A Brief Proposal for Improving the Late-Game NBA Sixth-Foul Situation

Episode 12 of Bryan Allain’s wonderful SchnozCast saw the host asking, “If you were the Commissioner, what’s the one thing that you would change?”  Bryan had a suggestion about changing the the foul situation to where you never foul out.  I have an idea, and it’s a decision tree.

  1. If you commit six physical fouls before the 8:00 mark of the 4th quarter, you’re done.  The chances are that you’re a big man brought in to bang bodies and get Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan to the line.  If you get six fouls in 40:00, you’re done.  Why?  The chances are that you’re not a key part of the game.  If you’re a star big, you’re not getting a sixth foul that early anyway unless Joey Crawford hates you.  Put another way: if you pick up six in 40:00, you’re A) having a really bad night of things and B) playing for a coach that’s too dumb to sit you out enough to get you halfway into the fourth quarter.
  2. From 8:00 to 4:00, any sixth or higher foul awards two shots to the fouled player and possession of the ball to the fouled player’s team.
  3. From 4:00 to 2:00, any sixth or higher foul is two shots, possession, and the offender cannot check in to the game for 2:00.  This is much like hockey’s minor penalty situation, except each team would still have five players on the court.  The goal is to get the offender off the court but not remove them completely from the game.  A late-but-not-very-late foul shouldn’t hamstring the squad.
  4. From 2:00 to the buzzer, any sixth or higher foul is two shots, possession of the ball, and the player sits out the rest of regulation time.  If the game goes into overtime, the penalty would carry over to the start of overtime.
  5. Overtime: other than carryover time, a sixth or higher foul is two shots, possession, and the two-minute rule again, unless the clock is at 1:00 or less, at which point the player is gone from the game, regardless of the number of overtimes.

Any two-shots situation would increase to three if the foul is made on a shooter beyond the three-point line.

The calculus here switches from “if I take this foul, I’m gone” to “if I take this foul, we give up shots and a possession, and maybe I’m out for two minutes”.  There may be times that you want to take the foul; e.g., Dwight Howard is going to get an emphatic dunk that will light up the home crowd and his teammates.  Your rim protection prevents the easy two and shifts play to the foul line, which slows the game down and puts pressure on a shaky foul shooter.  Moreover, possession would either come on the side or end line, which puts the offensive team into a half-court situation, which may favor your matchup.

But you get the penalty regardless of make or miss.  Foul Dwight but not enough to prevent the dunk, and you give him two shots and possession.  That’s a huge swing, so you have to know that the foul will impact the shot.

What are your thoughts, Bryan?