“That’s not basketball.”
That’s how Steve Nash described what became a signature move of Trae Young‘s this season: When a defender trailed him over the top of a pick, Young would get the defender on his back then stop and take a shot, drawing unavoidable contact as the defender ran up his back.
Trae Young is absolutely committed to drawing this foul and if the refs keep calling it I don't know what you do. You have to chase him over the top. pic.twitter.com/AEijCFORuk
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) January 5, 2021
Young’s correct response to Nash was, “I bet if I was playing for Steve, he’d be happy” — however, the league’s Competition Committee and GMs have sided with Nash. There are plenty of people in front offices around the league who think the pendulum has swung too far in favor of the offense in recent years.
As had been expected, the league will have referees crackdown on offensive players making non-basketball moves to draw fouls. From Shams Charania of The Athletic:
Based on the Competition Committee’s guidance and subject to discussions with the Board of Governors, the league will train officials to identify and properly adjudicate the following overt actions to initiate contact with defenders:
• When a shooter launches or leans into a defender at an abnormal angle.
• When a shooter kicks his leg (up or to the side) at an abnormal angle.
• When an offensive player abruptly veers off his path (sideways or backward) into a defender.
Under the new emphasis, these overt actions will now be officiated as offensive fouls (if deemed more than marginal) or no-calls (if marginal).
First, notice the phrasing here, which clearly came from the league “identify and properly adjudicate.” As in this is a change of emphasis, not a change of the rules. The league has points of emphasis for the officials to focus on every year, but this time the focus will be on offensive players trying to draw fouls with those “non-basketball” moves.
This will be welcomed by most (if not Trae Young). The drawing of fouls by players leaping unnaturally into defenders or making other plays to draw contact has spiraled in recent years — because it worked. Drawing a foul on a three-pointer statistically leads to more points per possession on average than taking the shot itself, and players and teams are always looking for an edge.
Of course, how consistently these calls get made referee crew to crew will be a big part of changing this trend, as will how players adjust — there are already tensions between players and officials, and these new calls will leave several top players frustrated they did not get calls they got just a season before.
Still, look for a change in how things are officiated on offensive players next season, a welcome change from the non-basketball moves to draw fouls that have become too common around the league.