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How do you know: They're not fouling out

In yesterday's bullets, I asked for insight:

Help me out, if you can: Do players foul out less than they used to? Seems like it used to happen all the time. Now it seems so rare. I can’t tell if that’s really a trend, or just an artifact of a childhood watching Steve Johnson, king of six fouls.

Dan Feldman of PistonPowered went above and beyond, answering the question with great data and pretty charts. He learned that my eyes are not deceiving me, and NBA players are not fouling out much anymore.

He also discovered that nobody fouled out like Shawn Kemp.

Some of what we learn from Feldman's tinkering on Basketball-Reference:

  • Foul-outs are way down. 43.3 percent from 1986-1987 to this year, and this year has started higher than most.

  • Pace is one possible explanation -- faster play means more plays, and presumably more opportunities for fouls. But pace has changed less than 9 percent.

  • Maybe everyone just fouls less? That's not it either: Fouls per game, Feldman found, are down just 11.8 percent.

So it's a bit of a mystery. Why doesn't anybody get six fouls anymore?

My theory: Coaches have become ninnies.

Seems like every game some player -- even players who don't normally play long minutes, and are little threat to get six fouls -- is called to the bench with two fouls in the second quarter, where they will remain until halftime.

So many coaches worship in the religion of never letting a guy get a third foul in the first half, or a fourth foul in the third quarter. They have a hair trigger benching guys, which I don't think was so common twenty years ago.

My best guess is that's coaches do that because heading to crunch time, or overtime, missing good players is one of the best ways for coaches to look dumb to fans, reporters and owners.

But in fact, as John Hollinger has written many times, almost the opposite is true. Losing good players again and again all season out of fear of fouling out is more damaging to a team than getting them to play the most possible minutes, even at the cost of missing crunch time once in a blue moon.

Maybe, instead of chastising coaches for having players foul out, we should say: Good for the coach, he got every last possible minute out of that player.