Chris Paul

Chris Paul
Image: Getty Images

At the beginning of the 2021-22 NBA season, the rule changes were irksome to players used to getting touch fouls by lunging into unsuspecting defenders to draw contact and a whistle. Trae Young, Damian Lillard, and James Harden were just a few stars to sound off about the changes, but as the season progressed, they got used to the no calls, and from a fan’s perspective it helped smooth out a choppy viewing experience, and eliminated an overused loophole.

I’m not sure where the basketball play is at when Chris Paul cuts in front of a defender and stops in the middle of a fast break to get bulldozed and draw a cheap foul. Or when Harden has a straight line to the bucket and veers into the waiting big like a car into oncoming traffic. It ruined the flow of the game, and thankfully it’s been corrected.

The inspiration for that adjustment came from hoops fans watching FIBA rules basketball at the Olympics, and asking, “Why can’t the NBA be more like that?” Well, the NBA has adopted another of those wrinkles with the take foul that’s been plaguing fast breaks for as long as I can remember.

We all know what I’m talking about. The defense forces a turnover and has numbers on the break only to have the play stopped because the guy who just lost the ball reached out and fouled the nearest guy in opposing colors.

Well, this season, anytime a guy pulls that bullshit outside of the final two minutes in the fourth quarter and OT of games, the breaking team will get one free throw by a shooter of their choice and the ball. It’s not the play-on rule like you have in soccer, which I would love to see, but it absolutely discourages sandbagging some of the world’s best athletes running at full speed with a runway for a roar-inducing dunk or alley-oop (or transition 3 if that’s your bag).

During the broadcast of the Trail Blazers-Suns game Friday, the Portland crew of Kevin Calabro and Lamar Hurd said there were 1,700 take fouls in the NBA last season, which tracks considering there are 1,230 regular season games every year, and there were two-and-a-half* in that game, including one involving, you guessed it CP3. You could see his gears turning in real-time after he picked one up. His reaction was instinctual, and he had to think about the next time the scenario arose.

(*I say two-and-a-half because the second that Phoenix got whistled for was borderline with a guard jostling Blazer big Drew Eubanks for position in the paint. If that’s a take foul, it’s a nice loophole for big men who can get down the floor and get in position in a hurry.)

Blazer wing Josh Hart, who treats every open floor like it’s a personal challenge to get to the rack, caught on and relentlessly forced Suns defenders to meet him in the paint on runouts. It was an aha moment, and one I suspect will happen for a bevy of NBA players who were conditioned to expect a touch foul instead of a potential addition to their highlight reel.

I also enjoy that the NBA gave the refs the authority to call them without having to review it first. The clear path rule, which I can’t find if it’s still in existence, had good intentions but was way too confusing. And if the way referees review plays — basically as if they’re being exposed to the sport for the first time ever — was any indication, we should always lean toward simplifying the process.

Overall, it’s a great change by the Association, and one that will make its product better which I’m sure won’t be ruined in any way …

What do the analytics say, Bob?

There’s always a caveat. Also during Friday’s Blazers-Suns game that, after a Portland take foul, Blazers’ analytics guy, Cory Jez, who hops in occasionally to talk numbers, said the expected scoring number from a side out in .7 something, and that it might actually be beneficial to still commit a take foul and play the 1.7-something statistical odds. It worked out in this instance but only because the Suns missed a wide-open 3 that would’ve made it a four-point swing.

I am not here for that.

If a “shrewd” player like Paul keeps committing take fouls because the analytics bear it out, Adam Silver should make it two shots plus the ball. Can we please just get a fast break without having to scrutinize it? I mean, my god, I’m good on getting “Well, actually… “-ied by some hipster with a stats degree. If you’re so into physical fitness, go play pickleball like the rest of those fucking losers. 

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