A good foul is bear hugging a shooter about to take a layup.A good foul sends a weak foul shooter to the line, where his chances of making two shots are slim. Hack a Shack may not have looked like good basketball, but it was shrewd strategy.
It’s smart to deliberately foul a player before he can take a three-point shot that might tie a game in the closing seconds.If a dribbler is about to flash by you on a path to the basket, grab his arm. If your team is not yet in the bonus, it’s like a Get Out of Jail Free card. Imagine that in any other sport. When a batter launches a deep drive, can the pitcher tackle him before he reaches base? Can a tennis ace by nullified at the opponent’s discretion?
Back to basketball. Even if it’s in the bonus situation, there is less than a 50-50 chance that a 70 percent foul shooter will make both free throws (.7x.7=.49) so it’s only slightly more costly than an average possession by the opposing team, which is worth just under one point on average. And if the first free throw is missed, it’s a great possession for the defense.Never foul a jump shooter, it is said. But it’s hardly a cardinal sin. Two foul shot attempts are worth 1.4 points for a 70-percent shooter. The unmolested jump shot, would have had slightly less than a 50 percent chance of going in, so it was worth just less than one point. However, even a miss would have been rebounded by the offense about one-third of the time for a likely high percentage put-back. Fouling the shooter results in a small fraction of one point of difference. There are worse crimes.
Even an unwise foul is often forgiven by a missed foul shot, so a blind witness could cry “good foul” after every whistle and generally be on the money.
I’ve assumed a 70-percent foul shooter for these hypotheticals, but that’s generous. Only one of eight teams in this year’s 6A boys’ tournament made 70 percent for the tourney. At lower levels of play, 60 percent may be a more realistic assumption.
It’s ironic that foul shots are called “free” throws, when we say a player denied a layup by a deliberate foul is said to have been forced to “earn” the points.
As field goal shooting percentages over the years, foul shooting skills have plateaued. Factor in the advent of three-point shooting and the average possession is worth more now than when most current rules were adopted.
Is it any wonder that the game is more physical now? Players and coaches realize that fouling involves a small penalty and often a benefit. The modest minds in the stands shouting “good foul” left and right are on to something.