The Bucks draw 24.5 fouls per game, most in the NBA.
Last season they were 20th overall, drawing 20.2 opponent fouls per game. Over the offseason, there was a lot of talk about the team needing to add offensive players to put pressure on opposing defenses, draw fouls, and get to the free throw line, where the team had an historically calamitous free throw rate differential of -10.82 (next worst was -4.59).
And so here they are: First in drawing fouls... and last in offensive efficiency. Not the type of inverse relationship you expect, and not consistent with other foul-drawing trends this season:
|Fouls drawn per game
There isn't much wrong with drawing fouls. You get other team's individual players in foul trouble, you get closer to getting the other team in the penalty, you get to shoot free throws, or at the very least you get to re-start the offense on an out-of-bounds play (typical Milwaukee Bucks out-of-bounds play).
Of course, re-starting this offense usually amounts to little more than delaying the inevitable -- which is in essence spending a fair amount of time and energy before ultimately indirectly (via rim, backboard, etc.) giving the basketball to the other team. That is to say, the Bucks have the least efficient offense in basketball. Getting better, but still not so good. Still, actually, the worst.
So why are teams fouling the least threatening offensive team, and why isn't drawing all of those fouls turning Milwaukee into a more threatening offensive team?
Well, Brandon Jennings plays the most minutes and has the ball in his hands the most -- and he is drawing far more fouls than last season. That stems from him both shooting more at the rim (3.9 attempts per game from 3.5 last year), and more importantly, getting a lot more aggressive, confident, and successful at the rim (51.9 % at the rim from 42.7 %). It doesn't seem like he is getting a ton of star calls yet, but it also doesn't seem like he is a star yet. In any event, he is making more free throws (4.0 per game) than he attempted (3.3) as a rookie.
And so too is the team as a whole following that trend: The Bucks are making 20.6 free throws per game on 73.7 % shooting after making only 15.4 on 75.5 %. So, yes, as you might expect for a team suddenly leading the league in drawing fouls, they are shooting a lot more free throws, and they are actually making more (20.6) than they attempted last season (20.4).
Jennings has upped his Draw-Foul-Percentage from 6.5 % to 9.8 % according to 82games.com. So teams are fouling Jennings more because he is vastly improved taking the ball to the rim. But that doesn't help explain why the team is even worse off offensively than last year. Fortunately for the team but unfortunately for the purpose of figuring out this fouling-to-lack-of-points phenomenon, Jennings is an improved all-around offensive player so far (although not so drastically in most every other area as compared to finishing at the rim).
The offseason pickups of Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden were made with offense in mind, and they have histories of getting to and converting at the line. And they are still doing that.
Maggette has a huge 26.0 % Draw-Foul-Percentage so far, he isn't getting blocked as much as last season, and his And-One-Percentage is way up to 7.8 % -- that number puts up among the NBA leaders, near Dwight Howard and above Dwyane Wade.
But that number suggesting apparent finishing ability flies in the face of his shooting at the rim in general, which is way down (from 66.2 % to 50.0 %). Maggette is leading the Bucks by making 5.0 free throws per game in just 20.8 minutes, but that is pretty much the only area where he is truly excelling -- and that includes defense (and it turns out that offense-first players who aren't playing much offense also aren't going to play much in general for Scott Skiles).
Gooden is at a 13.3 % Draw-Foul-Percentage, which puts him ahead of Andrew Bogut (not so difficult at 10.5 %), not at all bad for a jump-shooting power forward. His free throw rate and free throw percentage (74.5) are both around his career averages. But like Maggette, his overall field goal percentage is way off career norms, all the way down to 41.4 %.
We noted last week that Maggette is putting up better numbers in losses -- more shots, more points, more rebounds, and more assists. Which should not surprise given that Maggette came in largely being known for a few things: scoring, losing, and scoring while losing.
Gooden has played on good and bad teams, and he came in with something of a reputation as a skilled offensive player but also one who might be prone to break plays. But he has also played on just about one-third of all of the teams, so his numbers-to-impact correlation has never been clear. And that remains so in Milwaukee.
The possibility here is that adding players to fix one offensive problem might also cause multiple, larger problems in other areas. It would not have required much foresight to realize that could happen. Maggette and Gooden were never players that I pined for or worried about when they were on other teams despite their respectable numbers. But now they are not even putting up those respectable numbers. That, to this degree, was impossible to see coming.
So drawing fouls has not produced enough points by itself, but it is quietly producing points -- the team just isn't scoring enough overall because a lot of individuals are not repeating (or even impersonating) past performances in other areas. Once they do start to resemble themselves, rather if they do, you have to figure that the foul-drawing and free throw shooting will remain nice and steady. And that gives some reason to hope that the offense could come all the way back around to what we hoped or thought (those two always blur together in the offseason) before the year.