 10 in fouls drawn per touch, wait until you get a load of the next leaderboard. Each of the top 18 as well as 24 of the top 25 players in seconds of possession per foul drawn were centers, so I decided to compile a "non-bigs only" list, and MKG came out on top. 

Kidd-Gilchrist is a low-usage player who draws a ton of fouls compared to how often he has the ball in his hands, finishing nearly three seconds ahead of the next-closest non-big man, Derrick Williams. Most of the players in here are low-usage types, but Wes Matthews, Luol Deng, Gerald Henderson and Paul Pierce stick out as players who both had the ball a lot and drew fouls very quickly when they got it. 

At the other end of the spectrum, nearly every player in the bottom 50 was a point guard, so I compiled a "non-point guards only" list of the trailers in seconds per foul drawn:

It should be unsurprising to see Marion and Danny Green on the list again, but J.R. Smith popping up was a big surprise until I saw how few times he went to the line last season. Marion and Josh McRoberts stick out as the only non-wings in this group. 

While this measurement is not perfect (not all fouls are of the shooting variety, of course), it does give new perspective when thinking about the art of foul-drawing. Lots of the usual suspects show up atop the leaderboards, but the presence of some unexpected names means we should maybe reconsider their strengths as offensive players. 

It should also be noted that there is a movement to push the NBA to do away with two-shot fouls that is gaining some steam. It's worth asking how that would change the value of creating a foul and how that would be reflected in the value of some of these players. 

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