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What Kind of Whistle is Giannis Antetokounmpo Getting?

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Behold a few examples and explanations from the NBA’s Ref Union

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a common refrain among Bucks fans this year as Giannis Antetokounmpo skies to the basket: “That’s a foul! How can you not call that?” Last Saturday night’s win over the Spurs withstanding, there has been plenty of consternation among Bucks Nation regarding whether the striped shirts are giving a fair whistle to everyone’s favorite length machine.

Well, now we have a chance to get a little explanation thanks to the NBA Referees Association (@OfficialNBARefs). They’re allowing SBNation to send in videos for explanations regarding the calls (or lack there-of) on a particular play. Please follow and pay homage to the video god, Dean Maniatt (@AllTheBucks) for grabbing these clips for us to send over. First, let’s dive into what everyone cares about: no calls at the basket.


Example #1: Marvin Williams hits Giannis’ forearm, no foul called

Here’s an explanation, straight from the source:

This is a foul. We are trained to look for point of contact between the defender’s hand and the offensive player’s arm, and we missed this one. After slowing the video down a few times, and looking at a different angle just to be sure, the right handheld camera angle appears to show illegal contact on the left forearm of Antetokounmpo. Below is an image from the angle we used:

Ah-ha, we got ‘em! Personally, I sympathize with refs given the vast number of calls that probably happen each game that I’d have no luck seeing at all. Still, it feels a little vindicating to know that in this particular instance, collective outrage was warranted. It doesn’t correct much, but it does illustrate a willingness to admit wrongs. If that gives you no comfort, let’s keep monitoring the situation throughout the year to see if Giannis starts to get a friendlier whistle.

For what it’s worth, Giannis is at a career-high in terms of percentage of his shots he’s fouled on, 20% this year. It’s up incrementally 19.3% and 19.1% the last two years, but his mark also ranks in the 100th percentile, per Cleaning The Glass, among forwards. James Harden, foul-drawing God, draws them on 17.1% of his shots. So, while we may feel Giannis is not getting a fair whistle, refs may point to that figure and say the opposite. Of course, we can come back with, “Imagine how historically high that figure would be if he got the right calls!”


Example #2: Traveling violation called

As for another more commonly debated issue: trying to call whether Giannis traveled or not. His lengthy stride and defying description Euro-step seem too nuts to believe oftentimes, but here’s an example where traveling was called and the refs offer up a pretty descriptive explanation.

Again, the explanation verbatim:

This is not a gather play. When Antetokounmpo receives the pass and lands, he establishes a pivot foot. In this case, he lands simultaneously and either his right or left foot may be a legal pivot foot. In order for this to be a legal move, the ball must be out of his hand to begin his dribble before his pivot foot is raised off the floor. Antetokounmpo needs 1 dribble in the sequence in order for it to be legal. Rule 10 section 13 (D) states: “If a player, with the ball in his possession, raises his pivot foot off the floor, he must pass or shoot before his pivot foot returns to the floor. If he drops the ball while in the air, he may not be the first to touch the ball.”

To my mind, that explanation makes sense, and is a fitting application of what must be an insane amount of rules to try and memorize. There are plenty more examples of this very play, and in particular his mammoth transition plays, but it does provide a prime chance to dive a bit more into Giannis’ turnover issues this season. His 16.9% turnover percentage is the worst since his rookie year, and while his usage is the highest ever (33.0%), it’s only 1.5% points up from last year.

He’s at roughly the same number of personal fouls per game (3.1) as the last few years, but his defensive foul percentage has dipped to a career low, meaning his offensive fouls have increased a little bit over years’ past. Per Basketball Reference, whose play-by-play data is admittedly unofficial, they have him at 18 offensive fouls committed already this year. That puts him at pace for roughly 72 on the year, whereas his career high committed was 49 his sophomore season. On the season, they also list him at 40 “other” turnovers, of which part of that broad category is traveling. Unfortunately I haven’t compiled official data on traveling calls, but I’d say offensive fouls have seemed like a bigger bugaboo.

The primary point of the above explanation is likely less relevant to most people’s concerns than fouls at the basket though. Traveling isn’t seen quite as often with Giannis, whereas his bullying beneath the basket is a nightly affair. We’ll try to track how Giannis is refereed going forward, but hopefully this provided a little insight into the thinking behind some of the calls thus far.