Thursday, June 19

Flopping, By The Numbers

On Sunday, Henry Abbott at TrueHoop ran an interesting piece on flopping in the NBA, including a strong argument from Carlos Morales of ESPN Deportes, who took issue with American complaints of foreign-born floppers.

Morales’ contention was that Europeans did not introduce flopping to the NBA, as has been so often alleged (including by yours truly), but that it has been present in the league as long as there has been an NBA. He even alluded to quotes from Red Auerbach as proof of the longevity of flopping.

Soon after, put up their annual “Taking the Charge” column, which lists the league leaders in fouls drawn and committed, and, further, breaks those fouls down into specific categories. Among those categories is “offensive fouls drawn,” which is, obviously, the number of flops a certain player has taken during the course of a season.

While the list is informative, it is raw data, meaning that it does not take into consideration the number of minutes played. I thought it might be interesting to test Mr. Morales’ contention by seeing just how many foreign-born players there were at the top of the chart.

(Note: I only used the top 75 players ranked in offensive fouls drawn; beyond that, and you’re getting such minimal numbers that the information is not all that helpful, at least for this exercise’s purpose).

Top 10, Total Offensive Fouls Drawn:
1. Derek Fisher, 54
2. Andrew Bogut, 53
3. Mikki Moore, 51
4. Kyle Lowry, 47
5. Joel Przybilla, 47
6. Allen Iverson, 46
7. Jermaine O’Neal, 45
8. Mike Dunleavy, 42
9. Monta Ellis, 42
10. Luis Scola, 42

So, out of 10 players, three were foreign-born. To further expand the list, out of the top 20, six were from outside North America, 14 from the U.S.

But, as I said earlier, that doesn’t account for minutes played, so it’s a flawed ranking, right? A more accurate system would determine how many offensive fouls per 36 minutes played. Thankfully, we can access that information quite easily. With that in mind, here’s another list.

Top 10, Offensive Fouls Drawn/36 min.
1. Jarron Collins, 1.7
2. Jermaine O’Neal, 1.3
3. Leon Powe, 1.3
4. Joel Przybilla, 0.9
5. Anderson Varejao, 0.9
6. Derek Fisher, 0.9
7. Kyle Lowry, 0.8
8. Mikki Moore, 0.8
9. Luis Scola, 0.7
10. Fab Oberto, 0.7

Not too much difference, right? Now we’ve got four out of 10 foreigners, not a major change. Out of the top 20, though, we’ve added two more to the previous six, meaning that eight of the top 20 are from outside the U.S.

I’ll write that again, with emphasis: Out of the 20 players who drew the most offensive fouls in the NBA this season, eight were born outside the U.S. That’s 40%.

I don’t know the exact percentage of NBA players born outside the U.S. It could be 10%, it could be 20%. But I’m pretty darn sure it isn’t 40%. (If you know the number, please feel free to drop us a line in the comments).

So, what can we learn from all of this? One, this is pretty limited information, and it’s only based on one season. If I feel the urge, perhaps I’ll run the numbers for the last couple of seasons and see if there is any pattern.

Two, if you look at the players as a whole, it’s pretty clear that foreign-born players average more offensive fouls drawn than American-born players. In fact, the numbers are probably much higher than I found, simply because I failed to count players who drew very few offensive fouls. Including them would further skew the numbers in that direction.

Three, the previous discussions on white referees giving calls to white players (and black refs for black players) may come into play here, as most foreign-born players are white, and, therefore, they may receive beneficial calls from (predominantly white) officials. That’s a nut too hard for me to crack with my limited research skills (and budget; seriously, Paul, can’t you get me an assistant?).

Fourth, and, of the most interest to me, this seems to refute the argument of Carlos Morales that foreign players are no more likely to be floppers than American players. As I said before, more studying of these figures would give us some more information.

But the simple fact that nearly half of the top 20 floppers in the league were foreign-born seems to give at least some credence to the argument that Vlade Divac’ disciples are continuing his legacy.


Lt. Daniels said...

Slight problem with your analysis. You assume that offensive fouls drawn equates to flops. Or, you assume that some charges are legit fouls, but in that case, you have to assume that the percentage of legit fouls vs. flops is the same for all players.

I think that's a highly dubious assumption. Some guys are more willing to put themselves in the way of a big guy flying down the lane. That doesn't make them floppers; it makes them Shane Battier.

And what about flops on the offensive end? Vlade Divacs used to fling the ball up and howl in pain whenever someone bodied him up. Had nothing to do with flopping when he played D (which he did too).

Anyway - I think it's an interesting analysis, but I'm skeptical of the methodology.

Anonymous said...

Completely agree, but it's the only way I could think of to look at "flops" from a statistical viewpoint. My hope was that the true offensive charges drawn would balance out against the flops when spread out over a full season and over this number of players.

One thing I should have added in the story - I'm not trying to pick on international players. As Morales pointed out in his story, smart athletes and coaches always look for an advantage and seize it for competitive reasons (e.g., Auerbach). It's possible that international players are less wrapped up in the macho attitude of North American players because, let's face it, flopping is not exactly something they put in a sneaker commercial. I'm delving into unknown sociological waters here, but perhaps international players are more interested in doing whatever it takes to gain an advantage than they are in looking good on the court. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

No doubt the Euros bring a certain style and flair to the flopping that Americans don't have, and can't just buy at IKEA.

Anonymous said...

again, like Nuss, not meaning to generalize across an entire set of peoples or stereotype players born one place vs another and all the other PC stuff taht needs to preface these types of claims, but being in Europe and watching futbol over here, soccer players flop like woah. half the penalties and free kicks I've seen so far, the players are throwing themselves hither and forth, so it does not seem to be too much of a stretch to apply this influence to a style of basketball play either.

Lt. Daniels said...

Have I heard correctly, that in soccer (or at least some leagues or whatever) you can get yellow-carded for flopping?

Anonymous said...

I've seen it called, but it's extremely infrequent. Plus, in soccer, it seems as though the flopping is more extreme - if that's the right way to put it. The guys act as if they've had their tendon ruptured if they get the slightest bump. Then, 8 seconds later, they're sprinting down the field.

Be interesting to see an NBA team hire a soccer player to teach them how to flop more effectively.

Dave said...

Not only can you get a yellow card for in-game flopping. But if FIFA notices an extreme flop as they have in past world cups they are known to suspend that player from a game (no best of seven series in the cup btw, so missing 1 game is HUGE). Its important to note that the size of a soccer field compared to how many referees are out there is simply not on par with the NBAs situation. Both have 3 active refs, but soccer refs have to cover more ground. Thus it may be logical to really do the dramatics, since the ref at any given moment could be 100 ft from the play. Not taking a side here just pointing out that these are truly apples and oranges comparisons.

Anonymous said...

fair enough. I hadn't thought of that. it was just something I noticed while watching the games, and when I saw the article here figured I'd chip in with my two or three cents (depending on inflation...)