Are the Future Effects of the “Trae Young Rule” Predictable?

GameEdge Analytics
4 min readJul 8, 2021
“James Harden drive” by All-Pro Reels is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

“Trae is Balding!” is the chant used by every non-Atlanta Hawk fan, that could be more symbolic than we think; A new rule change may cause his on-court effectiveness to recede just like his hairline.

Shams Charania, a renowned reporter, announced that the Competition Committee and Board of Governors seem to be finalizing a major rule change intending to contain the usefulness of drawing fouls by performing non-basketball movements. These movements include unorthodox releases, leans, and leg kicks by shooters, along with sudden bumps into defenders by ball handlers.

Some players are more notable for performing these acts than others, but most NBA fans concur that this rule change is being provoked by the regular foul-drawing practices of players like Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks and James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets.

“James Harden drive” by All-Pro Reels is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

As mentioned earlier, this rule change MAY cause certain players’ on-court effectiveness to plummet. While it is impossible to predict the future effects that the Trae Young Rule will have on NBA gameplay and statistics with extreme precision, it is possible to formulate an educated prediction by analyzing the data from historical foul-related rule changes.

For example, the Hand-Checking Rule was first instituted into the rule book after the 2003–04 NBA Season. Since this rule limited the defense, opposite of the Trae Young Rule, it should exhibit the opposite effects.

The Hand-Checking Rule states that a defender cannot keep his hand on an offensive player unless that player has their back to the basket in the paint or if the defender is not affecting the offensive player’s movement ability.

If you grew up in the 80s or 90s, hand-checking was considered good defense. If what was known to be good defense suddenly became illegal, it’s a sign that the game drastically reformed.

“doughboy getting illegally hand checked by hustle and flow” by permanently scatterbrained is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This rule change had interesting, and almost counterintuitive effects. Following the 2003–04 Season, where the average personal fouls (PF) per game was 21.4, the average PF per game in a season had a tiny spike (22.8 in 2005–06) and then consistently fell to 19.3 in the 2020–21 season.

In essence, this defensive restriction somehow slightly decreased the number of fouls committed. As the Hand-Checking Rule made it easier to rack up fouls, defenders took extra precautions to adjust to the reformed game. These two opposing forces canceled each other out on the stat sheet.

The Hand-Checking Rule did play a role in sparking the 3pt-Revolution though. Since guards didn’t constantly have a hand on them at the top of the key anymore, they felt safer taking more 3pt attempts and practiced that shot more. Directly after the 2003–04 Season, the average 3pt attempts (3PA) per game went from 14.9 to 15.8 shots. That trend has accelerated, hitting 34.6 attempts this past season.

The Reggie Miller Rule, implemented in 2012, addresses the issue of players kicking out their leg as part of their shot form to visibly draw fouls. Since this rule restricts the offense, it should demonstrate similar trends to what the Trae Young Rule will have.

The kicking technique was commonly practiced by the Pacers legend, Reggie ‘Miller Time’ Miller who got away with kicking his leg throughout his entire career. wanted to prevent those who attempted to follow the Pacers legend from unnecessarily kicking their legs.

“Reggie Miller” by Niklas is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Though, the statistics show minimal effects. The average PF per game never deviated from year to year by more than one foul from 2012–2020. The average PF per game ranged from 19.8 to 20.9 fouls within those years.

Although historically foul-concerned rule changes have not had drastic effects on quantitative statistics (demonstrated by the Hand-Checking Rule of ’04 and the Reggie Miller Rule of ‘12), they have had noticeable impacts on visual gameplay.

The NBA has always tried to make gameplay as authentic as possible. The Reggie Miller Rule and now the Trae Young Rule were both intended to limit the non-basketball aspects of NBA gameplay. Kicking legs and leaning awkwardly only serves to sell fouls to the officials, which is perceived by many as inauthentic.

Rule change precedent indicates it is probable that the Trae Young Rule will not heavily affect the stat sheet but will heavily affect visual gameplay by eliminating the inauthentic foul-selling to a substantial extent.

All data from Basketball Reference. Updated as of July 5, 2021.