Trae Young: Harden not alone in foul rule frustration

By Sports Desk October 29, 2021

Trae Young believes James Harden is merely one of "a couple of guys" being targeted by an NBA rule change that is seeing fewer fouls awarded.

More lax officiating early in the 2021-22 season has frustrated Brooklyn Nets superstar Harden, who has said he "for sure" feels like "the poster boy" for what the league described as "an interpretive change in the officiating of overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves by offensive players with the ball in an effort to draw fouls".

Harden has averaged 8.7 free throw attempts per game for his career. This includes more than 10.0 in seven separate seasons and six straight before last year. Only Wilt Chamberlain (11) and Shaquille O'Neal (10) have averaged double-figures for free throws in more seasons.

Since arriving in the NBA in 2009, no player comes within 1,000 of Harden's 7,674 total free throw attempts.

This year, though, following the rule change, Harden has visited the foul line just 15 times through five games – an average of 3.0 even lower than his rookie year.

"Sometimes I feel like coming into a game it's already predetermined," he said. "I already have that stigma of getting foul calls."

But Harden is not alone. Atlanta Hawks point guard Young has averaged 4.4 free throws per game this year, down from 8.7 in 2020-21 when his 546 for the year trailed only Giannis Antetokounmpo (581) and Joel Embiid (548).

And Young was keen to address the issue after taking only three shots from the foul line in Thursday's defeat to the Washington Wizards, in which he scored a season-low 15 points.

"It's not necessarily about stuff not going our way," he said. "It's simple basketball. Fouls should be fouls.

"The foul they gave me at the end of the game, I thought that was BS – they just gave it to me – but there's a lot of calls they missed.

"It's basketball. It feels like they're learning, and it's... I don't know. It's frustrating."

Young said he would have to "figure it out", but he indicated others are in the same boat as he and Harden.

Damian Lillard is down to 4.5 free throw attempts and 17.8 points per game, while Devin Booker has only had 3.5 free throw attempts and a slight slump to 21.5 points.

"I don't want to get fined too much, but this is frustrating," Young said. "I saw James said it's about him, but it's not targeted at one player. There's a couple of guys where you feel like refs are holding their whistle.

"You watch basketball. Damian Lillard's never averaged 17 points probably since his rookie year. There's a couple of guys. Book's averaging 18.

"There are a lot of things where guys are driving straight, they're getting knocked off balance, it's still a foul.

"There were a lot of things they took out that were necessary – veering back and jumping into guys – that's different. There are certain things that I agree with the rule changes, but then there's things that are still fouls.

"Guys are going to get hurt, and that's why, especially a smaller guy like me, who's going up against bigger and stronger defenders, they're using their body and they're using their legs and their hands to stop me.

"I know they're looking for a guy getting knocked off balance. So, if I'm going straight and I get my balance knocked off, that's a foul. If they slow down my speed, that's a foul.

"I know the rules, so the ref can't come to me and tell me what happened and what didn't if I know exactly what they're looking for."

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