Skip to main content
Which NBA Team Is Wronged By The Refs The Most?

The relationship between NBA players and referees has arguably never been more strained than it is right now.

In January, Golden State forward Draymond Green — who is never shy about complaining and already has a league-high 14 technical fouls — said that too many refs carry personal vendettas against players and that the NBA should consider replacing its entire crop of referees. Kevin Durant, who is Green’s teammate and started the season with one ejection in his entire 10-year career, leads the NBA this year, with four early exits. And this week, Paul George and LeBron James have both outlined what they perceive to be biases in how games are officiated.1

When the NBA’s biggest names are complaining about something, it’s obviously going to get a lot of attention. But that doesn’t necessarily mean those voices have the biggest reason to complain. That honor belongs to the Brooklyn Nets. Through Wednesday, Brooklyn had seen more blown foul calls than any other club this season, according to our analysis of The Pudding’s compilation of the NBA’s “Last Two Minute” reports. In those, the league evaluates the accuracy of calls and non-calls made by officials at the end of close games.2

Through Wednesday, the Nets had been disadvantaged by an official’s incorrect call or incorrect non-call 28 times this season. In second place is Dallas, with 26.

To get a sense of the sorts of plays that have hurt the Nets, watch the clips below, which highlight several sequences that the league later determined should have drawn whistles in Brooklyn’s favor. One involves Nets swingman Allen Crabbe, who managed to score a tough bucket despite being bumped by one defender and being fallen upon by another at the conclusion of the play. Two other examples show forward DeMarre Carroll being bumped or swiped across the arm while trying to get a shot off during the last 20 seconds of play. After many of the plays, you can see Brooklyn players turn to officials in disbelief over the fact that no foul was called.

There are a handful of interesting takeaways from this data. For starters, it seems to provide evidence to support comments made by Brooklyn guard Spencer Dinwiddie in January suggesting that this young Nets team gets less respect from officials than other clubs.

“To see the same type of respect not reciprocated is very frustrating for us,” Dinwiddie said after the Nets fell 87-85 to the Boston Celtics. “The other thing that’s very frustrating as well: We have these meetings as teams, or with [the players’ association], about respect, so we want to treat everybody with respect, right? Because everybody’s doing their job, and they’re trying their best, including us, [even if] we turn the ball over or calls are missed or whatever it is. But when you approach somebody, and they shush you or they wave you off like you’re not a man, or something of that nature, that’s also very frustrating.”

On an individual level, Dinwiddie’s frustration may be justified. The 11 blown calls that left him disadvantaged led the league as of Wednesday and is a very high number considering there’s still more than a month left in the campaign. In fact, that figure is already tied for the highest number of calls that left a player disadvantaged in a single year since the NBA first began publishing these reports during the 2014-15 season. (The National Basketball Referees Association, which has long pushed for an end to the public reports, recently called them “pointless.” The union argues that publishing the corrections, which ultimately have no impact on the standings, only creates more division, despite the transparency that the NBA is aiming for.)

These players have the most legitimate complaints

The NBA players who had the most blown calls against them (incorrect calls and incorrect non-calls) in the last two minutes of 2017-18 games when the score was within 3 points, through Feb. 28

Player Team Bad Calls Bad Non-Calls Total
1 Spencer Dinwiddie Nets 1 10 11
2 Will Barton Nuggets 1 7 8
3 Dennis Smith Jr. Mavericks 0 7 7
3 LeBron James Cavaliers 0 7 7
5 DeMar DeRozan Raptors 0 6 6
5 Kristaps Porzingis Knicks 0 6 6
7 Dennis Schroder Hawks 1 4 5
7 J.J. Barea Mavericks 1 4 5
7 Josh Richardson Heat 0 5 5
7 Kemba Walker Hornets 0 5 5
7 Marcus Smart Celtics 0 5 5
7 Nikola Jokic Nuggets 3 2 5

Sources: NBA ‘Last Two Minute’ Reports, The Pudding

In the Jan. 23 Nets-Thunder game, according to the report, Dinwiddie was disadvantaged twice — smacked on offense (with no call) and then bulldozed on defense (also with no call) — within a two-second span during the final 10 seconds. By swallowing the whistle both times, the officials likely sealed a loss for the Nets — in particular, the second non-call would have triggered an offensive foul on George, which would have kept Russell Westbrook from making a game-winning basket seconds later. (Worth noting: Going back to the 2014-15 season, we found that incorrect non-calls occur about 8.4 times more frequently than incorrect calls, suggesting that referees would rather risk missing a call than calling a phantom foul that ends up deciding a game.)

Said Dinwiddie of the play: “It’s like, that’s Russell Westbrook and Paul George … and I’m Spencer Dinwiddie.”

Whether it’s a respect issue or just a mere coincidence, five of the six NBA teams that have seen the most blown calls this season — Brooklyn, Dallas, Denver, Atlanta and Chicago — each lack a bona-fide, go-to star in the most traditional sense. None possesses a 20-point-per-game scorer, perhaps making it tougher for officials to anticipate who’d be most likely to draw a foul in a given situation.

While Brooklyn has almost certainly dropped at least a game or two as a result of these missed calls — this ultimately benefits the Cavs, since the Nets don’t own their first-round pick anyway — some additional details around this subject are helpful in understanding the full picture here.

First off: The Nets have played a relatively large number of games that went down to the wire, meaning that officials may have been forced to make more decisions — both correct and incorrect ones — in situations involving Brooklyn than with most other teams. The Nets have the fourth-highest of rate of incorrect calls against them this season, at 9.8 percent — meaning that nearly 10 percent of all possible calls in the Last Two Minute reports that could have gone against them did. That’s a high number, but not astronomically so compared with the leaguewide average of 6.8 percent this season.

Another detail that suggests officiating equity: That a team as awful as Orlando — in contention for the top overall draft pick — has the second-lowest blown-call rate in the league (4.1 percent, ahead of only Detroit) is a relatively strong counterexample to the notion that a team needs a star to get late-game calls to go its way.

Taking the opposite approach from Dinwiddie, Carroll said he wanted his teammates to stop focusing so much on how the games were being officiated.

“Hollering at the refs, screaming at them — that isn’t going to do us justice,” said Carroll, who was grabbed on the wrist while going up for a shot in the closing seconds of an overtime loss to New Orleans but got no call. “They’re human just like we are, so at the end of the day, we’ve got to try something different, maybe. Hopefully it works.”

CORRECTION (March 2, 7:05 p.m.): The analysis in this article originally miscounted “bad calls”/incorrect calls — in which refs made a call that shouldn’t have been made. Those calls were counted as disadvantaging the opponent of the team they were made against but should have been counted as hurting the team whistled for an infraction. The text and charts have been updated throughout. In correcting the analysis, the number of 2017-18 games that were included in the analysis was extended, from Feb. 15 to Feb. 28.

Check out our latest NBA predictions.


  1. The players and officials met during the All-Star break to talk about their differences, but it’s unclear how much that has helped, if at all. One report suggested that some officials were disappointed by the lack of star-player turnout at the meeting.

  2. Specifically, in the NBA’s words: “officiated events that occurred in the last two minutes of games that were within 3 points at any time in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter or the last two minutes of any overtime period.”

Chris Herring is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.