When it comes to the NBA, nothing bugs fans more than officials. Bad calls are part of the game and most people accept that, with the speed and power of the NBA, calls will get missed either way and things will even out. That's the hope, anyway, and I tend to believe it. Watch enough games without your homer hat on and you will see calls go both ways.
Sometimes, however, there's evidence that supports the main assertion of fallen
angel official Tim Donaghy, who, you might recall, was jailed for his involvement in betting on games. Donaghy claimed that he would give betting advice on games based on relationships between certain officials and certain players and coaches. He said he didn't need to fix games himself to guess the outcome with a high degree of accuracy simply because he knew the natural bias and animosity between the parties involved.
Last night's game between the Phoenix Suns and Oklahoma Thunder certainly falls into the category of suspicious. Before we look at what the data reveals about a certain referee, let's recap this game.
The Thunder went to the free throw line 47 times in the game, compared to just 14 for the Suns. That free throw attempt differential (-33) was the largest of the season for the Suns and it's the only NBA game this year where one team took over 45 free throws and the other team took 15 or less.
Sometimes when there's free throw disparities you can say that one team settled for outside shots while the other attacked the rim. But in this game, the Suns had 47 attempts in the paint compared to 36 for the Thunder. The Suns took 55 shots outside of 10 feet compared to 46 for Oklahoma.
As in any game where the officiating comes into question, there were crucial calls and non-calls.
A phantom swipe called on Steve Nash on a driving James Harden that the replay showed never made contact. A non-call on a crucial late possession where Westbrook clearly used a hand on Nash's hip to change his direction and cause a turnover. And most notably, a non-call on Kevin Durant as he came down hard enough on Channing Frye's arm to dislocate the shoulder, but not hard enough to earn a whistle.
One name, Bill Kennedy
Last night was about as bad as it gets, but there's a common theme we found by looking back at the data showing which officials worked which games and comparing that to free throw disparities. Here's what we found:
- On the season, the Suns are 25th in the league in getting to the line, but only ninth in fouling opponents. That translates to a total free throw differential of -17 on the season or just -.28 per game.
- 23 different officials have been assigned as crew chief to a Suns game. Nine have an average negative (for the Suns) free throw differential.
- The crew chief with the largest free throw differential for Suns games this season is Bill Kennedy, with -15 over four games.
- The official with the next largest free throw disparity for a crew chief that's worked at least three Suns games so far this season is Joe Crawford, -6.75. Derrick Safford had a -12 FTA differential in his one game.
- The Suns are 1-3 in Bill Kennedy officiated games this season, with the only victory coming in a 112-88 blowout of the Golden State Warriors. The Suns were -2 in free throw attempts in that game.
- Last season, the Suns were
1-64-2 in games officiated by Bill Kennedy and were a +.714 in free throw attempts. Kennedy was only crew chief for two of those games last season.
- Looking beyond crew chiefs, Brent Barnaky has worked three Suns games as assistant crew chief (two with Kennedy). He has an average free throw differential of -26.3 and was involved in three of the four highest negative free throw differential games the Suns played this season.
- No other officials outside of Kennedy and Barnaky show a similar pattern.
Here's a full list free throw differentials for crew chiefs who have worked at least three Suns games this season:
Crawford, Joe: -6.75
Davis, Marc: -6.4
Willard, Greg: -5.4
Malloy, Ed: -3.33
Foster, Scott: 0.25
Garretson, Ron: 2.8
Mauer, Ken: 3.5
McCutchen, Monty: 4
Salvatore, Bennett: 5.33
Crawford, D: 6.67
Maybe Tim Donaghy was full of crap like the league says, but personally, I wouldn't bet on the Suns to win any game officiated by Mr. Bill Kennedy.
[Update by Seth Pollack, 03/07/11 12:28 PM MST ]
This isn't the kind of thing anyone from the Suns organization will talk about on the record; however, there is some speculation that Kennedy is over-compensating because he's a Phoenix resident.