But then the NBA placed a greater emphasis on freedom of movement in 2018-19, and more fouls were called: 41.8 per game, up from 39.6 the season before. Through Dec. 6 last season, the average game length had ticked up more than two minutes, according to Forbes.
So it’s a conundrum: In its attempt to make its product as entertaining as possible, the NBA has instituted rules that both decrease and increase the length of its games. This season it has a new idea, one that will get a tryout in the G League for the 2019-20 season: An experimental free throw rule in which players will shoot only one foul shot, with the value of that made free throw dependent on the type of foul that was committed (one point for a non-shooting foul, two for a foul on a regular field goal, three for fouling a three-point attempt).
The new rule won’t apply to end-of-game situations: Traditional free throw rules will apply to the final two minutes of regulation and overtime to prevent trailing teams from intentionally fouling even earlier. But Brad Walker, head of basketball operations for the G League, told ESPN’s Zach Lowe that the new free throw concept could shave six to eight minutes off the length of a game.
G League games already run shorter than NBA games, about 2:05, thanks to a number of experimental rules that include shorter shot clock resets on advances, shorter overtime periods and reset timeouts, which allow teams to advance the ball up the court and make substitutions but not huddle in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter and in overtime. It also used a coach’s challenge the past two seasons, an idea that will be implemented on a trial basis in the NBA starting in 2019-20.
That seems likely to add some time to NBA games, further erasing the time savings gained by the freedom-of-movement rules in the 2017-18 season and adding to the league’s conundrum.
Lowe notes that there are some worries about the rule with regards to historic standards, a notion Warriors superstar Stephen Curry seemed to bring up in a tweet Thursday that referenced his 2015-16 season, when he shot 50.4 percent overall, 45.4 percent from three-point range, and 90.8 percent from the free throw line.
They might have to change the 50/40/90 accomplishment 🤦🏽♂️.— Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30) September 26, 2019
The worry with this rule change is that, with only one free throw, it will drive down everyone’s free throw percentage. Over the past 20 seasons, ESPN notes, NBA players have historically shot the worst on their first free throw attempt: 73.3 percent. That improves to 78 percent on the second and 85.7 percent on the third.