Finding myself in possession of a group of relatively arcane WNBA statistics, I thought I’d delve into a number of issues this week –- but I got stuck on the very first set of numbers. There was just too much to talk about to move much further.
The topic? Fouls drawn and fouls committed. But first, just a word on the importance of fouls. Obviously, a player who gets into foul trouble doesn’t get to play as much, but beyond that first-order statistic, getting to the foul line is crucial in many, many ways.
Clearly, points are scored at the foul line, but the number of points gained there has a direct correlation to the raw number of fouls drawn -- shooting or otherwise -- because teams that get into the bonus more often get more chances at the line. So therefore a player who can draw fouls might not necessarily get to the line herself, but she will help get her teammates there.
Also, drawing fouls puts opponents into foul trouble, and if a player can consistently get opposing posts to foul her, say, she can force the other team to its bench –- presumably making it easier for her own team to win. And, by the same token, committing non-shooting fouls also contributes to the chances of the opponents getting to the line later in the quarter.
Finally, here’s a question I ask my young players: What’s the fastest way to score? They usually start off by guessing three-pointers, or the fast break, but sooner or later, one of them realizes that it’s free throws. Why? Because the clock doesn’t run. If you want to make up a deficit in a hurry, get to the line. You can score there without using up precious seconds while the other team inbounds.
So in a fairly unscientific survey (I did not calculate the ratio between total fouls drawn and fouls drawn per minute for every player in the league), we’ll begin with the player who draws the most fouls per minute in the WNBA –- and she blows the theory that the refs favor the chosen stars right out of the water. Your foul-drawing queen? Glory Johnson of the Tulsa Shock.
Johnson, a rookie who leads the league in raw fouls-drawn (102), also tops the WNBA in fouls-drawn per minute played, drawing a whistle on an opponent every 4.7 minutes, well ahead of Tamika Catchings at a foul every 6.4 minutes. Sylvia Fowles checks in at one foul every 6.6 minutes, and next is DeWanna Bonner, who has drawn 101 fouls so far this year, at a rate of one every 6.7 minutes. Camille Little uses her savvy inside to draw a whistle on an opponent every 7.0 minutes and Candace Parker and Cappie Pondexter both draw one per 7.4 minutes.
The names at the other end of the spectrum -- those who draw the fewest fouls per minute by opponents -- required some deeper digging. But at the end of the day, all of these players contribute much less to their teams than their other stats might suggest, because they simply don’t force defenders to work to defend.
"Tops" -- if you can call it that -- on the fewest-fouls-drawn-per-minute list is Ebony Hoffman, who has only played 76 minutes this season, but has drawn just a single foul in that entire span -- an extremely impressive, in a negative sort of way, achievement. Way behind her is Jeanette Pohlen, who gets a foul called on her defender once every 50 minutes, and though I’ve always been a fan of Pohlen, this is a very troubling stat.
Noelle Quinn is third (37.8) but the next one surprised me: Le’Coe Willingham, with one foul drawn every 32.7 minutes. Willingham has been shooting a lot more threes lately, but this number suggests she’s abandoned the inside game almost completely. Rounding out the "top" five in this unfavorable category is another three-point shooting power forward, Cathrine Kraayeveld, at one per 25.8 minutes.
The next thing I looked at was the ratio of fouls drawn to fouls committed, and first, a word of warning: Having a positive ratio might just mean the player, while requiring considerable defensive effort by opponents on the offensive side of the ball, simply doesn’t defend aggressively enough, or care enough about defense, to risk fouling herself. So though it’s definitely a good thing for a player to keep herself out of foul trouble, and it's usually a positive for a player to draw more fouls than she commits, the meaning of this particular statistic requires more subtle interpretation.
Still, the fact that Becky Hammon draws 3.9 fouls to every one she commits is awfully good, especially since she makes 85.5 percent of her free throws. Bonner is right behind her, with 3.6:1, and that's also good because Bonner blocks a lot of shots (19 this season) and averages 1.8 steals a game as well –- so it’s not like she’s not defending.
Kara Lawson at 2.8 doesn’t have the same reputation defensively as Bonner, and definitely isn’t in the same category as Angel McCoughtry, who is close behind her, drawing 2.6 fouls for every one she commits. Renee Montgomery, a bit of a surprise given that she's not starting and is otherwise not playing well, and rookie Natalie Novosel, also a surprise because of her limited role but one that bodes well for her future in the league, round out the top group in this category at 2.2.
|At the opposite end of the spectrum from Hammon, Ebony Hoffman not only drew the fewest fouls per minute played this season (just one in 76 minutes), but also owns the worst ratio of fouls-drawn to fouls-committed, with just one foul drawn to the seven she committed in that span. (Photo by Lee Michaelson/FullCourt.com)|
And now to the negative, where there’s much less subtlety. These are the players who not only fail to get themselves to the line, but send opponents to the line far too often. Not surprisingly, Ebony Hoffman leads the way, with seven fouls committed, and only one drawn in her 76 minutes of play this season, and right behind her is another historic name when it comes to fouls: Ashley Robinson. Robinson, who has 47 more fouls than points in her WNBA career, sends opponents to the line with regularity without drawing many herself. In her 207 minutes on the floor this season, she’s committed six fouls for every one she’s drawn, making her long-time presence in the league even more of a mystery.
Ruth Riley, notoriously contact-averse when she has the ball (sixth on the fouls-drawn-per-minute list), isn’t so shy about dealing out punishment, and has a 4.0:1 fouls-committed to fouls-drawn ratio, ahead of Pohlen and Willingham, who both check in at 3.7:1.
In the end, obviously, this whole category of fouls isn’t as critical as points and rebounds and turnovers, but still it’s worth factoring into any player evaluation. Everyone knows how important free throws are, but nobody gets to shoot anything from the line unless there’s a foul drawn and a foul committed –- and all players are definitely not created equal in either department.