The NBA’s Gradual Increase In Charges

Much of the talk at TrueHoop’s HoopIdea has centered on charge-taking and flopping (covered here, here, here, here, here, and here). AGR, too, took a stab at reforming the flopping and fouling. Whether you love or hate charges, it is an undeniable fact that, for whatever reason, charges in the NBA have increased over the past 3 seasons.

I had suspected this, but I decided to check the numbers after Jeff Van Gundy piqued my interest on opening night. In the now-forgotten Mavs-Heat rematch, Delonte West drove to the hoop and kicked the ball out to an open teammate in the corner, but got called for a charge as he ran into a set Heat defender in the process. Van Gundy griped that, back in the good ole’ days, refs used to let these plays go as “no-calls.” Chris Mullin echoed these thoughts in a later match-up between when the Heat and the Clippers.

Does their intuition have any merit? The data does indeed show that over the past few seasons, charges have increased. Observe the graph below.

For those of you doing math at home, the exact numbers starting in ’07-’08 going through the ’10-’11 NBA were 4398, 4351, 4513, and 4802, and the data comes from here. In a two year span, charges increased by 451. This means that from 2008-09 to 2010-11, charges increased from 3.54 charges per game to 3.90 charges per game, an increase of a bit more than a third of a charge per game. Not too much, but an increase, nonetheless.

Before we get all excited about a changing landscape in the world of charges (yes, such a world exists), it’s important to note that these increases could be due to random variation. I wasn’t sure how to go about the statistical hypothesis testing, so for now allow me to be lazy as I outline some possibilities for the increase. Other than random chance, what are other potential causes for the uptick?

1) Refs might be calling game differently–As Van Gundy and Mullin speculated, refs might be calling more charges on players who have already passed the ball.

2) Charge-taking players may have played fewer minutes in the “low-charge” seasons. Or, conversely, “high-charge” seasons may have seen an influx of charge-takers.

3) The players as a collective are learning and adjusting to how refs call the game. Perhaps refs always called the charge after the pass, but nowadays players are recognizing this and adapting. Alternatively, the refs might be calling the game differently and, as a response, the players have caught on to referees’ trends.

There are other reasons we could list, but one that we can rule out is the possibility that refs have been increasing their foul calls in general. As seen below, total fouls called have stayed more or less constant (if anything they have decreased) over the same 3-year span.

Although the end of every NBA season brings an inevitable sadness, I will be curious to plot this season’s charges against those from previous years. Is this a real trend or just a fluke? If it is a real trend, should HoopIdea take charge (sorry, had to do that) and do its best to affect real change? We’ll have to put these thoughts on hold as the more important story-lines take center stage, such as playoff seeding, the MVP race, and the status of Andray Blatche’s conditioning.

P.S. As I dug through the data, I learned that the following players took ZERO charges in the specified season.

Chris Kaman (2010-11, 838 min)
Rasual Butler (2010-11, 770 min)
Daequan Cook (2009-10, 691 min)
Brandon Bass (2009-10, 648 min)
Peja Stojakovic (2010-11, 617 min)
Delonte West (2010-11, 453 min)

What are your thoughts on the states of charges in the NBA? Comment on the article or email us at AGRbasketball (at) gmail (dot) com. Don’t forget to follow @AGRbasketball on Twitter and to like us on Facebook.

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