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Shouldn’t Technical Fouls Matter in the MVP Race?

April 8, 2011


Stop taking your sweet-ass time at the line and you won't get the tech, Dwight. Just sayin'. (Photo Credit:

Even if you’re just a casual NBA watcher, you may have noticed the rumors that Derrick Rose will receive the Most Valuable Player award this year (heck, we’ve even covered it a few times on this blog).  This wasn’t always the case.  As the season progressed and the Bulls‘ record improved, the national press (who vote for the winner of the award) realized that this humble player from Chicago was making a statement on the court.  While the Bulls’ bandwagon got heavier, there was also a growing chorus of folks, particularly advanced stats guys, who argued that D.Rose was really not the most effective player and therefore did not deserve the MVP award.  John Hollinger is one of those guys and he’s been steadfast in his assertion that Dwight Howard is really the guy who has a larger impact on the game because of his improved ability to score in the post and his incredible ability to alter shots in the five foot radius around the basket.

Two nights ago, Dwight Howard was called for his 18th technical foul of the season.  Why is this significant?  Mainly for two reasons: 1) that’s more than any other player in the league and 2) after a player reaches his 16th technical foul, he receives a one-game suspension and receives more one-game suspensions for every 2nd technical afterwards.

By the way, I’m not sure how I feel about how Dwight got his technical.  He’s a notoriously slow free throw shooter (for reasons unclear to me, as it doesn’t seem to improve his efficacy at all and other players have drawn attention to the matter during the course of a game), sometimes taking more than the allotted 10 seconds to shoot them.  He’s been warned about the matter and was called for doing it on Wednesday.  As Dwight turned the ball over, the referee thought that Dwight was a bit too petulant in his manner, and called him for the technical.

Anyway, Howard’s 18th technical foul means that he will sit out the nationally televised game against the Bulls on this Sunday.  I started to wonder – why don’t advanced stat folks count technical fouls in the calculations of player efficiency?  Here are some of the ways that technical fouls can hurt a team:

  1. It could give points to the other team.  For every technical foul, a player of the opposing team shoots one free throw.  Sometimes this doesn’t matter in the final score but in close games, this makes a huge difference.
  2. Technicals draw unwanted attention from referees and probably don’t make the player any more credible when arguing calls later in the game.  Despite the common complaints about the impact of referees on games, I find that referees do get most of the calls right (it’s just those few calls that they get wrong that can be the ones that twist a knife sometimes).  However, I also imagine that it’s hard not to be at least slightly unconsciously irritated by a player who does enough to warrant a technical foul.  Referees have the discretion to call technical fouls on players who display unsportsmanlike conduct, including excessive whining or contempt.  If a player gets a technical foul for this reason, he’s probably not going to be any more credible later that game or that season, even if he’s right about something.
  3. Potential suspensions during crucial games in the latter half of the season.  Look, it’s different if a team is a cellar-dweller and has no chance to make the playoffs because a suspension won’t matter.  On the other hand, if a team has something at stake at the end of the season like making the playoffs or playoff seeding, then shouldn’t an MVP do everything possible to make sure that he is able to play in those games?  While regular season technical fouls are wiped clean for the playoffs, the suspensions also start after technical foul #7.  If  team makes it to the conference finals or even the Finals, wouldn’t it be ridiculous to have to sit it out because of too many technical fouls?

With all this in mind, isn’t Dwight’s proclivity for technical fouls a liability that should be accounted for in the MVP race?  Even if D.Rose didn’t show an unusual aversion to technical fouls (he’s gotten two in his entire basketball playing career.), I’d still argue that Dwight only does a disservice to himself and his team at the worst point in the season.  Not exactly MVP-behavior, is it?  Who knows, even if Hollinger were to develop some sort of numerical measurement for negative impact of technical fouls, the results might show that D.Rose is still the less effective player.  However, wouldn’t it be interesting to try?


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