The NBA came into this season cracking down on “abnormal, abrupt, or overt movements” to draw fouls — shooters leaping unnaturally sideways (or forward) into defenders, shooters kicking out legs and making other non-basketball moves to draw a whistle. To use Steve Kerr’s analogy, NBA referees were no longer blowing whistles award free throws on calls that would have started a fight if called in a playground game.
It’s working — through the first six days of the NBA season, free throws per game are at an all-time low, as Tweeted out by StatsMuse.
The NBA is averaging 19.5 FTA per game this season, the fewest in NBA history.
The new rule is working.
— StatMuse (@statmuse) October 25, 2021
The new rules seem to have hit James Harden especially hard. He has attempted nine free throws total through three games (for comparison, last season he averaged 7.3 free throw attempts per game). Steve Nash said his star has become the poster boy for the new rule interpretation, but it’s led to Harden not getting calls on genuine fouls. Harden agrees.
"I just ask officials to call what they see"
James Harden says he feels like the "poster boy" of the NBA's rule changes, but adds, "I'm not the type to complain about it" pic.twitter.com/VRg170JN8B
— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) October 24, 2021
There are caveats to this interesting trend.
First, it’s just six games, players will adjust and adapt to how the game is called over the course of the season, and the numbers will normalize. That likely will be the case for Harden and other elite foul drawers as well.
Second, the trend of 3-pointers increasing is continuing. So far this season — again, we are watching small sample size theater — there have been 36.3 3-pointers taken a game up almost two from 34.6 last season. One very likely impact from the new rule enforcement, there will be fewer fouls on 3-point shooters (those shooters cannot jump into defenders, kick legs out to draw contact, we’ve already seen shooters try that this season and not get the call).
Also look at the seasons with the most fouls per game: 1975, 2008, 2001, 1947. Maybe the foul drawing issue isn’t a new one, it’s just part of the evolution of the game.