NBA Referee Statistics

Referees control all of the games we love. We all know the feeling of a fast break getting whistled back for a phantom foul, or watching the other team shoot interminable amounts of free throws on bad calls. But, as a bettor, referees are a resource, and it can be very important to watch them like hawks to take advantage of any tendencies they might have. Referees make mistakes, like all of us, but, also like all of us, they don’t make their mistakes randomly – there are patterns to certain referees, and those patterns can influence the outcomes of games.

From the outset, we want to be very clear that there is no evidence of any referee based conspiracy that is publicly available (yes, Sacramento fans, even that one), so it’s not like these are hard and fast rules, they’re more like betting trends than anything else. Basically, certain referees have certain tendencies, and when examining the games those referees were involved in, you can get a sense of how the game could play out from a betting perspective, whether that be with regards to the over/under or the home/away differential.

NBA Referees Over/Under Effect

Some referees tend to let players play, and some referees tend to award large amounts of free throws. These tendencies can affect the over/under for a game – large amounts of free throws inflate scoring, for example. By contrast, some players and teams predicate their offense on drawing fouls - James Harden in the playoffs famously does not get the same calls as he does in the regular season, deflating his scoring averages.

As an example of a referee who tends to ref games that go over, let’s examine John Goble. Goble has seen nearly 70% of his games during the 2020 NBA season hit the over. The average points scored in games when Goble is the head official is around 230. Goble is a good example of a referee who can have an inflationary effect on scoring.

NBA Referees Home/Away Splits

Many people, when discussing referee conspiracies, talk about “home cookin”, the tendency for the referees to bias themselves toward the homecourt team, because of either the crowd or the location or both. But how real is it actually? Are there actually referees who are kinder to teams at home?

As an example, let’s look at Kane Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has seen the home team cash 60% of the time. This is a pretty significant discrepancy from normal, as bettors at U.S. sports betting websites must only win about 53% of their bets to be successful. It's definitely something to keep in mind when you see Fitzgerald on the floor.