You Aren’t Getting That Foul Call Anymore
If you feel like you’re watching a different sport this season when you tune into your favorite NBA team, you’re not alone. The NBA has drastically changed the way they ref the game, and it’s caused some pretty significant changes in the ways that players and teams operate on both the offensive and defensive ends. Officials have finally begun to penalize the offensive player for non-basketball moves; abnormal launch angles, veering off path abruptly, overt extension (leg kick), and off arm contact are now illegal moves. You can view the NBA’s examples of each of these offensive fouls HERE, but to give you an idea of what these fouls are, see below.
Abnormal launch angles (pump faking and then rising for a shot into the defender, forcing him to commit the foul) = Steph Curry
Veering off path abruptly (getting in front of the defender and then launching into him as you shoot) = Trae Young
Overt extension (kicking your leg out when shooting jump shots in order to make the defender hit you) = James Harden
Off arm contact (ripping the ball into the defender as you pick up your dribble so that they are forced to hit your arm) = also James Harden
Each type of foul has players that use it more often than others, and these are the guys that come to mind when I think of each of these movements. That being said, these moves have become so ubiquitous in the league that young players are even starting to be taught how to take advantage of them. Young hoopers learn how to rip through and pick up their dribble in ways that are more likely going to lead to the defender swiping down and hitting them, and guys have learned how to stop short once they burst by the defender, forcing the defender to run into the player’s back and therefore cause the foul. And when I say everyone is learning and using these moves, I mean LITERALLY everyone. You know it’s gone too far when you can open Youtube and find 20 videos of 5th graders utilizing these non-basketball moves.
Anyway, these fouls are not called anymore in the 2021-2022 NBA, and it has made for a much more pleasurable viewing experience for virtually every basketball lover. Not only that, but it has remarkably changed how most NBA players attempt to score, because they know they’re no longer going to get the same calls they did last year. It’s also made players change their defensive tactics; guys are able to hand-check more and can be more physical in almost every facet of the game, including challenging offensive players at the rim.
So, what have these changes resulted in? Are players shooting fewer free throws? Who specifically? Let’s find out.
Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Young has probably been hurt the most by these new officiating standards. He was a massive proponent of the “veering off path abruptly” method, and it led to him being one of the leaders in FTA in the entire NBA last season (4th in the NBA in 2020-2021). With his unbelievable first step and ability to burst by his defender, Trae Young got so good at stopping short and letting his defender run into him. The defender had two choices; either they could sprint back into the play, which would result in a foul call (because Trae was so good at stopping short), or he could let Trae continue on to the rim, oftentimes resulting in a floater or lob. Needless to say, there was literally no way to guard this man. Now, Young is having to find other ways to score, which, in my opinion, is something he will figure out fairly quickly. He’s amazingly skilled, quite smart, and he works his butt off, so I have no doubt in my mind that he will morph his game to the way that he is being officiated.
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Embiid was first in FTA last year, and it’s looking like he will be up there again this season as well. To be quite frank, no change in officiating - or for that matter, no defensive strategy - can affect this man. His inside-outside game makes him virtually impossible to gameplan for; if you’re super physical with him and pressure him on the ball, he can bully his way to the rim and finish with the best of them. However, if you give him a step, he can hit the mid-range jumper (and even the 3 point shot). This is to say that however the game is officiated, Joel Embiid is going to be dominant. In fact, the increased physicality is likely to be to his advantage, because Embiid might be the most physically imposing player the NBA has seen since Shaq. Oh, and if I haven’t mentioned it yet (I have), Joel Embiid is LIGHT YEARS more skilled than Shaq. He’s just simply a bizarre combination of size, skill, and toughness, and I don’t anticipate the NBA figuring out how to guard him anytime soon.
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Rudy Gobert is the only player on this graph who has shot significantly more free throws this season than last. Why could this be? I’m not going to read into the data on this too much, because it’s the beginning of the season and the water will likely find its level in terms of the number of free throws Rudy shoots. However, I do think this demonstrates a new trend in the NBA - that we are finally returning to normal officiating. If players were still able to take advantage of the 4 types of foul calls that have now been eliminated, we would see a young player in Rudy’s position on this graph; this would be an up-and-coming scorer who figured out how to take advantage of the defense and their lack of ability to be physical. However, the fact that Rudy has been the largest beneficiary of these rule changes suggests that the rule changes are working! He’s getting fouled in “normal” ways (by normal I mean the opposite of non-basketball moves), which is a testament to the fact that we’re returning closer to the pre-2015 NBA, where big men are the primary foul shooters and guards/scorers have a much tougher time getting to the free throw line.