Please Explain in Great Detail the NBA Fouling System

See thread title.

I’ve been watching professional and college basketball a lot recently and I cannot seem to figure out the fouling system. So please sort out the different types of fouls there are, the penalties for them and the strategic uses of each please.

And for a very specific question, how in the world can someone give someone else an elbow to the face and have zero penalties brought down upon them like what happened last year Lakers vs. that other team in the end of the seaon (I usually know these terms but I’m hungry and my brain functions are failing)

Well, in the NBA, there’s the theory and the practice for fouls of course.

There are fouls and violations. Offensive violations include travelling, a three-seconds in the lane violation, and a few others. The penalty is that the other team gets the ball. Defensively, the only real violation is three seconds in the lane (without guarding anyone) and the penalty is a single free throw for the other team (and they get the ball back after the free throw).

For fouls, the system in the NBA is that if a player is fouled in the act of shooting, they get the basket and and extra free throw if the basket is made. If the player missed, they get two free throws (or three if the player was attempting a three-point shot).

If the player is not shooting, then for the first five fouls on a particular team in each quarter, the fouled team gets the ball out of bounds. For the sixth and subsequent non-shooting fouls, the fouled player gets two free throws.

Referees can decide a particular foul is particularly dangerous or egregious and call it a flagrant foul, for which there are a couple of different levels of seriousness and associated extra penalties which I’m not going to bother looking up right now. There’s also a special case, similar to a flagrant foul, where fouling a player in front of you on a fast break can be given extra penalties, but I’m not looking that up right now either.

Finally, there are technical fouls, which the referees can call for things like cursing, objecting too strenuously to the referee or throwing the ball to indicate displeasure. Technical fouls result in a single free throw for the other team, and play restarting with an in-bounds to whoever had the ball.

Additionally, a player with six personal fouls or two technicals is out of the game.
Fouls are used strategically in three situations: First, if a player has a wide open chance at a basket, and a defender can foul him to prevent the basket, it’s usually considered a good move to give two free throws rather than a guaranteed basket. Though the defender runs the risk of allowing a three point play (if the person scores), running up his own foul total too high, or getting called for a flagrant, so it’s not an automatic decision.
Second, near the end of a quarter, if a team has committed less than five fouls, the ‘have a foul to give’ and will foul to prevent even a slight chance at scoring, since if they foul before a shot attempt, they’re not really giving up anything. Finally, as time starts running out at the end of a game, the team that’s ahead will try to just hold the ball to run down the clock. The team that’s behind may intentionally foul just to get the ball back (after the other team’s free throws).

Now, then there’s your other question about the practice of foul calling in the NBA. There’s three parts to the answer: first is that referees are only human, and NBA players are incredibly quick, and referees just miss things and make mistakes; secondly, and related to that, things happen so quickly in the NBA that referees often have to make assumptions about what happened, so the guy with a reputation for fouling a lot will often get more fouls called. Finally, that process has evolved to where it’s widely acknowledged that the biggest stars in the NBA do get calls that rookies and less famous players don’t.

Thanks for that. Definitely opened my eyes as to just what the hell is going on sometimes.

Surely this is not such a daunting task that only one person wants to undertake it, is it though?

You have three people watching ten, things that happen away from the ball can and do slip by officials.

Unless my recollection is off, the guy with the ball did the elbowing.

I assumed this is the play you mentioned? the elbow happened away from the ball at the time of a shot and under the basket, if you aren’t looking right at those particular two players then you’d miss it. It just happens that right at the moment of a shot is when the refs attention is most likely to be focused entirely elsewhere.

Slight correction here. There are no free throws on the first four fouls. Penalty shots start with the fifth and subsequent fouls.

The rules change slightly in the last two minutes of each quarter. The bonus starts on the second foul in the last two minutes (provided they weren’t already up to the foul limit anyway). For example, if Team A gets to the two minute mark and has committed only one foul, then they foul at, say 1:45 and foul again at 1:01, Team B will get two free throws, even though the foul at 1:01 was only the third foul of the quarter.

No, it was a Lakers/Magic game. Watch near the 10-second mark.

Ah yes, as a Magic fan that pissed me off but its a “questionable” call not a blatant foul. That really could go either way, Kobe didn’t exactly throw an elbow so much as Jameer ran right into it. That’s the kind of play that no matter how the call went leaves the other team severely pissed off.

Yeah, it’s pretty much the most perfect example of how and why I’m having such a hard time figuring out the rules on fouls and such.

