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New rule working: NBA free throws at an all-time low to open season

Michael Holley and Michael Smith discuss the importance of Ben Simmons' mental health status, but discuss what's concerning about his situation with the Philadelphia 76ers moving forward.

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 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.

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.