Scouting the 2024 NBA Finals Officiating Team

Scouting the 2024 NBA Finals Officiating Team

Scouting the 2024 NBA Finals Officiating Team

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    Scott Foster and Devin Booker

    Scott Foster and Devin BookerChristian Petersen/Getty Images

    On Tuesday, the NBA revealed the list of 12 referees (and two alternates) who’ll officiate the 2024 NBA Finals between the Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics.

    “Each of these 12 officials have shown excellent skills, focus and commitment throughout the season and in the previous playoff rounds,” NBA President of League Operations Byron Spruell said. “Congratulations to this group for earning the right to work on the game’s biggest stage, the NBA Finals.”

    NBA Communications @NBAPR

    The NBA today announced the list of game officials assigned to the NBA Finals 2024 presented by YouTube TV.


    Now, the scrutiny starts.

    In the NBA, the three officials assigned to call these games can and often do have huge impacts. There are only 13 people on the floor at a time, and the refs make up nearly a quarter of that total.

    Their calls and tendencies don’t influence the outcome anywhere near as much as the players, but pretending there’s no effect is foolish.

    That’s why at least one team (the New York Knicks) actually scouted officials this postseason. And it’s why Bleacher Report will do the same below.

The Veterans

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    Anthony Edwards, Peyton Watson, Marc Davis, Michael Malone and Aaron Gordon

    Anthony Edwards, Peyton Watson, Marc Davis, Michael Malone and Aaron GordonAAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post

    Five of the 12 officials named Tuesday have already worked at least 10 Finals.

    Scott Foster is about to be in his 17th such series (and we’ll have more on him later). Tony Brothers and Marc Davis are about to get to their 13th each. James Capers will be on No. 12. And Zach Zarba will be in his 11th Finals.

    Davis (pictured above) is a no-nonsense official who allows a ton of contact. His assignment to two games in the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets series surely had an impact. The more physical team, Minnesota, won both of those contests. And this regular season, his games included 4.4 fewer free-throw attempts per contest than the league average.

    As for Brothers, he’s typically allowed less leeway for players, both in terms of technical and common fouls, than Davis. He leads this postseason in games officiated at 13, and his games have averaged 40.1 foul calls (compared to Davis’ 34.7).

    Capers has done 10 games in these playoffs, and those contests have been below the league average in field-goal attempts, free-throw attempts and points per game. That trend held throughout the regular season, which suggests the possibility of lower-scoring games when he’s on assignment.

    Finally, there’s Zarba, who’s sort of the opposite of Capers. This postseason, his games have featured fewer fouls and more points, shots and free throws than the average. Teams that are willing and able to get up and down the floor could thrive with him there.

    And for all five of the above (including Foster), home teams have a positive point differential in the games they’ve called.

The Up-and-Comers

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    Kevin Scott and James Williams

    Kevin Scott and James WilliamsBart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

    The other seven officials assigned to the this series are John Goble (eighth Finals), David Guthrie (seventh), Bill Kennedy (sixth), Josh Tiven (fifth), Courtney Kirkland (fourth), James Williams (fourth) and Kevin Scott (second).

    Goble is another official whose games are called a little tighter. And this postseason, home teams have had a better winning percentage when he’s in action, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate he’s favoring that side.

    In games called by he and Guthrie, a comfortably higher percentage of foul calls go against the home team. Guthrie is also the first official mentioned so far whose games feature a negative point differential for the home team.

    Kennedy, meanwhile, just wrapped up his third straight season in which the home team had a slightly lower winning percentage with him in action than the league average. And they’re an even .500 with him this postseason.

    Tiven, Kirkland and Williams‘ games all featured negative differentials for the away team this postseason as well, though those teams actually had above-.500 winning percentages with Kirkland.

    Finally, the wild card may be Scott. Home teams have been outscored by 4.3 points per game when he’s in action during these playoffs. They’re 4-6 in those contests. And they’re called for nearly 60 percent of the fouls.

Mavericks or Celtics

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    James Capers and Jayson Tatum

    James Capers and Jayson TatumJustin Casterline/Getty Images

    Obviously, a lot of the numbers here suggest an advantage for the Celtics, who’ll get the first two games at home and four of seven if the series goes the distance.

    But none of the stats are screaming some overwhelming edge for Boston that goes above and beyond typical home-court advantage.

    Whatever impact the officials might have on this series is likely going to come down to individual contests. With three per game and the possibility of seven games, there could be 21 different assignments for 12 refs.

    If Scott happens to get two of the games in Boston, perhaps there’s some slight benefit to the Mavericks. If Davis gets a couple games, the more physical team (which is also Dallas, at least according to postseason fouls per game) might get a slight edge.

    Will that be enough to overcome the general advantage home teams seem to have from most of this group of officials? Probably not, especially when we factor in the potential Foster effect.

Scott Foster

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    Scott Foster

    Scott FosterRich Storry/Getty Images

    Few officials in NBA history have the reputation of Scott Foster.

    He’s had years worth of friction with Chris Paul. That’s mostly irrelevant with CP3 not in the playoffs, but it does show he’s not afraid to butt heads with stars.

    The 57-year-old has a hype video that seems to make the rounds on social media every time he’s assigned to a high-profile game.

    He has his own nickname (“The Extender,” because fans often think his calls can extend the series for a team facing elimination), for crying out loud.

    And for his entire career, home teams have had a better winning percentage when he’s calling the game than they do on average. That would seem to favor Boston, and this season specifically, the Celtics were 6-0 in games called by Foster. He only called seven shooting fouls per game on them.

    The Mavs, meanwhile, were 3-2 in games called by Foster, with 10.8 shooting fouls per game called on them.

    Of course, the results of all of those contests had more to do with the players than Foster. Individual circumstances of each game obviously played a factor too.

    In the Finals, though, especially with two teams as evenly matched as Boston (which has the best roster) and Dallas (which has the best player), the tiniest influences can make a difference.

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