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Way down on the whole
A few charts on the decline in shooting fouls this season
Free throws across the league are way down. This year, teams are taking just 19.9 free throws per game, down from 21.8 last season.
But you can’t have a shooting foul unless you have a shot attempt. So instead of looking at free throws per game, let’s take a look at the percentage of shot attempts that have resulted in shooting fouls and see how or if that’s changed over time.
Over on pbpstats.com this is known as the Shooting Fouls Drawn Rate, or SFD Rate for short. In the chart below I’ve plotted the league-wide SFD Rate in each year since the 2000-01 season. This year, the SFD Rate is at 8.5 percent, the lowest mark in twenty years.
Overall, fewer shot attempts are resulting in shooting fouls. That was the goal of the officiating change implemented this season, which discourages offensive players from foul-baiting and making non-basketball moves.
But what types of shots are being impacted the most by this change?
From the data above we can’t tell if players are drawing fewer shooting fouls on attempts at the rim or from beyond the arc. To find out, it helps to break out the SFD Rate into what percent of two-pointers and three-pointers are resulting in shooting fouls.
As you can see, the SFD Rate had declined for both shot types. The two-point SFD Rate is down about a 1.5 percentage points while the three-point SFD Rate has declined less in absolute terms (only about 0.7 percentage points) but by about half in relative terms. Overall, this translates to about one fewer two-point shooting foul a game and 0.2 fewer three-point shooting fouls a game.
To be fair, it’s not ideal to compare the results from a season in progress to one that’s already finished. That’s because it’s possible — and I’m just spit-balling here — that early season defenses aren’t as focused and there are more blown coverages resulting in fewer contested shots, which leads to fewer shooting fouls on all shot attempts. If that’s true, then it’s possible that the reason the SFD Rate rate appears to be down is because were comparing two time periods that aren’t alike.
To test for that, we can attempt to make an apples-to-apples comparison by just looking at early season results from each year in our data. Unfortunately, pbpstats.com doesn’t have a filter for “first week of the season,” but we can get a reasonable approximation by just looking at the results from games played in the month of October each year.
The table below shows the overall SFD Rate, the two-point SFD Rate, and the three-point SFD Rate in games played in the month of October in each season. There’s no entry for 2020-21 since basketball didn’t start until December last season.
Even after controlling for whatever early season effects there might be, we’re still seeing a lower percentage of shots leading to shooting fouls this year relative to years past.
It’s too early to tell which players have been impacted the most by this change. But as I mentioned this offseason, anyone that relies on drawing shooting fouls further away from the basket is going to see their numbers drop barring a change in their offensive game.
The SFD Rates for nearly all the main scorers this year are down relative to last year. Whether some of those players make adjustments to their play style to offset the change in officiating will be something to monitor going forward.
It’s early, but the NBA seems to have done a nice job of cracking down on obvious foul-baiting this season. And for that they deserve some credit. Now, if they can just do something about the increasing number of “Euro Fouls” that are creating fewer fastbreaks and exciting plays in the open court.