Really good article linked below on how Brad Stevens handles foul trouble. Brad Stevens is arguably the most resistant coach in the NBA to sit a guy with early foul trouble. Much of Stevens’ philosophy is grounded in his hesitancy to break a guy’s rhythm.
Further explaining his history dealing with foul trouble, Stevens recalled, “I had some guys in my years at Butler that we really had to make those decisions with. And obviously some guys are more prone to fouling again than others. But I’d almost personally rather roll the dice on a rhythm and keeping a rhythm of a game and then figuring it out later than trying to then manage the game just because of a guy’s got two fouls in the first quarter or three fouls in a half or whatever. They still have three more to go to foul out so usually that’s been the plan of attack. We haven’t a ton of guys foul out anyways. Obviously, Al did (earlier this week).”
3 thoughts of my own about foul trouble:
-Too many coaches treat halftime as this magical barrier where it becomes “ok” to play a guy who has two fouls. If it’s ok to play him with 20:00 left on the clock (like he would if he were to start the second half), why is it not “ok” to put him in for the last four minutes of the first half? Maybe that’s too much time in your mind, but just don’t get something as trivial/generic as halftime dictate your thinking.
-Players foul at different rates. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo has to treat Miles Bridges (2.1 fouls committed per 40 minutes) different than Jaren Jackson Jr. (5.8 fouls committed per 40 minutes). Bridges picking up two early fouls isn’t nearly as worrisome as Jackson Jr. doing so.
–This game theory article (which I highly recommend) linked below is doused in academia, but the point the writer is trying to make is a good one. While you want your player to be on the court for the most important possessions at the end of the game, you want to be careful about how much you limit his minutes in an effort to get him there. Long story short: “Don’t foul-out your own players” or, as Steve Jobs said, “Being the richest man in the cemetery isn’t worth much.”
-Foul trouble by reserves should be treated very differently than foul trouble by starters. If a reserve who averages 16 minutes a game picks up 2 quick fouls with 10 minutes to go in the first half (after playing, say, 4 minutes), it’s not a huge deal: he has three more fouls to spread over an expected 12 minutes of playing time.