To the delight of many, the NBA recently announced some changes to the way certain plays are officiated. In an extensive Twitter thread at the end of September, the NBA's officiating account went into detail on their new interpretive change to the way "abnormal and non-basketball moves" by offensive players will be officiated.
The primary focus of this rule change was to no longer reward offensive players who initiate contact with their defender in order to earn free throws. Over the last few seasons, this strategy has become especially prevalent with offensive players lunging into defenders in an attempt to draw a foul. With the NBA's new interpretation of this move, the offensive player will now be given an offensive foul if the contact is excessive, or the play will result in a non-call if the contact is marginal.
Fans got to see one of the first examples of this new interpretation during a pre-season game between the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trailblazers. In the first quarter of this exhibition matchup, Warriors superstar Steph Curry got his defender in the air with a pump-fake and then proceeded to initiate contact by lunging forward. This play, which would have likely been free throws last season, resulted in a no-call.
Steph Curry spoke about this play extensively on a recent podcast with David Aldridge and Marcus Thompson. When asked about not receiving a foul call on that shot Monday night, Steph said, "I did lean forward, the game in Portland, I leaned forward a lot. That’s kind of a judgment call, in terms of, is the defender truly stopping and still in legal guarding position, or am I the one truly initiating the contact? There’s going to be that gray area there. Obviously, I lost that conversation."
While Curry admits that he leaned forward quite a bit on this particular play, he also understands that making this change is going to be difficult for both players and officials. For the refs, Curry said that "There’s going to be some confusion to start, for sure. Any emphasis they put from one year to the next, the changes, it takes some time to adjust. I’m sure there will be some antics early. Like that [step-back] traveling thing a couple years ago, refs are trained to look at a certain thing, but there’s a lot of other things going on. They have to get adjusted, too."
Steph Curry mentioned himself, Luka Doncic, James Harden, and Trae Young as the players that everyone wants to talk about the most as it pertains to this new rule; however, Steph remains confident that his game will not suffer as long as the referees are consistent.
On the consistency he hopes to see from officials, Steph said, "It’s just a matter of, hopefully, it’s consistent. That’s the biggest thing we need from a refereeing standpoint, across the board. I don’t care what you call, as long as you’re consistent with it, we’ll make the adjustments, and the game won’t suffer -- or my game won’t suffer for it, at all.”
Steph Curry is not only one of the best players in the NBA today, but one of the greatest players of all-time. While some have recently made him the face of this new rule change, Steph's game is not dependent on getting this call. Of all the players in the NBA who attempted at least 20 shots per game last season, Steph Curry's .289 free throw rate was the 3rd lowest in the NBA. Only Kyrie Irving's .201 and Jayson Tatum's .258 were lower.
Looking at where his free throw rate ranks all-time, even further solidifies the fact that Steph Curry's game is not dependent on "foul baiting." Amongst all players in NBA history who averaged at least 17 shots per game, Steph Curry's .242 career free throw rate is 2nd lowest in NBA history. Only Mike Mitchell, who played from 1978-88, had a lower career free throw rate amongst those who attempted at least 17 field goal attempts per game.
For comparison, the other players Curry mentioned alongside himself all had free throw rates significantly higher than his last season. James Harden's free throw rate last year was .439, Luka's was .349, and Trae Young's was .491, which led all point guards not named Ben Simmons.
Steph Curry is confident that the league's new interpretation rules will not negatively impact his game, and the numbers corroborate that confidence.