This summer, the NBA made a significant shift in officiating by emphasizing the importance of not calling as many fouls when offensive players initiate contact by moving towards a defender in an unnatural manner. The results have been a lot of fun for fans and defenders, but not so much for players who used to walk to the free throw line on a daily basis.
The result has been less offensive players jumping into defenders to draw shooting fouls, pausing on screens, and sweeping through on drives, as well as fewer offensive players jumping into defenders to draw shooting fouls. With how rapidly players have begun to adjust to new regulations, there is reason to believe that the NBA will be able to eliminate the other plague on game flow: the take foul (aka the Euro Foul).
Players grabbing their opponent around midcourt to stop fast breaks have taken away so many opportunities for dunks and easy baskets, and it’s evident that the league’s clear route regulations aren’t doing enough to deter players from eating a foul to stop an odd-man (or, strangely enough, an even-man) break. The league is allegedly already looking into options, and there are several to explore. However, given that the goal should be to enhance game flow, further penalizing those fouls may not have the desired effect.
Instead, a common idea has been to implement a soccer-style advantage policy, which enables play to continue until the team with the ball either scores inside the direct flow of action or, if they don’t, the referees return to the location where the foul occurred and award the foul. This would allow situations where a foul occurs on a pass ahead to play out and a team to get their bucket without having to stop play for a clear path review and take the ball out — Mike Prada has been a vocal advocate for an advantage rule, citing an example where it would’ve freed up a Zach LaVine fastbreak dunk on Sunday night in Los Angeles.
It would take some getting used to, but instead of blowing a play dead, referees could just raise an arm and let the play continue, signaling that a foul had occurred but not stopping everyone. That won’t fix everything, but it’s the best place to start if you want to avoid all the bells and whistles that sabotage rapid breaks.
The initial criticism of an advantage system is that it will just lead to more difficult take fouls, but the response is simple: if players want to give more difficult fouls, it becomes much easier to dole out flagrants, which include two shots and the ball as well as a fine. Players don’t want to be tagged with a flagrant, thus a mix of allowing play to continue for soft fouls that don’t stop play and issuing flagrants for heavier fouls that do would appear to be beneficial in removing fouls from the game.
Furthermore, because an official is raising his arm to indicate a foul has occurred, even if play continues and a basket is scored, those take fouls can still be recorded in the scorebook and count against the player and team’s total fouls during the next stoppage of play. That would add another layer of punishment to deter players and teams from just trying to take a foul, because even if play isn’t stopped, it would still count toward the player’s foul total and help the opposing team move into the bonus faster.
The NBA accepting an advantage rule would be a significant move, although referees currently do so in some cases, such as allowing little contact on some layups if the basket is completed but blowing the whistle if it rims out. It’s not the letter of the law, but it’s part of their strategy for keeping the game flowing, and this would just be a legal application of that philosophy, which would help cut down on players’ efforts to disrupt one of the most thrilling aspects of the game, the fast break.