FanPost

Debunking the myth of the "Houston Refkets"

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Update 3/11/2014:

Thanks to some keen eyed readers, I discovered an error in the tables; specifically, that the "close shots" numbers in the team tables were actually shots from 10-15 ft. I've updated the tables and analysis to reflect the corrections. The player statistics should still be correct. Just a quick note about the data: all data comes from the stats page on NBA.com.

Editor's Note:

This is dismalscientist's hard work and first Fan Post. It is a great write up and illustrative of the kind of thing we love from our readers. Congratulations on the front page space for a thorough, in-depth, and focused inquiry into the Rockets playstyle and its effects. Optimal use of resources, Dismal Scientist!

Introduction: The Myth of the Houston Refkets

A common belief among NBA fans today is that the Houston Rockets are a team that tries to draw foul calls as a major part of their strategy. A naive glance at team statistics seems to support this theory: the Houston Rockets are indeed ranked #1 when it comes to free throws attempted per game (see Table 1). The myth has become so prevalent that fans of other teams have taken to calling the Rockets the "Refkets".

Table 1: Team FTA Per Game Rankings
Team FTA Per Game Rank
Houston Rockets 31.1 1
Los Angeles Clippers 29.5 2
Minnesota Timberwolves 27.9 3
Sacramento Kings 26.9 4
Denver Nuggets 26.2 5
Detroit Pistons 25.8 6
Charlotte Bobcats 24.8 7
Toronto Raptors 24.8 8
Phoenix Suns 24.7 9
Oklahoma City Thunder 24.5 10

What most Rockets fans know, and what other fans fail to realize, is that Houston's FTA rate is a byproduct of two things:

  1. Their play style which emphasizes drives, close shots, and three point shooting.
  2. Dwight Howard

In this post, I will give some statistical evidence to back up these claims, and hopefully debunk the myth of the "Houston Refkets" once and for all.

Part 1: Free Throws as a Byproduct of Play Style

The Rockets are a team with an offensive philosophy that emphasizes drives to the basket, close shots (shots within 5 ft of the hoop), and three point shooting. Two of these options tend to draw a lot of fouls, because they occur close to the rim where contact is more likely. Because the Rockets spend so much of their time driving and taking close shots, they naturally tend to draw more fouls. In fact, Table 2 shows that the Rockets are only slightly above average in terms of FTA per drive / close shot.

Table 2: Drives, Close Shots, and FTA Per Game
Team Drives per game Close shots per game FTA per game FT Ratio Rank
Los Angeles Clippers 16.1 27.3 29.5 0.679 1
Brooklyn Nets 15.0 24.2 24.4 0.622 2
Sacramento Kings 17.2 28.8 26.9 0.585 3
Indiana Pacers 14.6 25.8 23.5 0.582 4
Charlotte Bobcats 15.3 28.6 24.8 0.566 5
Toronto Raptors 19.5 25.9 24.8 0.547 6
Chicago Bulls 14.1 29.0 23.2 0.538 7
Portland Trail Blazers 17.5 26.4 23.3 0.531 8
Houston Rockets 25.6 34.6 31.1 0.517 9
Washington Wizards 14.7 27.3 21.3 0.506 10
Los Angeles Lakers 17.7 26.8 22.5 0.506 11
Minnesota Timberwolves 21.7 34.2 27.9 0.499 12
Oklahoma City Thunder 20.7 28.6 24.5 0.497 13
Denver Nuggets 22.0 32.4 26.2 0.481 14
Golden State Warriors 18.5 28.0 21.9 0.470 15
Phoenix Suns 23.8 28.8 24.7 0.469 16
New York Knicks 16.0 25.8 19.6 0.469 17
Cleveland Cavaliers 22.3 27.1 22.8 0.461 18
Milwaukee Bucks 17.0 29.5 21.1 0.454 19
Dallas Mavericks 21.5 26.3 21.3 0.446 20
Utah Jazz 21.6 27.6 21.9 0.445 21
Detroit Pistons 21.3 37.7 25.8 0.437 22
Orlando Magic 21.9 27.0 21.3 0.436 23
Boston Celtics 21.6 28.1 21.2 0.427 24
Atlanta Hawks 24.1 26.7 21.5 0.423 25
Miami Heat 27.4 29.0 23.6 0.419 26
Memphis Grizzlies 18.7 30.5 20.2 0.411 27
San Antonio Spurs 21.8 29.3 20.4 0.399 28
Philadelphia 76ers 22.9 39.5 23.5 0.377 29
New Orleans Pelicans 27.7 33.5 23.0 0.376 30

The first thing to notice from Table 2 is that the Rockets drive the ball a lot, and take a lot of close shots. In fact, they rank third in total drives plus close shots, behind the New Orleans Pelicans and the Philadelphia 76ers. The table also shows that the Rockets rank 9th out of 30 in terms of FTA per close shot or drive, which is above average, but not out of line with the rest of the league.


