Depending on who you ask, most people who watch and report on the NBA have pretty mixed feelings about how quantity of fouls predicts team performance.
We wanted to dive into the numbers to see if there were any specific trends that could point to whether or not more disciplined teams (those who don’t get very many fouls called against them) generally outperform more aggressive teams (those who do get more fouls called against them).
On the one hand, a team that minimizes fouls is giving up fewer offensive opportunities, limiting the number of free throws, and in general keeping their star players in the game.
On the other, an aggressive team called for a higher quantity of fouls might directly be able to affect the game with this aggression. The theory here being that a team getting more fouls called against them will often be playing harder, going for those extra blocks, rebounding more forcefully, and in general playing grittier basketball.
First, breaking down the top and bottom rankings:
The teams with the least fouls called against them (past four seasons):
- San Antonio Spurs, 5,919 total fouls – 242 wins
- Charlotte Hornets, 6,035 total fouls – 145 wins
- Atlanta Hawks, 6,077 total fouls – 190 wins
- Chicago Bulls, 6,222 total fouls – 185 wins
- Miami Heat, 6,267 total fouls – 205 wins
The teams with the most fouls called against them (past four seasons):
- Denver Nuggets, 7,177 total fouls – 156 wins
- Phoenix Suns, 7,088 total fouls – 135 wins
- Toronto Raptors, 7,040 total fouls – 187 wins
- Oklahoma City Thunder, 7,032 total fouls – 219 wins
- Boston Celtics, 6,994 total fouls – 154 wins
So what does the rest of the data suggest?
We broke down the past four years of foul statistics for every team, and found some interesting data points:
- The San Antonio Spurs had the lowest average number of fouls called against them per game, at an 18.05 average, 5,919 total fouls over four seasons. They also had the most wins, with 242.
- The Denver Nuggets had the highest average number of fouls called against them per game, at a 21.9 average; 7,177 total fouls over four seasons, with 156 wins.
- The Golden State Warriors had both a lot of wins and a lot of fouls, with 238 total wins, and 6,866 total fouls, the closest ratio between these two number of any team.
- The Charlotte Hornets had the 2nd lowest number of fouls, but still ended up in the lower half of total wins with 145.
The below trend line details that there is a slight correlation between teams that foul less and total number of wins:
Get the full data set below, ranked by lowest number of fouls called against the team:
|Team||Total Fouls||Average Fouls Per Game||Total Wins|
|San Antonio Spurs||5919||18.05||242|
|Portland Trail Blazers||6370||19.4||182|
|Los Angeles Lakers||6497||19.8||110|
|New Orleans Pelicans||6773||20.65||136|
|New York Knicks||6849||20.875||140|
|Golden State Warriors||6866||20.95||238|
|Los Angeles Clippers||6978||21.25||222|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||7032||21.45||219|
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