Prior to the start of the 2021-22 season, the NBA announced a number of new rule changes.
To crack down on "overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves," the league revealed that referees are no longer going to reward offensive players from launching themselves into defenders in an attempt to draw shooting fouls.
There's a select group of players who are expected to be impacted the most by the rule changes, one of them being Trae Young.
Honored Fr. 🤣🤷🏽♂️ https://t.co/H7NVbnXodu- Trae Young (@TheTraeYoung) June 22, 2021
The No. 5 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Young has quickly become one of the league's premier foul drawers. In his sophomore season, only two players averaged more than his 9.3 free throw attempts per game. Last season, his 8.7 free throw attempts per game tied him with Zion Williamson for third-most in the league.
Young's free throw attempt rate (.418) - the number of free throws a player attempts per field goal attempt - to this point of his career ranks third among active guards.
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How Trae Young games the system
There are a few ways that Young likes to draw fouls, the first being by getting defenders airborne and leaning into them.
In addition to being one of the league's best foul-drawers, Young has quickly established himself as one of the most prolific 3-point shooters off the dribble. Per NBA.com, he made a total of 104 pull-up 3s last season, putting him behind a group of eight players for most in the league. He only made 33.5 percent of those opportunities - for comparison, Damian Lillard, who led the league with 201 made pull-up 3s, converted them at a 37.1 percent clip - but it didn't stop him from launching 4.9 per game.
The combination of Young's quick release and comfort shooting from deep make him a difficult player to guard because he doesn't need much room to get his shot off.
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If defenders aren't quick to react, they run the risk of Young walking into a good look at a 3.
But if they get overly antsy, Young would punish them by getting them in the air with a pump fake and leaning into them.
That was almost always a foul last season. This season? Not so much. The NBA made it clear that the act of "a shooter launching or leaning into a defender at an abnormal angle" is a non-basketball move, meaning players will no longer get away with throwing themselves into defenders.
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The same applies for when offensive players "veer" into a defensive player in an "abrupt manner," like so:
Young's 3-point shooting gets a lot of attention, but he has perhaps the best floater in the game today. Many of his floaters come from sequences like the one above, in which Young gains inside position on his defender out of the pick-and-roll.
It's worth noting that Young averaged 14.1 pick-and-roll possessions per game last season, the most in the NBA. He drew a shooting foul on 14.9 percent of those pick-and-roll possessions, which was - you guessed it - one of the highest rates in the league.
Young will still be allowed to snake pick-and-rolls and pin defenders on his hip or back...
...but the new rule changes will make it much harder for him to consistently draw shooting fouls in those situations.
Last but not least, offensive players can't use their off-arm to hook their defender.
With the amount of pick-and-rolls he runs, it should come as no surprise that Young ranked third in the league last season with 20.1 drives per game. If his defender had their arm down or horizontal on his way to the basket, Young would rip through it as though he was going to shoot, drawing a foul in the process.
Referees are going to monitor those types of plays much closer this season.
Trae Young's response to the rule changes
Beyond him being "honored," Young said that the new changes are a matter of adjustment.
"I think it's more an adjustment on both sides, but also just me playing my game," Young told Marc Stein.
"I've been in a lot of meetings with [NBA head of referee training and development] Monty [McCutchen], trying to make sure what's a foul and what's not. Lot of the [contact I draw] is a foul. Me going in front, stopping on a dime, defenders continuing to run into me, that's still a foul.
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"The league is good at that - being open to communicating about anything," Young continued. "Especially if a guy has questions. It's not just me. I'm sure a lot of other guys have called and just tried to get more clarification on what's a foul and what's not."
Young's free throw attempts per game are down to 5.3 to start this season - a shade above what he averaged as a rookie (5.1) - but it hasn't prevented him from averaging 25.0 points and 10.0 assists, powering the Hawks to a 2-1 start.
It doesn't appear as though the new rule changes are impacting Young as much as other players, such as James Harden. Not yet, anyway.
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