Throughout NBA history, there many examples of players
identifying and exploiting competitive advantages and the league
implementing new rules. This is a constant back-and-forth since
players, coaches and executives are always trying to find the
slightest edge over their peers.
For example, defenses cannot intentionally foul players without
the ball in the final two minutes of quarters and offensive players
cannot kick out their legs to initiate contact. In each of these
cases, the NBA created a new rule.
Sometimes, the NBA will make more subtle tweaks by deliberately
enforcing rules that previously existed. Allen Iverson drew
criticism for allegedly carrying the ball prior to executing his
crossover, which led to the NBA closely policing how players
initiate crossovers. More recently, in the mid-2010s, the NBA
cracked down on swing-throughs by disallowing free throws for shot
attempts that began unnaturally on the opposite side of the body,
swinging the shot attempt directly through a defender’s hand or
body, calling it a common foul instead.
And in 2021, here we are again, at another inflection point in
the cat-and-mouse game between offenses and defenses. As all of us
who watched the 2021 NBA Playoffs know, many players have taken to
hunting for shooting fouls. This isn’t an entirely new concept; but
historically, players baited defenders into fouling them on actual
shot attempts. More recently, offensive players have begun tricking
referees into calling fouls based on technicalities – but in doing
so, these players often commit offensive fouls themselves, jumping
backwards into defenders and/or initiating contact with the
shooting hand in an unnatural motion.
This play has been gaining traction among NBA players for a few
seasons, but it was perfected and popularized by Trae Young this
past season, as he masterfully initiated contact using unnatural
shooting movements time and time again. Young’s unnatural shot
attempts regularly resulted in collisions; he would swing his arm
or jump backward into a defender during a shot attempt, putting
tremendous pressure on officials to make a call.
Young benefited more than other players who do this given his
small stature makes falls and collisions more believable – and in
real-time, it really does look like as though Young is fouled on
virtually every contested shot attempt, but it’s not just Young.
Luka Doncic does it brilliantly. James Harden and Chris Paul, too.
So do many others.
We can’t blame the players, who benefit from exploiting these
competitive loopholes. If it works, why wouldn’t players add this
to their offensive arsenal?
Fortunately, the NBA has weighed in.
The NBA's competition committee met in June to explore rule
changes that will restrict these unnatural shooting motions. They
didn’t waste any time implementing these restrictions, as they
started calling these fouls during this year’s NBA Summer League.
The NBA’s officiating account (@NBAOfficial) tweeted that
starting in Summer League and continuing into the 2021-22 season,
officials would look to eliminate the following situations:
When a shooter leans into or jumps into a defender in an
When an offensive player abruptly veers sideways into a
defender, or simply stops in front of him, giving the defender
nowhere to go so they run into the shooter.
When a shooter kicks their legs up or sideways in an unnatural
way to initiate contact with a defender.
When an offensive player uses his non-shooting arm to hook a
The NBA also shared video clips from the 2020-21 season to
exemplify situations it would deem offensive fouls. The league is
taking action to ensure the sanctity of the game.
An offensive foul should be called on this
play, as the offensive player uses his right shoulder and hip to
dislodge the defender and the offensive player lands outside his
normal floor position. (5/7) pic.twitter.com/w0Fc9z3p13
Following this announcement, Trae Young facetiously tweeted that he’s honored to
have inspired a rule change, but time will tell how he really feels
The fact of the matter is that Young and others who exploit this
loophole turn basketball into a strategic game of chicken in which
the offense baits the defense. And if they’re good enough at it,
the offense is nearly guaranteed foul calls or they buy themselves
extra space because defenders are worried about the inevitable foul
It’s brilliant and an art form, but it’s also bad for
basketball. The play further delegitimizes defenses, preventing
defenders from remaining connected to a play. There is a fine line
between drawing fouls through basketball plays and unfairly drawing
fouls based strictly on the appearance of contact, especially when
said contact is initiated by the offense.
Without a rule change, the NBA would take another step
in making professional basketball an offensive paradise and a
defensive hell. Also, if the league didn't address this, games
would end up taking longer since players would seek out these
situations more frequently and shoot additional free throws.
The NBA made the right call, but the hard part remains as its
officials will have the tall task of enforcing the new rule in
Expectant fans excitedly await the return of basketball, and
many will specifically look at how these plays are refereed and how
the players react and adapt. But with the first pre-season games
tipping off in approximately one month, we won’t have to wait long
BasketballNews.com will revisit this topic once the 2021-22
season begins, with input from various players and coaches.