The Sports Revolution: And TWO!

Let me set the scene for you: You are playing the game of basketball, and you drive to the basket, and you are fouled on a layup attempt that you miss. You receive two free throws. The next play, the same thing occurs, except that you make the layup. You receive one free throw.

Let me reset the scene for you: Playing the game of basketball, yadda yadda, miss layup + foul = two free throws, made layup + foul = two free throws.

Wait, what?

Yes, mon ami, Pierre returns and with a vengeance. The NBA shall draw my unique ire over the course of the next several weeks, as I once again spew vitriol at the odd presumptions of American sports rules, taking aim at its most athletic and aesthetic of sports, but one that is passing away before our very eyes.

I must start by professing a special affinity for the “and one.” It is a very popular phrase in the jargon of American basketball. In pickup games, players say it to call a foul, even though they generally miss the ensuing shot; this is an annoying and egotistical practice. The referee’s idiosyncratic “count the basket” maneuver–be it an exaggerated swing of the arm both downward and diagonally across or the understated turn of the arm outward so as to reveal the palm up or even the old-fashioned dip of the index and middle fingers into some sort of invisible cookie jar–is the sport’s only culturally relevant hand signal. When a player achieves an “and one” in a critical moment, he cannot help but pantomime the symbol along with the referee, meaning it is basketball’s equivalent of the “Out” call in baseball or the “Touchdown” symbol in football.* When an “And one” comes at a big moment, you can count on the sport’s best announcers to elucidate it with that perfect intuition of dramatic pause: Imagine (or perhaps simply remember) Marv Albert calling, “Jordan, with the step, over Malone…AND THE FOUL!”**

*It is noteworthy that all of these signals themselves are recreations of natural human outpourings of emotion; for instance, both the “And one” and “Out” signs are modified fist pumps whereas the “Touchdown” call is just raising one’s arms over their his head in a celebratory fashion.

**This specifically is not an example of it, but it does remind me that no announcer has been or ever will be better than Marv Albert at isolating significant prepositional phrases. A cursory glance at some of Albert’s signature calls (beyond “YES!” and “AND THE FOUL!”) are things like, “with the step,” “with the facial!” or my personal favorite, “Timeout…ON THE FLOOR.”

But there is something about the “And one” that has always bothered me: Why is it not an “And two”? I know, I know; you are so ingrained in the everyday riff-raff of the NBA Playoffs that you accept the fact that the outcome of a shot on which a foul occurs deserves to alter the punishment for said foul. But why is this? Implicit in the current rule is the idea that if one makes a shot despite a foul, then the foul couldn’t have been very hard. But we know this is not the case in a significant enough sample. Kobe Bryant, for instance, would likely finish more “And ones” than, say, Yi Jianlian. Does this then mean that Kobe is not fouled as hard as Yi, simply because he finishes regardless of the contact with a higher frequency? Of course not. Some players are better than others at absorbing contact and finishing the play regardless; they should be rewarded and not punished for this. They should receive the same number of free throws regardless of whether they make the shot or not.

Furthermore, aside from the distinction between common fouls and flagrant ones, there are no additional degrees of fouls. There are no “one-shot fouls” or “two-shot fouls” dependent on the severity of the foul. And yet, this logic seems to take hold when a player makes the basket. Indeed, I am as confused as you are.

Let us take a mathematical bend towards this: As it stands right now, for an average free-throw shooter–for mathematical simplicity, we shall say the average is 70 percent–the expected value of a shooting foul is 1.4 points (0.7 + 0.7). The expected value for an “and one” is only 1.3 points higher (2 + 0.7), when the difference is that the player has made a basket that purports to be worth two points. However, by eliminating the second free throw that he rightfully earned, we punish him by an expected value equal to his free-throw shooting percentage. His “two-pointer” thus becomes worth less than two points–even though, in most cases, this two-point basket is more difficult than most two-point baskets considering that the player made it despite being fouled. It is even more outrageous for three-pointers, where the expected value of three free throws (2.1) is only 1.6 less than that of a three-pointer and one (3.7). The made three-pointer is worth just over half of its supposed value.*

*If we add in the fact that most players who make three-pointers while being fouled are closer to 90 percent free-throw shooters than 70 percent free-throw shooters, the value of the made trifecta decreases even more, down to 1.2 points.

In the final analysis, then, baskets on which one is not fouled are worth more than ones on which one is fouled.

There is a significant caveat and a crucial consequence of instituting the “And two.” The caveat: Let’s, as the Americans say, cool the jets on continuation. The idea that a player can be fouled and take another step, let alone two steps or a dribble, before taking a shot on a shooting foul is nothing short of comically absurd. Subjectivity is the hobgoblin of poor officiating, and the loose interpretation of continuation, which is called differently by different refs and for different players, is one of the NBA’s chief examples of officiating incompetence.

The consequence is just as important: If we institute the “And two,” perhaps officials will start calling games more appropriately loose. With the prospect of star players earning four points on a trip, I very much doubt that parades to the charity stripe* would be as tolerated as they are now. Can you even imagine the reaction if Kobe Bryant had received two free throws on that ridiculous “And one” when Wally Szczerbiak didn’t touch him in the 2004 Playoffs?**

*I believe Dwyane Wade redefined the term during the 2006 Finals.

**YouTube has failed me. But here’s the setup: Kobe Bryant is on a fast break, Wally Szczerbiak gives chase. Kobe goes up for a layup, Wally gives up on the chase and stops about halfway through the paint. Kobe makes the layup unmolested. Trailing ref calls a foul on Szczerbiak. Unreal.

Finally, if nothing else, altering the “And one” rule to “And two” could breathe some much-needed new life into that once prominent brand and tour. Pierre, contrary to popular belief, loves him some streetball.

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One response to this post.

  1. […] has argued this point before, in regards to that officiating shambles of an indoor winter sport. While watching my beloved Ligue canadienne de football this autumn, it has struck me that North […]

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