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Many NBA fans have expressed nostalgia for the physicality of the 90s NBA basketball in recent years, with the main source of disappointment being the way in which players were allowed to hunt for fouls by leaning into defenders, stopping short, and similar tricks.
Those fans, including yours truly, were delighted to hear of proposed rule changes over the summer, intended to stop this type of behavior and meant to give defenders more room to operate. After the first two weeks of the 2021-2022 NBA season, it’s clear that this change was necessary and, more importantly, right. So, let’s take a look at how these rule changes have affected our favorite game so far.
What Are the Rule Changes that NBA Implemented this Season
When the NBA announced the new rule changes this summer, they explained them in detail in this Twitter thread:
Beginning with Summer Leagues and effective for the 2021-22 season, game officials will enforce the playing rules in a manner that reduces the incentive for offensive players to use non-basketball moves to draw fouls.
Thread ⤵️ (1/7)
— NBA Official (@NBAOfficial) August 8, 2021
In short, this rule change states that no fouls will be called for non-basketball moves used to initiate contact by offensive players. That includes when:
- Shooters leans into the defender or launch at an abnormal angle
- Offensive players abruptly change their path to initiate contact with a defender
- Shooters kick their legs at an abnormal angle
- Offensive players hooks a defender with their off arm
How These Changes Affect the Game and the Players
These changes have mostly gotten a positive reaction from both fans and players, with the exception of the most prominent few who are affected by this change the most, like James Harden or Trae Young.
James Harden is rightfully considered as the “poster boy” for these rule changes and his early struggles at the start of the season could be partially explained by them.
For example, Harden attempted 5.3 free throws per game in the first two weeks of this season, while his average for last season was 7.3 free throws per game. Furthermore, Harden had a foul rate for his three point attempts of 7.79 % over the past couple of seasons, while his 3-point fouls drawn rate for this season is 3.23 percent. While the change in officiating is not the sole reason for Harden’s reduced rate of getting to the charity stripe, it is the biggest factor.
Meanwhile, the effects of these changes are evident across the entire league and not just among individual cases, like Harden’s. For example, the average free throws attempted per game is currently at exactly 20 free throws per game, which is the lowest in the league’s history. While this is the natural continuation of the changed tendencies in the game and the increased rate of 3-point shots, it is still a drop-off compared to the past few seasons as well.
Overall, it’s clear that these new rules will benefit the defenders and limit the players’ abilities when it comes to drawing fouls – and we’ve seen many ridiculous attempts that worked in the past. So, it’s also clear that these changes are exactly what the league needed to make NBA games tougher, more competitive, and, ultimately, more entertaining.