Why some of the NBA’s best offensive tricks aren’t built for the playoffs

  • Co-author, Pro Basketball Prospectus series
  • Formerly a consultant with the Indiana Pacers
  • Developed WARP rating and SCHOENE system

During his time with the Houston Rockets, James Harden turned drawing fouls into an art form — as well as a means to maintain strong efficiency while scoring at volume unprecedented in the modern NBA. The free throws on which Harden subsisted weren’t as abundantly available during the playoffs, one reason why Harden’s performance has suffered to some extent the deeper his teams have advanced in the postseason.

Harden’s situation is a higher-end version of a challenge that also plagued DeMar DeRozan during his time with the Toronto Raptors, when DeRozan’s valuable ability to get to the line during the regular season dried up as the Raptors were knocked off in the playoffs by lower-seeded teams.

As we consider the subtle ways in which the crucible of postseason basketball differs from the marathon that is the regular season, it’s worth wondering whether drawing fouls translates as well in the playoffs. If so, what does that mean for the league’s new collection of stars skilled at baiting their opponents into fouls, including Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young?

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