Why the NBA's new free throw rule doesn't go far enough

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Free throws are down more than 3% on last year after the new rules that were brought in to the NBA. Pic: Getty
Free throws are down more than 3% on last year after the new rules that were brought in to the NBA. Pic: Getty

OPINION

The NBA made a pretty controversial rule change in the offseason. 

Referees were given license to stop offensive players drawing fouls by jumping into defenders to draw contact in an unnatural motion. 

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So far, it's worked. The league's free throw rate has dropped from 24.7% last year (24.7 free throw attempts for every 100 field goal attempts) to 21.4% this season. 

That's a 10% drop in the number of free throws called - great! After all, free throws are boring and players jumping into opponents trying to defend is ridiculous. 

It may be coincidental, but with fewer free throws, we have more field goal attempts, and therefore more live ball rebounds. 

This has led to an increase in the pace of play, up from 99.2 possessions last season to 101.1 so far in 2021. 

Often, early-season games are played at a faster pace, so this may come down, but it does marry up with fewer free throws.

This is all great. But, it doesn’t go far enough. 

The infuriating tactic the NBA must stop

Anyone who watched the end of Monday’s Memphis vs Los Angeles Lakers game would have been infuriated. 

With the Grizzlies trailing by three points, the Lakers kept intentionally fouling them so that they would have to shoot just two free throws, which of course isn’t enough when you trail by three points. 

Why should something that is supposed to be a penalty (free throws) be a legitimate game-winning tactic?

Don’t get me wrong, the teams aren't doing anything wrong. This is how the rules are set up. 

Basic maths suggests that you should absolutely be committing these deliberate fouls at the end to stop a three-point shot going up, or if you are trailing, to stop time so you have a chance to score. 

But, this isn’t what is entertaining, and what is sport if not entertainment? Not one person enjoys a free throw parade at the end of a close game. Not one. And the fix is right there.

Pictured left, Mo Bamba of the Orlando Magic and Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat vie for possession of the ball in the NBA.
The NBA made officiating changes to clamp down on offensive players deliberately trying to draw fouls. Pic: Getty

Here is how the NBA can fix the problem

The NBA’s rules for flagrant fouls state the following:

If contact committed against a player, with or without the ball, is interpreted to be unnecessary, a flagrant foul—penalty will be assessed.

The penalty is as follows:

PENALTY: (1) Two free throws shall be attempted and the ball awarded to the offended team on either side of the court at the free throw line extended.

Tackling someone as soon as they receive the ball cannot be argued as being a legitimate basketball play. 

It is, by definition, unnecessary. So, if the officials would deem these intentional fouls as flagrant, this late-game free throw nonsense would be gone, instantly.

If you don’t want to call them flagrant fouls fine, make a rule to call anything not deemed as a basketball play, but not anything dangerous, as an intentional foul, that results in one shot and possession of the ball. 

This rule carries over to players fouling opponents to stop breakaways, and also to stop ‘hack-a’ fouls, intended to send poor free throw shooters to the line - again, antithetical to the spirit of free throws.

People may argue against this change, saying it is a legitimate tactic, which it absolutely is. But, it shouldn’t be allowed to. Not one person can tell me with a straight face they like watching free throws back and forward at each end of a close game like we saw Monday. It’s boring and needs to stop.

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