As we head to Chicago, one thing to keep any eye on: the Bulls attempt a lot more free throws at home than they do on the road–and visitors to the United Center see their free throw attempts fall dramatically.
Overall, the Bulls had a per game free throw attempt differential of -0.3 free throws, meaning they almost broke even with their opponents in terms of FTAs. (Interestingly, five of 16 playoff teams have negative overall FTA margins–Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Dallas and New Orleans. Detroit is easily the worst at -2.4 per game).
But at home, the Bulls are taking 4.2 more FTAs per game on average than their opponents–27.2 attempts to 23.0 for the visitors. That home FTA margin of +4.2 is the sixth-highest figure among playoff teams (behind, in order, Orlando, Denver, Philadelphia, Portland and Utah), but the gap between their overall FTA margin (-0.3) and their home margin (4.2) is the biggest among all 16 playoff teams–and it’s not even close. Other teams with large positive home FTA margins generally have solid overall FTA margins to begin with. Chicago is an outlier here.
It’s not just that the Bulls take more foul shots at home (which they do–27.2 per game at home, 22.9 on the road). Opponents also see their FTAs fall at a higher than expected rate. In the Bulls’ 41 road games, their opponents shot 27.6 free throws per game; in Chicago, visitors attempted 23.0 FTAs per game.
We all know road teams can expect fewer friendly whistles from the zebras, but only one other playoff team had such a big gap in opponent home and road FTAs. That would be Utah, home of perhaps the league’s most famously nasty crowd. Jazz opponents attempted seven fewer free throws per game in Utah than they did while hosting the Jazz. In other words, the Jazz (supposedly) commit fouls at a well-below-league-average rate at home but turn into the Pat Riley Knicks on the road.
So what’s going on here? Perhaps the smart guys who run Blog a Bull and By the Horns can enlighten us a little bit. Maybe the Bulls, like many young teams, play with more confidence and aggression at home. Maybe Ditka attends games and intimidates the refs. But it’ll be something to keep an eye on, especially since Boston is a foul prone team. On defense, the C’s allow the eighth-highest ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts in the league. (The Bulls are just about league average in this category). The Celtics are actually quite good at getting to line; they rank sixth in offensive FTA/FGA ratio, so it makes sense that the free throw line is a wash for them.
Total FTAs in the series are almost exactly even after the first two games; the C’s had the edge in Game 1, 27-22, and Chicago won the FTA battle in Game 2, 29-25. (It adds up to a 52-51 edge for the C’s).
Here’s how the Eastern Conference teams rank in various FTA categories:
Team FTA margin overall FTA margin at home FTA margin on road
Bos -0.4 +0.2 -1.1
Cle +1.4 +2.6 +0.3
ATL +3.4 +3.9 +3.4
MIA -2.6 +0.2 -5.4
CHI -0.3 +4.2 -4.7
DET -2.4 -1.2 -3.4
ORL +4.5 +6.9 +1.9
PHI +5.1 +5.4 +5.0
• Orlando and Philly are the rare teams who are both good at getting to the line on offense (Philly’s #4 in FTA/FGA, Orlando’s #7) and avoiding fouls on defense (Orlando has the fourth-lowest defensive FTA/FGA, Philly is #8). That combination is hard to achieve, and it’s the product of both coaching and player skill. I spoke to Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu earlier this year for a story on Orlando’s defense that never quite panned out, and they both mentioned how Stan Van Gundy preaches the importance of avoiding reach-in fouls and contesting jump-shooters without fouling.
Orlando is near the bottom of the league in forcing turnovers (26th in turnover rate), and that makes sense–fewer gambles and reaches = fewer turnovers forced and fewer fouls committed. That makes what Philly’s doing even more remarkable. The Sixers force turnovers at the third-highest rate in the league (trailing only Milwaukee and Utah), and they do it without fouling a lot.
The Western Conference numbers, after the jump.
Team FTA margin FTA margin/home FTA margin/road
LAL +2.0 +1.7 +2.1
UTA +1.5 +5.0 -2.0
POR +2.5 +5.3 -0.2
HOU +2.1 +4.0 +0.2
SAS +0.1 +0.9 -0.8
NOH -0.5 +1.4 -2.6
DEN +3.1 +6.5 -0.2
DAL -0.6 +1.2 -2.5