The Denver Nuggets Foul Call Controversy

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Apr 7, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Jakob Poeltl (25) collides into Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the second quarter at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

After a perceived missed foul call, a referee ejected Mike Malone for his tirade over the event. The commentators on the Nuggets broadcast and fans insinuated that Denver does not get enough foul calls. Here’s the play

Jokic attempts to bring the ball around the defender’s body, loses the ball, and begs for the foul call. Malone is pissed. He screams at the referees and interrupts play. Finally, the commentators talk about how their superstar center doesn’t get enough calls. Since then, Nuggets fans have clamored for more whistles. However, statistics display that Jokic receives numerous foul calls.

Ranking Jokic in Foul Calls Received

Recently, Redditor /u/nowhathappenedwas researched statistics about the number of foul calls that Nikola Jokic gets. He found that Jokic has drawn the 4th most total foul calls and the 8th most per 100 possessions at the time. Since then, Jokic fell to 11th in Fouls Drawn per 100 possessions.

The players with the most foul calls drawn per 100 possessions in the NBA.
Fouls drawn per 100 possessions via PBP Stats.

If you remove Rayjon Tucker and Christiano Felicio, you will notice three styles of players ahead of Jokic in fouls drawn. The first are bangers in the paint, such as Joel Embiid and Dwight Howard. Secondly, some players attack the rim downhill often, such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Zion Williamson.

Finally, there are guards who attract fouls both from attacking the hoop and from threes, particularly Trae Young and Damian Lillard. Though Jokic plays a unique style, he appears to get fouled at a relatively strong rate. He is in a company of the most talented and highest usage players in the NBA.

Mar 13, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) is fouled by Dallas Mavericks center Dwight Powell (7) in the first quarter at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

An Overblown Situation?

In light of these statistics, many have challenged Mike Malone and the Nuggets’ claims. However, there might still be room for more calls to be made. Mike Malone has been in contact with the NBA about the calls that the Nuggets do and do not get.

“I’m not gonna get into this and make it a daily conversation about Nikola, his free throws,” Malone said prior to Tuesday’s tip-off against the Detroit Pistons. “Yes, there’s communication lines (with the NBA). They’ve been used. I’ll just leave it at that. We have to go out and play.”

Mike Malone

Mike Malone isn’t the first to boil over in frustration. Other teams have complained this season before about officiating. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz made negative comments, and the NBA fined Mitchell and Gobert because of them. Many consider Utah and Denver similar markets and styles of teams. Fan bases, coaches, and players of these organizations might continue to be angry if these perceptions are not minimized and heard by the league.

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