Typically, in this league made for TV, production equals respect. I'm not talking about respect from the national media, or respect from the fans, I'm talking about respect from the refs. When you're an unknown rookie, you don't get the borderline whistles. When you're mostly a jump shooter who rarely ventures into the lane, you don't get the borderline whistles. When you're a finesse player who shies away from contact, you don't get the borderline whistles. Jrue is none of those things anymore, and it's about time he started getting the benefit of the doubt.
Here's some perspective on the team as a whole, first. The Sixers have been outscored by 43 points so far this season. From the line, they've been outscored by 48. In the past two games, they've been outscored by 35 from the line. Two home games, they've attempted 25 fewer free throws than the star-less Pistons and Bulls. That's shameful.
Part of the problem is the horrendous Sixer bigs. They're pretty much all either too slow, too weak, too dumb or some combination of the three to protect the paint. Spencer Hawes is helpless as a weak-side defender unless the play is telegraphed and he has three or four seconds to get himself into position. Even then, it's 50/50 whether he'll get whistled for the foul he commits. Poor interior defense is part of the problem, but it's not the part that's most frustrating.
The NBA, at its worst, is barely better than professional wrestling. When a superstar is in a game, the deck is stacked absurdly in their favor. If you look at LeBron the wrong way, he's going to the line. If OKC ever goes into a scoring drought, all they need to do is give the ball to Kevin Durant anywhere in the vicinity of the basket and he's more likely to get a trip to the line than not. Paul Pierce's plaintive wails lead to a handful of whistles every game when no one comes close to making contact with him. It's sad to watch. It's something teams without superstars have to overcome. Whether it's a mandate from the league to protect the game's stars, human nature because those players are head and shoulders above everyone else or a downright act of cowardice and playing favorites by the refs, it's institutional and has been basically since Michael Jordan started scowling at the refs, if not longer.
When you're on the outside looking in (like the Sixers have been since Iverson's prime), it can be maddening, and it's understandable when the game loses fans because of it. If you're still here, if you've lived through it for this long, then the best you can hope for is to get on the inside. Get a guy on your team who gets those calls, then you can shake your head when Toronto fans complain that Bargnani never gets the whistles. What you can't stomach is when you watch a guy on your team emerge, and he still isn't getting the calls.
Over the past two games, Jrue has attempted 28 shots inside of the free throw line. Time and time again, he's used his size and strength to bully his way into the paint, and fought through contact to get shots up. 28 shots, 7 free throw attempts (two came on an intentional foul at the end of the game, another on a technical). That's just absurd. The game Jrue is playing this year is built around getting into the teeth of the defense and using his size and strength once he's there. The whistles are still silent.
It's cost the Sixers in the aggregate, but anecdotally, it's killed them against the Bulls. In their first meeting, with the Sixers down by 4 with 2:14 left in the game, Jrue bullied Kirk Hinrich into the lane late in the game, got the whistle and hit a banker from about 8 feet away. The basket didn't count. The Sixers got no free throws. That plays is a continuation 99 out of 100 times in the NBA, 101 out of 100 if you're a superstar. Last night, there was a similar play where Jrue used a spin move to blow by his man, drew contact from the big and finished with his left hand. The whistle? A phantom travel.
Jrue isn't perfect. Far from it. He's not a superstar, and I'm not saying he should be getting charity whistles at this point in his career. What I'm saying is he should be getting a fair shake from the officials. 28 shots in the lane in two games. Two whistles sending him to the line. That's a percentage Vince McMahon would be ashamed of.