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NBA Considers Rules Change to Prevent “Unnatural Shooting Motion” Fouls

The league has had enough of perimeter shooters leaping into defenders just to draw a whistle.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA is looking at rules changes for the 2021-22 season that restrict “unnatural shooting motions” in an attempt to draw fouls on jump shots. The news comes from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN Sports.

The league has been drifting towards favoring offenses since rules changes in the 2000’s prohibited hand-checking against dribblers on the perimeter. Early implementation of those rules gave rise to the scoring point guard: quick, ball-dominant players who could get free from defenders when unimpeded. Where size, athleticism, and technique had long been keys to scoring—evidenced by the dominance of centers in the 1970’s and 1980’s, then hyper-athletic shooting guards and small forwards in the 1990’s and early 2000’s—speed and skill now came to the fore.

At first, smaller guards scored primarily by darting into the lane for layups and mid-range, pull-up jumpers. In the last 7-8 years, the range of pull-ups has extended to the three-point arc. Then—under the ministrations of sharpshooters like Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard—it went far beyond. In all cases, the prohibition against touching offensive players has allowed shots to come freely and scoring to rise.

The phenomenon stepped up a couple years ago when several players were injured by the infamous “step under” move, where defenders—unable to initiate contact with shooters—put feet underneath the intended landing spot of offensive players, causing rolled ankles and distracted thoughts. The league prohibited most body parts entering the vicinity of shooters during the shot process. Now not only could offensive players not get hand-checked, they operated in the equivalent of a protective bubble, the violation of which would bring a swift whistle. With defenders not able to get near their counterparts, the step-back jumper came into vogue. Two feet of retreat and half a second of time provided sufficient separation for most offensive players to get an open look.

Not long after, the league’s best scorers began to discover that their protective bubble moved with them. Instead of stepping back, they could jump forward or to the side, drawing contact and foul shots. During the 2020-21 season, observers saw rampant examples of star guards baiting defenders into their personal bubble, then attempting ridiculously difficult heaves while leaping to create contact. The shot wasn’t expected to go in; the resulting free throws were.

It looks like the NBA might be deciding that enough is enough. Taking advantage of the system is one thing, exploiting it quite another. Nobody likes to see otherwise-brilliant players attempting horrible shots in a bid to game the system. Whether they’ll be successful in legislating out such moves remains to be seen. Those plays are eye-of-the-beholder judgment calls; officiating is notoriously inconsistent in gray areas. But they had to try something, and it looks like they will.