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Stat of the Week: Drawing fouls

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The Denver Nuggets employ some of the best players in the NBA at drawing fouls.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

This week’s edition of the Stat of the Week focuses on the ability to draw personal fouls. The Nuggets have six players that shoot an average of 3.5 free throws per contest, but three I will focus on specifically are Danilo Gallinari, Jusuf Nurkic, and Emmanuel Mudiay. All three players are skilled in different ways, but one of the most underrated tools in the tool belt for each player is the ability to get to the free throw line.

Matt Femrite of Nylon Calculus picked up on this during the middle of last week and explained just how skilled Gallo, Nurk, and the Nuggets as a whole are:

That’s right. No team in the history of the NBA spent more time in the bonus than the Nuggets did against the Toronto Raptors. They played an inefficient game in Canada, especially in the fourth quarter, but foul shots kept them in it.

The numbers are slightly outdated to this point, but both Gallo and Nurk average five free throw attempts per game at this point in the season. Gallo has a free throw rate of 40.5 percent (free throws per field goal attempt), while Nurk’s is 48.4 percent. Both numbers are reasonably high for their positions, even though they combined for just four free throw attempts Sunday evening.

Mudiay in particular has shown a propensity to go downhill more and more frequently of late, and he’s drawn more fouls and scored a ton of points at the line because of it. Improving his efficiency at the free throw line obviously helped, but in the Boston game (before lighting up from the perimeter), Mudiay spent a ton of time in the paint. His free throw rate (38.6 percent) and free throw percentage (88.2 percent) have helped keep his efficiency above water.

This is a theme for the entire Nuggets team. When shots aren’t falling, they don’t settle for jumpers nearly as often as they did last year. The entire team has bought into the attacking the rim system of Malone and Chris Finch, and they currently lead the league in free throw attempts and free throw rate. Will Barton actually leads the team in free throw attempts per contest at 6.3, but he wasn’t included in the analysis as he’s only suited up for three games. That said, he’s another player who attacks the paint with reckless abandon.

Hopefully, the trends continue. Free throw rate is one of the designated “four factors” for offensive success, and having the best free throw rate involves drawing fouls at a high rate as well. With skilled foul drawers in Mudiay, Gallinari, Nurkic, and Barton, the Nuggets have something to fall back on for offensive efficiency.