The Mosquitoes Of NBA Summer League: Fouls & Whistles

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LAS VEGAS – Golden State’s Draymond Green was playing like a man among, well, less powerful or intimidating men from Milwaukee Tuesday at the Thomas & Mack Center. After one particularly forceful foul in the paint vs. John Henson – his fourth personal in the second quarter already – some grumblers over on the Bucks bench caught the Warriors forward’s ear.

“That’s right,” Green was overheard responding. “I’ve got six left and I’m using ‘em all.”

There’s your summer league entertainment right there.

In the interest of court time and repetitions for those in training, NBA basketball in July allows players a maximum of 10 personal fouls before they are disqualified for the remainder of the game. This is an improvement on the ol’ no-foul-outs rule but only slightly. To stem what might be a parade to the foul line, the corollary in the summer league rule book is that teams only are in the penalty after 10 team fouls in a quarter.

The results are predictable: Lots of contact, lots of whistles, lots of free throws, lots of stoppages of play.

Later in the day Tuesday, the frustration from one advance scout watching a Phoenix-Memphis clash on its way to 63 personal fouls and 61 free throws spilled over. “They call so many fouls, you can’t evaluate what you’re seeing,” he said. “These officials must think we’re all here to see them.”

To which an NBA supervisor of referees later said: “We are.”

Summer league is a training program/job fair for active NBA referees and those from the D League or college ranks who aspire to that status. They’re working on their games same as the players, in a sense.

But the proceedings in Orlando and Las Vegas also are offered up to the public – fans in the stands and those following along on TV and on the Internet – as games, not simply scrimmages. And the numbers have been a little, let’s say, thick for aesthetically pleasing basketball.

Through Tuesday’s action in Las Vegas, the 22 teams in 33 games had committed 1,644 fouls, generating 1,594 free-throw attempts. That’s an average of 49.8 fouls and 48.3 FTAs per game or, on a per-team basis, 24.9 and 24.2.

But wait, there’s more: Summer league games last only 40 minutes rather than 48. So to compare such stats to what goes on in the NBA regular season, we need to multiply everything by 1.2. Here are the updated numbers: 59.8 fouls and 58.0 FTAs per game and 29.9 and 29.0 per team.

How’s that compare to the way teams played in the 2012-13 season? The average NBA game had 39.7 fouls called and 44.3 free throws attempted. So we’re looking at an increase of almost 51 percent in fouls and a 31 percent increase in foul shots (since the penalty kicks in so much later).

The result is choppy play, excessive contact and potential bad habits that get swapped in for actual defense. Certainly, the fouls create teaching moments for the coaches. They don’t have to worry about young players who need minutes fouling out by halftime. But it does affect the product on the floor and on your flat screen.

Here is a little good news, though: Starting with Wednesday’s action, and the inaugural Las Vegas summer league tournament that begins with six games, players now are limited to six fouls for disqualification. Just like the real NBA deal.

Just when you might have thought it wasn’t possible to get more excited about the brand of ball in July – a peek at how the NBA’s pebble-grained sausage gets made – there’s this: (Potentially) fewer fouls and whistles.

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