NBA Foul Change: Best Move in Decades?

Written by: Justin

Edited by: Jagat

Visual by: Mischka

With the incoming NBA 2021-22 Season, the NBA’s 75th season, the NBA Referee Organization implemented a new rule that would reduce the amount of fouls called during a game. The official statement said, “For the 2021-22 NBA season, there will be an interpretive change in the officiating of overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves by offensive players with the ball in an effort to draw fouls.”

Prior to this rule change, players would throw their bodies towards defenders in shooting situations to draw contact, resulting in foul calls. It got to a point where defenders could not play proper defense because players would launch their body at them and the defenders would be put to blame. Superstars such as James Harden, Trae Young, Steph Curry and Damian Lillard were most notorious for drawing these types of questionable fouls. The most notable from the list, James Harden had an absurd 11.8 free throw attempts per game in 2019-20—the average free throw attempts of a whole NBA team was 23.1 during that year. This caused many to doubt whether Harden would actually find success in the NBA without going to the free throw line every other possession. 

These concerns were finally addressed at the start of the 2021-22 season. With the new rule implemented, James Harden’s free throw attempts dropped from 11.8 in the 2019-2020 season to 5.7 this season. On top of this, his points per game dropped from 34.3 in 2019 to 18.2. It is clear that Harden hasn’t adjusted to the new style of refereeing and is struggling to find his groove. Analysts speculate that one reason Harden has been struggling to have impact in his games is because he naturally falls back on his foul-drawing techniques which will not lead to fouls anymore due to said interpretive change. 

The new rule to prevent foul hunting has drawn different reactions from players, coaches and analysts. Steph Curry, one of the players that is anticipated to be most negatively impacted by this rule, even believes that it is a good change, saying, “I love the effort… the purity of the game, the goal is to put the ball in the basket and not be out there just living and dying by trying to get to the free-throw line any way you can. I love the effort.” 

On the other hand, James Harden feels that he has been targeted by this rule and is being officiated unfairly. Harden stated, Sometimes, I feel like, coming into a game, it’s already predetermined. I already have that stigma of getting foul calls. I just ask for officials to call what they see. … A foul is a foul, no matter what league it is.” 

Overall, many fans believe that the foul hunting rule has been one of the best changes in recent NBA history. The rule brings out the true form of basketball and the art of putting the ball in the basket. With fewer fouls, the game has less stoppages and a better flow. On top of this, fans still receive their fair share of offensive highlights but will now also get to witness defensive highlights as defenders get to do their job without the fear of being charged with a nonsense foul. 

At the end of the day, the best players in the world like Harden, Curry and Young, can all put the ball in the basket no matter what situation. The struggle that Harden and other players that are notorious for foul hunting are going through is just a temporary period of adjustment for them. These superstars can score the ball with ease and will just have to adapt their game to a league without foul hunting, and ultimately, this change won’t likely have a huge impact on anyone’s numbers. The 2021-2022 season is just getting started, but the new rule already looks like a positive change.

REFERENCES

Colin Ward-Henninger Nov 2. “NBA Offense Has Plummeted to Start 2021-22 Season, and Changes in Officiating Might Not Be the Only Cause.” CBSSports.com, 2 Nov. 2021, https://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/nba-offense-has-plummeted-to-start-2021-22-season-and-changes-in-officiating-might-not-be-the-only-cause/. 

O’Donnell, Ricky. “The NBA’s New Rule Change on Shooting Fouls Will Make the Game Better.” SBNation.com, SBNation.com, 5 Oct. 2021, https://www.sbnation.com/nba/2021/10/5/22710715/nba-new-rule-shooting-fouls-stephen-curry-steve-kerr. 

Written By Jordan Greer @jordangreer42, et al. “NBA Rule Changes 2021, Explained: Referees Will No Longer Reward ‘Abnormal’ Moves from Foul-Hunting Stars.” Sporting News, (Getty Images), 28 Oct. 2021, https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nba/news/nba-rule-changes-2021-referees-foul-abnormal-moves/1k3iwiwqplmo9zznivoev48do.