It’s become something of a common refrain among Knicks fans that Carmelo Anthony “never gets any calls.” (Full disclosure: I am a Knicks fan, though I do not belong to this particular sect of fandom.) The story goes that the ratio of contact taken to fouls drawn for Carmelo is very high, and that he does not get the “superstar treatment” his peers are awarded by the whistleblowers. The complaints often reach a particular fever pitch against physical teams with bruising power forwards against whom Carmelo is matched – an early season Memphis game, multiple Bulls games, and the last two Pacers games immediately come to mind when recalling instances that fans were particularly adamant that Melo was getting the short shrift on the whistles.
Before diving into the tape from Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, let’s acknowledge a few facts facts. First, Carmelo Anthony drew an average 6.2 personal fouls per game this season, 4th in the NBA behind only Dwight Howard, James Harden and Kevin Durant, per NBA.com. Prorated per 36 minutes, Anthony drew just 0.1 fewer fouls than Durant, 0.4 fewer than Harden, and 0.5 more than LeBron James.
Second, when compared to his superstar peers, Carmelo takes an unusually low percentage of his shots from inside the lane, where fouls are most often drawn. Only 33.6 percent of Anthony’s field goal attempts this season came from inside the lane, per NBA.com. By way of comparison, that number was 40.5 percent for Kobe Bryant, 44.1 percent for Durant, 47.6 percent for Harden, 49.9 percent for Russell Westbrook, 51.5 percent for James, and 60.1 percent for Dwyane Wade.
Based on the foregoing, it’s tough to conclude that Anthony was the victim of a lack of calls throughout this season. Of course, those are just the numbers. You’d have to watch the tape of every game played this season and track “contact” compared to fouls drawn to really know if it were true, a task too tall for even the most intrepid NBA writer (note: I’m not the most intrepid NBA writer, I just liked that turn of phrase). As such, we’re going to stick strictly to Game 1 of the Pacers series to see if Carmelo was really the victim of uncalled fouls yesterday afternoon.
Indiana was the league’s best interior defensive team this season. They surrendered the second fewest attempts per game in the restricted area and held their opponents to the lowest field goal percentage in the league on those attempts. Their opponents also shot the third worst percentage in the league on shots inside the paint, but outside the restricted area. Additionally, the Pacers were a pretty foul-averse team this season. Despite playing such tough interior defense, only eight teams sent opponents to the free throw line less often as a percentage of field goal attempts, per NBA.com.
A look at Carmelo’s Game 1 shot chart shows that he was unusually aggressive attacking the basket – 13 of his 28 field goal attempts – 46.5 percent, a stark 11.9 percent increase from his season-long average – came inside the lane. From watching the tape, it’s clear that it was a priority of his to get into the lane and challenge Indiana’s bigs at the rim. 12 of those attempts came inside the restricted area, and he made only three. Those plays were the primary source of ire among Knicks fans who felt Melo was wanting for calls in Game 1.
With use of video from mySynergySports, I re-watched the game with a close eye on whether Anthony was the victim of a blown call on any given play, with special attention paid to those plays where he attempted a shot inside. In the interest of posterity, we’ll examine only the plays that were possible fouls and leave the relatively clean and uncontested jumpers aside.
We’ll start midway through the first quarter with a play that would become emblematic of something we’d see throughout the afternoon. Anthony drives the lane and challenges Hibbert at the rim. Hibbert, rather than jumping out toward Melo to contest the shot, jumps straight up and backwards so as to ensure he does not make contact and get called for a foul. The referee rightly keeps his whistle in his pocket.
Here is the first time Carmelo actively gripes about an uncalled foul, something that would happen numerous times throughout the game. Hibbert starts his challenge inside the restricted area and again jumps straight up and backwards to avoid fouling Anthony. His arm swings down at the last second, after Anthony has already put up his layup. Sometimes this is called a foul, sometimes it’s not.
