This ain’t fair: Thoughts on blocking fouls, charges, and no-calls.

I have not consulted any referees or rulebooks before making this post, and maybe I should have, but I am spontaneously posting now out of frustration and have thus not decided to do extensive outside research.


Any basketball fan knows that the line between a blocking foul and a charging foul is slim…quite literally (at least in the NBA), there is a line (or more accurately, an arc) designating the “restricted area” AKA “the no-charge zone.” If a defender’s heels are on this line while trying to take a charge, it is no longer a charge, but rather a blocking foul. If a defender’s feet are sliding the slightest in any situation, it is a blocking foul. Mostly, I have no problem with these rules–it is fine to have a no-charge zone and fine to require set feet from a defender in asking them to establish position. But what ever happened to the no-call? My no-call ruminations were inspired by watching last night’s gem–Lamar Odom dunking over Ray Allen.

Lamar has a nasty dunk, but what’s important for the purpose of this article is that Ray Allen picks up a blocking foul in the process. Under NBA rules, I guess this is a correct call, as I have witnessed this situation countless times. It is clear that Ray Allen is in the “restricted area,” so obviously a charge would be the incorrect call (I agree with this). But here is where I start to disagree–the announcers say Ray Allen was “in the way,” but he obviously had established position. His feet were set, he did not move his arms to interfere with the shooting motion, and as far as I’m concerned, Lamar barreled into a player that was standing still. Lamar should be rewarded for his aggressiveness near the hoop, but not with an And-1–his reward should be to have no charge called against him. But should Ray Allen, standing still and straight with no reaching or swatting from his arms, be called for a blocking foul? What does Ray Allen do that merits a foul? Is Ray Allen supposed to get out of the way? I don’t think Doc Rivers would be too happy if Ray just sprinted out of the way, allowing Lamar to dunk freely. Under the current NBA system, as long as Ray isn’t trying to block the dunk, it makes more basketball sense to either put Lamar on the floor (a potential flagrant foul) or to sprint away. But this is the sticking point: In all other basketball contexts when a player is standing straight up, without movement, and set position, it is considered good defense–even if it’s right under the hoop. It is only when an offensive player is charging straight at you, and you appear to be “taking a charge” in the “no-charge zone,” that the defender is called for a foul.

A defender is taught (at least I was as a young player) to play straight-up defense–hands straight in the air without reaching or swatting with a set position–in order to play “no-foul” defense. Tim Duncan is great at this–it’s what makes him an all-world defender. By playing straight-up defense, he is able to alter shots by obstructing vision and motion every time without fouling. After all, his arms are straight-up, so it’s the defender’s job to work around this obstacle. Also, because he is playing “straight-up,” he doesn’t swat at the ball to rack up the blocks, but it’s still an effective, safe way of playing defense. And indeed, at all levels including the NBA, defenders play straight-up defense, or at the very least, they plead this to the refs when claiming they did not foul a shooter in the paint. It is safe to say that this form of defense–straight-up defense–is a supposed way of not fouling the offense. Let’s watch an example of Duncan play straight-up defense, with no blocking foul called, as LeBron posterizes him in arguably LeBron’s greatest dunk to this date.

Duncan is inside the no-charge zone (like Ray Allen) and his feet are moving even more than Allen’s were. But why is Allen called for a foul and Duncan not? Oh right, Duncan’s hands are straight up in the air! Of course, that makes so much sense! For NBA referees, when someone looks like they are trying to take a charge in the no-charge zone, even if this action is by nature less intrusive/obstructive than Duncan’s moving straight-up defense, it is a blocking foul. But when the defender has hands straight up in the air, signaling fair play, there is no foul. The rules for the way referees make these calls must be changed, as it makes no sense that a player having his hands straight in the air is less of a foul than a player with his hands tucked inside near his abdomen.

One side note: Lamar jumps into Ray more than LeBron jumps into Timmy. This is because LeBron can jump to the moon. What is the significance of this? Well, because Ray Allen was guarding an inferior leaper who chose to jump directly into him rather than over him, he was penalized by picking up a foul. This doesn’t really make sense to me.

Are you also frustrated by the inconsistencies of charges, blocks, and no-calls? Comment on the article or e-mail us at AGRbasketball (at) gmail (dot) com. Don’t forget to follow @AGRbasketball on Twitter and to like us on Facebook..

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3 Responses to This ain’t fair: Thoughts on blocking fouls, charges, and no-calls.

  1. splashtasticmrjay says:

    this article is fantastic. brings up a really good point about one of the flaws in the NBA referee system. also props for referring to duncan as timmy..

  2. nannerb says:

    i hate the block/charge call with a passion….i agree with you….there should be more non-calls…..there’s too much ticky-tack garbage that bogs down the game…these guys are athletes, let a little contact happen……

  3. Erik says:

    Actually, by strict interpretation of the NBA rules that was not a blocking foul by Ray Allen. I’m convinced the NBA officials themselves do not read the rules, since it says explicitly that the “restricted area” delimited by that semi-circle under the rim only affects *secondary* defensive players:

    An offensive foul should never be called if the contact is with a secondary defensive player who has established a defensive position within a designated “restricted area” near the basket for the purpose of drawing an offensive foul.

    The “restricted area” for this purpose is the area bounded by an arc with a 4-foot radius measured from the middle of the basket.

    EXCEPTION: Any player may be legally positioned within the “restricted area” if the offensive player receives the ball within the Lower Defensive Box.

    Repercussions of this rule:

    1) Based on the wording above, you *can* call an offensive foul when it is the *primary* defensive player that has established a legal guarding position in this restricted area.

    2) You can also call an offensive foul when it is a *secondary* defensive player that has established a legal guarding position, and the player receives a pass whilst within the lower defensive box and then initiates contact with this second defender.

    Ray Allen was certainly the primary defender in this situation, and thus is immune from the restricted area guarantee against charge calls.

    The official NBA “misunderstood rules” page agrees with my interpretation:
    Restricted Area:
    The restricted area (RA) is the area within the arched line on the court located below the rim. Its purpose is to stop secondary defenders from taking a position under the basket in an attempt to draw the offensive foul when a player is driving to the basket. If an offensive player drives past his primary defender on the way to the basket and a secondary defender comes over, he must establish a legal position outside the RA to draw an offensive foul. If the drive starts inside the Lower Defensive Box (LDB – this is the area from the bottom tip of the free throw circle to the endline between the two 3’ posted-up marks), the secondary defender is legally allowed to be positioned inside the LDB. The restricted are also does not apply if the secondary defender jumps in attempting to block the shot, the offensive player leads with his leg or knee in an unnatural motion or uses his off arm to prevent the defender from blocking his shot. The RA does not extend from below the backboard to the baseline. Therefore, if a player drives the baseline and is not attempting to go directly to the rim, the RA does not apply.

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