And you’re right, the game moves quickly and it doesn’t look as bad as I remember it now that I watch it a few months later.

Yeah even looking at it from a perfect angle and with my full attention i can’t honestly say if it was a foul or not.

Okay people, I am going out of town for the weekend and will be without precious internet access. So when I get back late Sunday, I expect a detailed, point-by-point analysis of the NBA foul and violation system on my desk.

Whole careers are at stake here people, namely yours. Is that clear?

I’m sure Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball has something on this, because it has something on everything.

The difficult thing about NBA refereeing is that many times, fouls could get called both ways. Its not as clear cut as some other sports, so I’ve heard.

The play you mentioned specifically where Kobe’s elbow made contact with Jameer Nelson’s face is one of those, however I think they got the call right. For one thing, a player is entitled to the space immediately around him. A guy can’t get right up on another guy body to body and immobilize the other player without committing a foul. In this case, Kobe has a right to bring the ball up, his elbows had that right of way. It was Nelson intruding into Kobe’s space that was the problem. It actually happened before, I think, with Kobe and Steve Nash a few years ago. Pretty much the same situation, Kobe’s elbow hit Nash in the nose but it was Nash that was called for a foul.

As I understand it, only if a player throws his elbows out does he get a foul. If he’s simply moving the ball while holding it, he has a right to his personal space. Try this: pick up an object, hold it so that your forearms are perpendicular to the floor and your biceps are parallel to the floor. Then turn 360 degrees. Your elbows should be at a 90 degree angle. That is your area. If someone sticks his face into that area and prevents you from moving around, that is THEIR foul, not yours.

A similar foul that is much less contentious is that a player has the right to the space below him if he jumps straight up and down. Some dirty players have tried to step into the landing space of a jumping player so that the jumper has to land on him, thus causing a foul or, in a worse case, an injury due to a rolled ankle or something. So the rules say that when you jump straight up, if the other player gets under you, that’s their fault, no matter how hard you land on them. Shaq’s been known to land on a few people back when he actually jumped. It was their fault, even if he could have crushed them.

Having watched a ton of Lakers games over the years, I tend to hear a lot about how the fouling system is unfair or not applied consistently with some players, first Shaq now Kobe. Shaq was tough. He’s a big guy and everybody swats at him and hits him in all kinds of places. Yet he doesn’t get the calls he deserves. If computers called fouls, I suspect he’d have people foul him 15 times a game at least.

Hardest to ref are blocks/charges. A blocking foul happens when the defender does not get his feet set in a blocking position before the offensive player runs into him, or when the defender is inside the little painted circle right under the basket. A charging foul happens when the defender is out of that circle and does have his feet set. Its been said that blocks and charges could be called 50/50 almost every time because there’s just so much subjectiveness in it. Next time you watch a game, try to catch a block or a charge and see if you see what the refs are seeing. Its tough

Not only that, but since both players are fully aware of the rules, they will always act like they were the victim of a foul. Defenders “flopping” to the slightest contact can sometimes fool a referee into calling an offensive foul. Derek Fisher of the Lakers has a reputation for being one of the best at that. At 1:25 of the clip below, Fisher may or may not have been fouled (the refs called the offensive foul, while the video shows that he could have pulled the other guy into him):

Dear lord. The plot to make professional basketball all that much more confusing to the layman thickens.

I wondered what the semi circle was for. Does that mean that offensive players are immune from charging calls if the defender is in that area?

A bit OT, but:

The concept of an intentional foul has always seemed a bit strange to me. It exists in a number of sports, but seems most common in basketball. How would the game suffer if the rule were changed to this:
When a team is fouled without scoring points, that team can accept either the current number of shots, or one fewer and possession

As far as I can remember, I have never remembered a charge being called in the circle so I’m inclined to say yes, they are immune from charges. That doesn’t mean other things can’t be substituted for the charge call if the foul is egregious, like offensive foul.

Sorry, let me try to clarify for you.

If a player runs into another player, the foul is on whoever got to that position second (with the exception of the above circle). If a defender gets to this position first, sets his feet, and is not moving, and the offensive player runs into him, then the foul is on the offense.

If the defender fails to do any of the above and the offensive player runs into him, then its a blocking foul on the defense.

There is a very very subjective line as to when the defender’s feet are set and when he stops moving. Check out this videobetween Greg Oden and Hedo Turkuglu. Can you really say who got to position first? And things like this happen a dozen times in a game. It is a given that the fans of the losing side would point to something like this and cry foul but some things are just really hard to call