2021 NBA Foul Call Change Early Impact on Free Throws

by Yeon Lee
2021 NBA Foul Call Change Early Impact on Free Throws

The way refs have been told to call fouls this season was a hot topic in the preseason. Many fans felt it was absurd that some players kept on receiving ridiculous foul calls. It slowed down the pace of the game, too. I was curious about what the rule change brought to the game so I'm looking at the 2021 NBA Foul Call Change Early Impact on Free Throws.

We just finished the first week of the season. Generally, data from seven games doesn't mean anything. However, to get ahead of the competitors in your fantasy league, sometimes you have to make a presumption. This post is based on an extremely small sample so take this with a grain of salt.

It's worth noting that league average FG% has dropped significantly. For the last five years, the league average FG% was respectively .457, .460, .460, .461, .466. This year, it's .445.

I know we played only seven games so far. However, it means many players are struggling with the new rule. If you get fewer foul calls on shot attempts, you get less compensation and it turns out to be missing shots instead of getting free throws, which lowers your field goal percentage. Thus, I focused on who is getting fewer free throws this season compared to the last season.

All data in charts comes from NBA.com

2021 NBA Foul Call Change Early Impact on Free Throws

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Victims of the New Rule

2021 NBA Foul Call Change Early Impact on Free Throws

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Amongst players who have played at least six games this season, the above are the top 35 players who showed the biggest free throw attempt difference. The interesting point is that you can see all the big names here at the top.

Trae Young seems to be the biggest victim of the rule change as he sees a significant drop of points (20-21 avg 25.3, 21-22 avg 22.3). Damien Lillard's recent slump might be related to his reduced free throw attempts. Usually, the best way to get to the charity stripe is penetration. I dug into more advanced data related to driving.

Players Who Receive Fewer Foul Calls on Penetration

2021 NBA Foul Call Change Early Impact on Free Throws

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It's obvious players who shoot fewer free throws receive fewer foul calls, but I just wanted to add PF stats along with it to show you the foul call difference. Noticeably, those players try not to drive compared to the last season.

For instance, Damian Lillard, who was in the top 20 for players who attempted to penetrate last season, is now barely top 35th. As we see above, his free throw attempts are cut by half. He seems to acknowledge his penetration game is less effective due to the new rule and is trying to adjust his game.

It caught my eyes that Westbrook has not changed his play style even though his penetration game is affected the most in the league. Luka Doncic also has not changed his game yet, which might be the reason why his field goal percentage has dropped considerably this season.

So, are there only victims? no beneficiary of the rule change?

Beneficiaries of the New Rule

2021 NBA Foul Call Change Early Impact on Free Throws

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Above are the top 35 players who attempted to drive more compared to last season (amongst the players who played at least 30 games, 20 minutes on average in 20-21 season, played at least five games in 21-22 season). Look at the third column, and you will see many players who have driven more put up more points this season.

The R^2 between drive attempt difference and point difference is 0.32 (approximately, 350 players). This means there is a weak to moderate correlation between the two factors. 350 players are not enough to generate a strong correlation, but 0.32 indicates there's a correlation between the two factors.

Back to the topic, if you look at the names, you will realize that these players such as Miles Bridges, Ricky Rubio created a buzz with good performances in the first week.

There are some outliers such as Bradley Beal, who scored 6.9 points less on average. However, no one thinks he will keep this pace until the season ends. Unlike the players mentioned above, players such as Westbrook, Lillard and Beal get the same amount of foul calls as the last season. They should be fine going forward.

Malcolm Brogdon's change also stands out. He penetrated the 16th most times last season but is first in the league now. Even though he drives more, he still gets enough foul calls and free throws. It's probably because he throws more floaters. According to NBA.com, his attempts at pull-up jumper reduced by 10%. Instead, his less than 10 ft shots increased by 10%. I believe it's a sustainable adoption.

Conclusion

I think those players in the third table are quite interesting. Even though the foul call rule has changed, they are not afraid of penetrating. However, as I said in the beginning, it's been only a week since the season started. Some players will regress to the mean either positively or negatively.

A few of the first-rounders have struggled in the first week. As we have seen above, those players tried to adopt the new style or keep doing what they have been doing to overcome their slumps. I predict they will have more ups and downs, but overall, they will be slightly worse than the last year or similar in the end.

If your first-rounder struggles, just hold onto him. If someone wants to sell any of these players in Table 3, you can give it a try. As long as they keep penetrating, they can continue to score more. It's statistically proven.


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1 comment

Kon Moon November 4, 2021 - 3:15 pm

Do you think Miles Bridges can continue producing at this pace? His stats are ridiculous!

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