Part 2: The Dwight Howard Effect

Another explanation for the Rockets' high free throw rate is the presence of Dwight Howard. Earlier in the season, opposing teams would employ Hack-A-Howard when they were down, artificially inflating the Rockets' FTA numbers. Even without Hack-A-Howard, Dwight draws much more fouls than the average center (9.4 FTA per game as opposed to 4.5 among centers who play at least 30 minutes per game). But Dwight is a poor free throw shooter, so it can hardly be argued that Dwight drawing fouls is part of Houston's strategy. If we replaced Dwight's 9.4 FTA per game with a more average 4.5 FTA per game, Houston actually becomes below average in terms of FTA per close shot or drive, ranking 23rd out of 30:

Table 3: Drives, Close Shots, and FTA Per Game (less Dwight Howard effect)
Team Drives per game Close shots per game FTA per game FT Ratio* Rank
Los Angeles Clippers 16.1 27.3 29.5 0.679 1
Brooklyn Nets 15.0 24.2 24.4 0.622 2
Sacramento Kings 17.2 28.8 26.9 0.585 3
Indiana Pacers 14.6 25.8 23.5 0.582 4
Charlotte Bobcats 15.3 28.6 24.8 0.566 5
Toronto Raptors 19.5 25.9 24.8 0.547 6
Chicago Bulls 14.1 29.0 23.2 0.538 7
Portland Trail Blazers 17.5 26.4 23.3 0.531 8
Washington Wizards 14.7 27.3 21.3 0.506 9
Los Angeles Lakers 17.7 26.8 22.5 0.506 10
Minnesota Timberwolves 21.7 34.2 27.9 0.499 11
Oklahoma City Thunder 20.7 28.6 24.5 0.497 12
Denver Nuggets 22.0 32.4 26.2 0.481 13
Golden State Warriors 18.5 28.0 21.9 0.470 14
Phoenix Suns 23.8 28.8 24.7 0.469 15
New York Knicks 16.0 25.8 19.6 0.469 16
Cleveland Cavaliers 22.3 27.1 22.8 0.461 17
Milwaukee Bucks 17.0 29.5 21.1 0.454 18
Dallas Mavericks 21.5 26.3 21.3 0.446 19
Utah Jazz 21.6 27.6 21.9 0.445 20
Detroit Pistons 21.3 37.7 25.8 0.437 21
Orlando Magic 21.9 27.0 21.3 0.436 22
Houston Rockets 25.6 34.6 26.2 0.435 23
Boston Celtics 21.6 28.1 21.2 0.427 24
Atlanta Hawks 24.1 26.7 21.5 0.423 25
Miami Heat 27.4 29.0 23.6 0.419 26
Memphis Grizzlies 18.7 30.5 20.2 0.411 27
San Antonio Spurs 21.8 29.3 20.4 0.399 28
Philadelphia 76ers 22.9 39.5 23.5 0.377 29
New Orleans Pelicans 27.7 33.5 23.0 0.376 30


Part 3: Is James Harden favored by the referees?

In a final piece of analysis, I will attempt to debunk the myth that James Harden is specifically favored to get calls from the referees. Table 4 below ranks players according to their FTA per drives and close shots (minimum 1200 minutes played). James Harden does not even rank in the top 10. In fact, he comes in at #28, which is behind the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin, just to name a few.

Table 4: Drives, close shots, and FTA by player
Player Drives per game Close shots per game FTA per game FT Ratio Rank
Dirk Nowizki 0.4 1.3 4.7 2.765 1
Marc Gasol 0.4 2.6 3.8 1.267 3
Kevin Love 1.1 5.7 8.5 1.250 4
Dwight Howard 0.3 8.8 9.4 1.033 5
LaMarcus Aldridge 0.8 5.1 5.3 0.898 8
Kevin Durant 5.7 5.7 9.9 0.868 9
Carmelo Anthony 2.8 5.5 6.9 0.831 13
Roy Hibbert 0.1 4.0 3.4 0.829 15
Tim Duncan 0.5 5.0 4.5 0.818 16
Blake Griffin 1.9 9.0 8.5 0.780 18
Chris Paul 5.5 2.1 5.7 0.750 22
Chris Bosh 1.0 4.2 3.8 0.731 23
DeMarcus Cousins 3.0 9.5 8.9 0.712 27
James Harden 6.6 5.6 8.7 0.713 28
Paul George 3.9 4.1 5.6 0.700 30


I am not claiming here that James Harden doesn't flop or try to sell contact in order to draw fouls. However, I see no statistical evidence that he is more likely to draw fouls than other star players in this league, especially when considering his and the Rockets' overall style of play.

Conclusion

If you are reading this post, you are probably a Rockets fan and already knew all of this. But hopefully the data will convince you even further of something you already suspected. If you are not a Rockets fan, I hope the statistics will convince you that our high free throw rate is a product of our play and not because of whining to the refs or flopping.

No cursing in title. No pirated material, such as links to online game streams. Do not cut/paste entire sections of content from other websites. Thanks.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join The Dream Shake

You must be a member of The Dream Shake to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at The Dream Shake. You should read them.

Join The Dream Shake

You must be a member of The Dream Shake to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at The Dream Shake. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9347_tracker