The Sacramento Kings and their fans are taking issue with the officiating in a game in Los Angeles against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Two key decisions by the referees ended up deciding the game last night. First came the foul call against Harrison Barnes with 5 seconds remaining. With the Kings in the penalty, LeBron James was sent to the line. He sank both free throws. There was certainly some contact on the play, but in the closing seconds of a tie game it seemed to be a tight whistle that benefited the league’s marquee player on the league’s marquee team.
With seconds remaining, the Kings inbounded the ball to Harrison Barnes, who split two defenders but stumbled. Barnes may have been tripped by LeBron as he was moving between defenders. In the moment, it seemed like a fair situation for no whistle. Barnes then drove into a waiting Anthony Davis. Davis was certainly not vertical when he met Barnes, but as time expired the officials swallowed their whistle, rather than call a foul against Davis. The foul by Davis seems more obvious in replays than it did in the moment, and it’s not surprising that refs are reluctant to make that call in that scenario. Nonetheless, it ended the game.
After the game, Buddy Hield was unhappy with how it had played out. He told The Athletic’s Jason Jones:
At first glance, Buddy seems right. The Kings shot just 9 free throws to the Lakers’ 22. But this is hardly the first game where the Kings have struggled to draw fouls, it’s just the most glaring example. Even before last night’s game, the Kings were 26th in the NBA in free throw attempts per game. Last night’s game dropped them to 28th, at just 19.8 attempts per game.
As much as we’d like it to be the case, this isn’t just an issue with the refs and league being biased against the Kings (although they obviously are, as can proven with science and such). The Kings don’t draw fouls.
Earlier this season I wrote about how critical Fox’s foul-drawing ability was for the Kings. With him gone and with Marvin Bagley III still out for a few more weeks, there’s nobody to pick up the slack. Buddy Hield is vocal about the refs, but Buddy is drawing 1.2 fouls per game, and not all of those are shooting fouls. Bogdan Bogdanovic draws just 2.5 fouls per game.
How do the Kings fix this, other than waiting for Bagley and Fox to return? It’s not clear. Normally you draw fouls by attacking the basket. But does anyone want to see Buddy try to dribble into the defense to draw a foul? His decision making and turnovers this season suggest that wouldn’t result in the desired outcome.
The key is likely going to be Bogi. In the two games without Fox, Bogdanovic has drawn 5 fouls per game, a stark increase from the previous 9 games. The Kings need him to be aggressive, but he can’t fix the issue alone.
I don’t have a good solution for this problem. Hopefully Luke Walton does.