October 26, 2021
Which shooters will be most impacted by the NBA’s new officiating guidelines?
Not this year.
Rob Perez – or @WorldWideWob as he is known to #NBATwitter initiates – shared a video of Golden State’s Stephen Curry slamming into Portland’s Nassir Little during their preseason game on October 5th and waved an enthusiastic ‘goodbye’ to the irksome jumping-into-the-defender fouls.
NOT THIS YEAR. goodbye jumping into the defender fouls. pic.twitter.com/FW47gdk0rl
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) October 5, 2021
Last season, the collision would have drawn a whistle sending Curry to the line for three freebies, but not this year.
The NBA Competition Committee has asked referees to put the kibosh on these types of “non-basketball” moves, with a new reading of the rule book that will stop rewarding abrupt, overt, and abnormal attempts to draw shooting fouls and – in some situations – even penalize them as offensive fouls. As you can see from the number of likes on Wob’s tweet, basketball fans are eager to have this type of foul legislated out of the game, but not everyone will be excited about the changes. There are a handful of players who were really making the most of the old rules and they may see their free throw rates dip as they get accustomed to the way the game is being called this season.
So – which shooters will be hurt most by the new rulings? And how big of an impact might the officiating changes have on these players? Let’s fire up the Synergy database, watch some film, and find out!
Pumping and Jumping
To kick off my informal survey of potential non-basketball movers, I looked up the number of fouls drawn on jump shots for each NBA player during the 2020-21 regular season and found a list of players – including Curry and 20 others – who had jump-shooting foul rates of 0.5 per game or higher (i.e., these 21 players drew a foul on one of their jumpers at least once every other game). Then, for each of these frequently-fouled shooters, I watched video clips of all the jump-shot fouls they drew last season – over 800 collectively – and tried to spot non-basketball moves, like Curry’s pump-and-jump.
The • Pump • and • Jump • Foul (rhyme) 1. The Shooter pump fakes to simulate taking a long jump shot and – as the defender closes out towards him to challenge the anticipated shot – he slams his body into the defender’s chest while flinging the ball in the direction of the basket.
Curry is certainly not the only player to take advantage of the pump-and-jump move, but his foul drawing has a signature style that makes it stand out from other more-ordinary facsimiles. Because when Curry does the pump-and-jump he doesn’t just smash into the defender and toss the ball in the air haphazardly. He is very deliberate with his sequence of movements: he senses an out-of-position defender, fakes a shot, sets his feet, switches the ball to his left side, absorbs contact with his right shoulder, and finally flicks up a shot with his off hand. It is the sort of intentional movement that – depending on your allegiance – makes you admire his preparation or despise his premeditation. But, in the context of the new guidelines, Curry’s overt scheming will be a red flag for refs. It is hard to imagine him earning any free throws with a left-handed 3-point attempt this season. How much of a dent will that put in his offensive productivity?
Well, despite having one of the most instantly recognizable and memorable versions of the pump-and-jump, Curry does not spring this trap as often as you might think. Six percent of his jump shots drew a whistle last year, which ranked 16th among the 21 frequently-fouled shooters in our group. Factoring in his high-volume jump shooting (15 per game), that works out to 0.8 fouls per game. In my film review, I spotted 16 fouls from last season that I would characterize as overt attempts to draw a foul with an abnormal shooting motion. That represented 29% of his jump-shot fouls drawn last year or about one dubious foul every five games. But there were others who pumped-and-jumped more often than Curry.
Stepping, then Leaping
Luka Dončić is a master of body control, changing speeds and directions in ways that befuddle even the most accomplished defenders. On the perimeter, Dončić is fond of a leftward-listing step-back jumper. It’s a shifty signature shot that keeps his defenders off balance and sets him up to counter with his own brutally effective version of the pump-and-jump move: the small step, giant leap.
The • One • Small • Step • One • Giant • Leap • Foul (pun) [a version of the pump-and-jump foul] 1. The Shooter takes one small step backward moving away from the defender while gathering the ball for a shot attempt and – as the recovering defender tries to close the gap – he takes one giant leap forward again, colliding with the defender as he throws the ball toward the basket.
When Dončić attempts the small-step-giant-leap move in the rarified air of the 3-point line, his defender tends to be hurtling towards him at high speed and the intent of the collision is unmistakable. Inside the arc, where the players have less room to maneuver, the same movement morphs into the more compact form of a fake fadeaway with a twist – as the 230-lb Dončić pivots on a dime and slams his body into the chest of his defender. Even closer to the basket, the move is almost indistinguishable from its staid ancestor, the up-and-under post move; the defender is not necessarily rushing forward in this case, he may even be standing still. The tight quarters of the paint make the contact less dramatic, and it will make the referee decisions more difficult. Was that an overt and abnormal motion? Or just a crafty move?
