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NBA offenses went too far last season. All the advanced analytics had turned the league into an offensive playground with teams jacking up three-pointers and masterfully collecting personal fouls with unorthodox shooting motions (Looking at you, James Harden). The league's offensive rating of 112.3 points per 100 possessions was the most in league history by a significant margin.

Something had to change.

So, this year officials have swallowed their whistles and are calling fewer shooting fouls per shot attempt than ever before. There's been an emphasis on not calling those "abnormal non-basketball moves" when a player just leans in to draw a foul and throws up some obscure shot attempt. It's meant a drop in free throw attempts per game from 21.9 last season to just 19.7 this year.

"Any time there’s rule changes or points of emphasis they’re usually super overdramatically forced as they make their point early in the season and then things will balance itself," Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said Saturday. "There’s no way these are gonna keep going like this all year, it’s bad for basketball at this point."

The lack of foul calls has meant more physicality and better defensive performances so far this year. Scoring is down from that 112.3 points per 100 possessions last year to 106.2 points this season, a number more in line with early 2000s basketball. 

For Raptors coach Nick Nurse, that change isn't necessarily a bad thing. The physicality is going both ways and it just means Toronto needs to step up to the challenge and hit back.

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"Man up. Man up and let’s go. We know what’s going on out here. Let’s adjust and let’s play," Nurse said he tells his players. "We’ve got to play through hits. You’ve got to make layups when you’re getting hit. You’ve got to play through some pinball action in the lane without coughing it up. And then you’ve got to make sure you’re getting in your physicality on the other end.”

Playing through that contact has been a bit of an issue for the Raptors so far this year. They're shooting just 59.2% inside the restricted area, the seventh-worst in the NBA, and they're shooting a pitiful 37.5% on drive attempts, per NBA Stats, the worst in the NBA by a significant 2.5%.

Just like the rest of the league, the Raptors are adjusting to the new rules. They've begun settling for more mid-range jumpers than in years past and are trying to get into opposing players defensively, blowing up handoffs and ball screens with their long and tough defenders.

The league will presumably adjust back a little bit this season and find a middle ground between the offensive explosion of last season and the physicality of this year, but until then the Raptors are going to have to figure out how to play with the league's new toughness.

Further Reading

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