How to get away with theft

Kawhi Leonard’s trick

BY DAVID THORPE

There’s a secret among NBA players, something they learn early in their careers: Don’t foul. There are all kinds of reasons not to foul—the analytics say free throws are about the worst possible outcome of any defensive possession. But for players there’s also the crystal clear motivation that fouls hurt playing time. Many coaches still bench players for picking up two fouls in the first quarter, getting a third foul in the first half, or for a fourth foul in the third quarter. Sitting ruins a player’s chance at the kinds of stats that make people see you as a star. In college, that might not matter as much; players are taught to “take one for the team.” But in the NBA, the star players feel they need to be on the court for 34+ minutes per game. And fouls can prevent that from happening.

This makes going for steals a poor choice of hobby; they lead to fouls. The 15 NBA players with the most steals, as of this writing, have stolen the ball a combined 919 times—and they ha…

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