(From the FanPosts. - TZ)
Much has been made of Jason Thompson's foul troubles. Last season, he finished with 314 personal fouls in 82 games, and the second-place fouler was not even close. Paul Millsap of Utah tallied 288 fouls.
Big men are much more likely to foul than smaller players, given the intensity of the game near the basket. This is nothing new. But being among the leaders in fouls committed does not necessarily reflect poorly on a player. Some previous season leaders in total fouls include Shawn Kemp, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, and Hakeem Olajuwon. Of course, leading the league in fouls doesn't instantly make you a superstar. Just ask Shawn Bradley, Danny Fortson, Jason Collins, Ervin Johnson, and Mikki Moore.
If you look at the league leaders in total fouls committed so far in 2009-10, JT's got the eighth highest total (Greg Oden leads the pack). In personal fouls per game, JT is second. So, who cares if JT has a bunch of fouls?
Furthermore, are fouls necessarily bad? It entirely depends on the foul. Some fouls come during the recovery from a blown defensive assignment, while others are the product of hard-nosed defense. Some result in free points via free throws, while others limit the scoring from two sure points to zero points or one point.
With fouls, the biggest issue is lost playing time. With a 21.6 PER so far this season, Thompson is proving to be a valuable asset that needs to be on the court. Last year, JT averaged 6.5 fouls per 48 minutes, and was only able to play 28.1 minutes a game, which--being plenty of playing time for a rookie--was surely lower than it would have been had he been able to curb the fouls a bit. That foul rate was actually 18th-worst in the league--bad, but not as horrible or "telling" as leading the league in fouls seemingly was. As a side note, Andres Nocioni finished 21st in 2008-2009 with 6.3 fouls per 48 minutes.
This year, he's dropped his fouls to 5.7 per 48 minutes, which is a much more respectable 65th. He's up to 34.4 minutes per game, which is probably close to what it will be for most of the year, provided he can keep his fouls down like he has. In comparison, Jon Brockman gets 10.4 fouls per 48 minutes, which, if we set the qualifying bar at 7 games played, would place him 4th-worst in the league, behind Hasheem Thabeet (14.9!), JaVale McGee (11.8), and Rasho Nesterovic (10.6).
In Ziller's recent front-page post, we read:
There has been one other stand-out improvement, but credit for this one likely goes to Paul Westphal: Thompson is playing more minutes this season. Last year, J.T. averaged 28 minutes per game. Even after the All-Star Break, when Brad Miller, Shelden Williams and Mikki Moore were exiled, Thompson still averaged less than 32 minutes a game. Thompson's foul rate hasn't lowered significantly (4.9 per 36 to 4.3), but Westphal has decided to keep him on the court for longer stretches. That's helped the per-game numbers reach (to date) All-Star level.
I submit that a drop from 4.9 fouls to 4.3 per 36 minutes is a significant improvement, provided it holds for the whole season. At 34 minutes per game, JT's averaging a half of a foul less per game this season. That greatly increases the odds that he'll be on the court.
Ironically, Thompson's foul total may increase this season, in spite of a decrease in his foul rate. If JT averages 34 minutes per game with 5.7 fouls per 48 minutes for all of 2009-10, he will finish with about 331 fouls. That total could very well lead the league again, though a healthy Greg Oden might challenge him.
JT is apparently learning ways to limit his fouls, but he probably won't be averaging fewer than 4 fouls per game anytime soon. As long as JT is able to avoid the cheap ones, it's okay if he's up with the league leaders in total fouls. Just make them count, and keep playing 34+ minutes per game.