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):

  1. San Antonio Spurs, 5,919 total fouls – 242 wins
  2. Charlotte Hornets, 6,035 total fouls – 145 wins
  3. Atlanta Hawks, 6,077 total fouls – 190 wins
  4. Chicago Bulls, 6,222 total fouls – 185 wins
  5. Miami Heat, 6,267 total fouls – 205 wins

The teams with the most fouls called against them (past four seasons):

  1. Denver Nuggets, 7,177 total fouls – 156 wins
  2. Phoenix Suns, 7,088 total fouls – 135 wins
  3. Toronto Raptors, 7,040 total fouls – 187 wins
  4. Oklahoma City Thunder, 7,032 total fouls – 219 wins
  5. 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┬áhad 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┬áhad 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
Charlotte Hornets 6035 18.375 145
Atlanta Hawks 6077 18.525 190
Chicago Bulls 6222 18.95 185
Miami Heat 6267 19.125 205
Minnesota Timberwolves 6280 19.15 116
Brooklyn Nets 6332 19.325 152
Portland Trail Blazers 6370 19.4 182
Detroit Pistons 6405 19.525 134
Los Angeles Lakers 6497 19.8 110
Cleveland Cavaliers 6553 19.975 167
Dallas Mavericks 6574 20.075 182
Memphis Grizzlies 6578 20.025 203
Indiana Pacers 6681 20.4 188
Orlando Magic 6684 20.375 103
Utah Jazz 6687 20.375 146
Washington Wizards 6771 20.625 160
New Orleans Pelicans 6773 20.65 136
Milwaukee Bucks 6776 20.675 127
New York Knicks 6849 20.875 140
Golden State Warriors 6866 20.95 238
Philadelphia 76ers 6907 21.075 81
Houston Rockets 6931 21.125 196
Sacramento Kings 6938 21.125 118
Los Angeles Clippers 6978 21.25 222
Boston Celtics 6994 21.4 154
Oklahoma City Thunder 7032 21.45 219
Toronto Raptors 7040 21.475 187
Phoenix Suns 7088 21.625 135
Denver Nuggets 7177 21.875 156

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