You'd complain too
The Joker keeps getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop
Last Saturday, with less than a minute remaining in a game between the Denver Nuggets and the Brooklyn Nets, Nikola Jokic went up for a shot near the basket with his team down one point. Joe Harris rotated over to contest the shot and made contact with Jokic as he released the ball, which resulted in a missed shot. The referees didn’t call a foul, which sent Jokic into a tizzy and the Nuggets lost the game.
The following day, in the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report, the NBA revealed that a shooting foul should have been called on Harris during Jokic’s shot attempt. The report concluded:
Harris (BKN) is late to the spot and makes contact to Jokic's (DEN) arm and body that affects his shot attempt.
This is old hat by now for the presumptive MVP. According to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Reports, Jokic has been on the wrong end of a bad call a league-leading 14 times this season. Twice as many as the second-most player.
For this chart, I’m using the same definitions for calls that disadvantage or advantage a player as the ones used by Russell Goldenberg in his analysis of the NBA’s Last Two Minute Reports from 2018. Here, a bad call is considered to disadvantage a player if it was an incorrect no call on their opponent (like the one involving Harris and Jokic) or an incorrect call against them and visa versa for calls that advantage a player. In other words, Jokic has been fouled when it wasn’t called and it should have been (13 times) or was called for a foul he didn’t commit (once) more often than anyone else this season.
Part of this can be explained by the fact that Jokic has played in so many close games this season. Remember, these numbers come from the NBA’s Last Two Minute Reports, which are only published for games where the score is within three points in the final two minutes. Refs aren’t perfect and incorrect calls are bound to be made so any player who has the ball in their hands at the end of close games will likely be the recipient of the occasional bad call.
Furthermore, since the vast majority of shooting fouls are committed in the area surrounding the basket it makes sense that a player who takes a high number of shots at the rim will be on the wrong end of more bad calls than someone who plays out on the perimeter. This is also why Rudy Gobert, Wendell Carter Jr., and Ben Simmons are towards the top of the disadvantaged chart.
That said, Jokic has been getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop for a lot longer than just this season. According to @atlhawksfanatic database of Last Two Minute Reports, Jokic has been on the wrong end of more bad calls than anyone else since 2015, which is as far back as the data goes. The chart below shows the players who have been disadvantaged the most from bad calls since the NBA started publicizing the Last Two Minute Reports.
Jokic has been on the wrong end of a bad call a total of 37 times, more than either James Harden or LeBron James.
It should go without saying that the sample sizes in these charts are small and that extrapolating any meaning beyond “so this is what happened” should be done so with extreme caution. These numbers don’t prove that referees are biased against Jokic. After all, this season, he’s also tied for first (with Julius Randle) in the league in bad calls that went in his favor.
Still, I think that this data at least partially explains (and possibly justifies) why Jokic complains to referees as often as he does. The cumulative impact of getting fouled and not seeing it called in high leverage moments will start to drive even the most sane man mad.
High Impact Injuries
One of the issues looming over this season has been games missed due to injuries and illnesses. It’s been somewhat complicated by the fact that we don’t have good measures for how detrimental an injury is. Games missed due to injuries is insufficient because we all know that losing LeBron James for ten games will have a bigger impact on a team than losing Eric Bledsoe for a similar number of games.
Recently, with the help of Jake Flancer’s injury report scraper, I went through and counted the total number of games missed by players on each team and the corresponding cumulative impact of those absences based on LEBRON Wins Added1 from bball-index.com.
This chart tells us not only which teams have been riddled with injuries, but which teams have suffered unusually high impact injuries. For instance, while the Detroit Pistons have had a fair number of players miss games due to injuries and illnesses, those players haven’t been all that impactful based on their LEBRON Wins Added. Losing Killian Hayes and Jahil Okafor for a combined 84 games probably didn’t change the outcome of the Pistons’ season all that much.
Meanwhile, even though the Los Angeles Clippers have been relatively lucky in terms of the overall number of player games missed, the players that have missed games — namely Kawhi Leonard and Paul George — are among the league’s most impactful.
Then there’s the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets have been absolutely decimated by high impact injuries and yet still have one of the league’s best records. I’m not sure people are aware how historically good the Nets would have been this year with even league average health.
Compare the above chart to the following, which shows total LEBRON Wins lost due to Health & Safety Protocols vs. LEBRON Wins lost due to all injuries and illnesses aside from those that are related to COVID.
Comparatively speaking, COVID has had a smaller impact on team success (or lack thereof) than general injuries have this season. So while it’s true that teams like Boston, Dallas, and Minnesota have been adversely impacted by COVID this season, it’s a drop in the bucket in comparison to the general injuries and illnesses suffered by other teams.
Programming note: I’m going to be without reliable Wi-Fi for the next week so there’s a non-zero chance that the next edition of The F5 will come out in two weeks time.
This is calculated by taking a player’s LEBRON Wins Added, dividing it by their games played, and then multiplying that number by the number of games they have been listed as Out on the injury reports.