Later in the first quarter, on a play where Anthony was called for a travel, we get a picture perfect look at Hibbert’s style of contesting shots at the rim. Hibbert’s 7’2″ frame is perfectly straight up and down, and again he is jumping up and backwards rather than thrusting his body toward Anthony at the moment he goes up for his shot. It happened to be irrelevant on this play because Melo shuffled his feet before the shot, but it is still a good view of Hibbert’s style.
It’s hard to tell if Anthony is just pumped up or in want of a foul on this play, but it again appears to be a rather perfect contest at the rim from Hibbert. At risk of sounding like a broken record, he simply jumps straight up and backwards rather than forwards when contesting the shot. His arms are long enough that he can still be in the way of the attempt even while falling back and out of bounds. On the layup attempt off the rebound, Carmelo is relatively uncontested and clearly untouched.
It’s likely that there are two fouls on this play. First, on Paul George for putting both hands on Carmelo’s back and shoving him slightly while he’s battling for position on the block. This is the kind of by-the-book foul that rarely gets called and would draw tons of “REALLY? You’re calling THAT a foul? Did you even watch the Grizzlies-Clippers series?!?!?” comments on Twitter. However, David West pretty clearly gets a piece of Melo’s head and arm on the layup attempt, and should have been called for a foul.
Here, another drive into the lane and directly at Hibbert. Melo throws a good pump fake that would get most defenders to bite and come down with their arms for a foul, but Hibbert just stands straight up and doesn’t move. He doesn’t even do his “jump backwards” routine this time. West then blocks Melo’s shot from behind.
Moving to the second half, this is another play where George could have been called for a ticky-tack-yet-still-by-the-book foul while battling for post position. He has both hands on Melo’s back, shoves him lightly, and then reaches around for the ball on the entry pass. On the attempt at the rim, that’s probably a 50-50 call. Sometimes you’ll see the guy in George’s position called for a foul (and this is the case on one play in the 4th quarter), and other times it goes uncalled. Generally, these kind of plays even out over the course of a game.
Hibbert pretty clearly gets a clean block on Melo’s drive right here, yet you still see Melo pull his patented “palms to the sky, spin around looking bemused” face to ask for a call. (Side note: Does he have this patented? He should get it patented. It might infringe on Tim Duncan’s patent though. We’ll have to check.)
Melo gets the foul call here, and this pretty clearly should have been a flagrant on Tyler Hansbrough. He swings his arm down directly on Melo’s head, which fits the NBA’s definition of a Flagrant 1 under “unnecessary” contact.
An offense foul was called on this play, where Hibbert again pulled his “jump straight up and backwards” routine, only he fell down at the end. This is a bad call.
Hibbert, for seemingly the first time all game, doesn’t go straight up and down, but rather jumps out toward Melo to contest his dunk, resulting in a clear blow to the face that absolutely should have been called a foul.
Another perfectly clean block by Hibbert after going straight up and down results in a jump ball.
This is the 50-50 type play referenced above. George doesn’t make much – if any – contact with Melo on his own. His hands are straight up in the air and he appears to be backing off rather than actively challenging Melo’s shot. But he’s not fully in position and doesn’t beat Melo to the spot in the lane when Melo lowers his shoulder and makes contact, so a foul is called. Again, these types of plays generally tend to even out over the course of a game.
And that’s it. On 12 plays that could be described as “close,” there were two clear uncalled fouls, one personal foul that probably should have been a flagrant, and one offensive foul that should have been a no call. Most of the “bad” calls (three of four) came in the 4th quarter, but by that point in the game, the Knicks and Carmelo in particular had been complaining about missed foul calls on plays that were not clear fouls for such a long time that it likely affected what the refs would and would not call. That’s not something that should happen, but it often cannot be helped, especially with a team as notoriously complain-y as the Knicks.
Based on all this, it’s probably a stretch to say that Melo was the clear victim of uncalled fouls. There were a couple plays where he should have gotten calls but didn’t, but he also drew a pretty cheap 50-50 foul on George late in the game. It was a physical game, the officials were letting a lot of contact go on both ends, and most of the plays that drew the ire of Knicks players and fans were pretty clean blocks due to textbook help defense by Hibbert.