Dončić is part of a trio of big perimeter ball handlers – along with Devin Booker and DeMar DeRozan – who have a combination of shiftiness and size that is going to put a lot of pressure on referees to define what exactly should count as a basketball move this season. These guys are walking, pivoting, pump-faking gray areas for referees trying to make charge-or-block calls. If Dončić fakes a shot, slams into his defender, and powers through the contact to finish a basket – can it really be considered a non-basketball move?
The real refs are going to have their hands full officiating him and I am certainly not qualified to try; but I can say objectively that Dončić had a larger fraction of his jump shots result in a foul (9%) than Curry (6%) last season and he likewise had more jump-shot fouls drawn per game (1.1) than Curry (0.8) did. And (acknowledging that my film review was subjective and very unofficial), I saw more overt foul hunting from Dončić than I did from Curry. By my estimation, as much as 44% of his jump-shooting fouls were initiated by an abnormal movement, that is the equivalent of 0.5 dubious fouls per game.
Still, there was another player who hunted fouls even more aggressively than Dončić.
The points of emphasis raised by the Competition Committee read like they were written specifically with Trae Young in mind. In addition to the pump-and-jump foul – of which Young is certainly a big fan – the refs have also been instructed to stop awarding fouls for abrupt changes of direction made with the intention of creating collisions. With the ball in his hands, Young can act like an over-aggressive driver weaving through freeway traffic at night with his taillights turned off. He is a fender bender waiting to happen.
The • Fender • Bender • Foul (metaphor) 1. The Driver accelerates past his defender, abruptly switches lanes in front of him, slams on the brakes and waits for his air bag to deploy as the defender crashes into his rear fender.
By my count, Young caused 19 fender-bender accidents last season, by far the most of any of the frequently-fouled shooters. He had even more pump-and-jump fouls, racking up another 29 of those.
Despite taking fewer jump shots per game (8) than Dončić (13) or Curry (15), Young racked up just as many jump-shooting fouls per game (1.1) because his foul rate was higher (13% of his jump shots drew fouls). Sometimes Young will even try out more than one foul-baiting strategy in a single play, cycling seamlessly (and shamelessly) from the fender-bender to the pump-and-jump until he hears the whistle. I estimated that 64% of his jump-shot fouls were caused by dubious basketball moves. At face value, Young could be at risk of losing as much as 0.7 trips to the free throw line per game because of the new officiating guidelines, more than any other player.
Of course, ball handlers will continue to have some leeway; players who stop short and jump straight up in the air to take a shot will still earn a defensive foul if contact is created. And, again, these calls will continue to be subjective; so, I may well have overestimated Young’s non-basketball foul rate, here. But, regardless of the precise count of last year’s abrupt, overt, and abnormal plays, Young is likely to feel the effect of the new officiating at some point this season.
Nobody can match Young’s volume of jump-shot foul drawing, but there was another trickster who was even more brazen last year. During his 27 games with Houston last season, Kelly Olynyk drew a foul on 13% of his jump shots (matching Young) and I clocked his dubious foul rate at a staggering 78%, higher than any other player on the list. In other words, 4 out of every 5 times Olynyk was fouled on a jump shot, it was the result of a jump-and-pump or other non-basketball move.
Olynyk loves the pump fake. To get his defender off balance, he will pump fake once, twice, thrice even. He’s not as shifty as Young and he does not have the body control of Doncic but he did shoot 39% from three with Houston – so defenders are forced to respect his pump fake. And, because he is usually being guarded by a big person, it is a simple task for him to take advantage of their slow feet with his jumbo-sized pump-and-jump.
Olynyk had the single most overt and abnormal play of any of the 800+ shooting fouls that I watched. In an April game against Phoenix, Olynyk attempted to draw a pump-and-jump foul but his defender, Dario Saric, sniffed out the ambush and tried to retreat. As Saric bent over backward like Neo dodging bullets in the Matrix, Olynyk dove headlong after him going fully horizontal as he chased him to the ground searching out contact. “Dodge this” he whispered as he landed on top of Saric and chucked the ball away, drawing the whistle. It was just the type of absurd farce that the NBA would like to eliminate, and one that Olynyk will probably not get away with this season.
So, yeah, more than Steph, Luka, or even Trae, Olynyk gets my vote for the player who will be hurt the most by the new rules. After all, those first examples are among the most talented players in the league who deliberately initiate these fouls because they fell within the current rules. Undoubtedly they will be talented enough to adjust accordingly.
Wob and many of the rest of us may be saying “good riddance” to non-basketball moves, but Olynyk is saying a tearful “farewell!”
Todd is building tools to help coaches, scouts, and players find winning team strategies as part of Synergy’s Analytics and Insights Team. He creates inviting infographics, engaging charts and interactive displays that make data compelling and accessible. Follow him on Twitter @crumpledjumper.