In basketball there are only so many fouls a team can commit before the opposing team is rewarded with penalty free throws. Every division of basketball, including the NBA, handles penalty free throws a bit different. How many fouls until a team reaches the bonus in the NBA?
An NBA team enters the bonus and is rewarded with free throws once the opponent has committed its fifth common foul of the quarter. This means that a team is allowed four common fouls per quarter, and free throws are awarded on the fifth common foul.
There are several exceptions to the bonus rule in the NBA. The final two minutes of every quarter is handled differently, and so are overtimes. Also, some types of fouls do not count towards the bonus. In this article we will discuss these details in more depth and also compare the NBA bonus rule to the college basketball bonus rule.
How Many Fouls Until the Bonus in the NBA?
NBA Bonus Rules
The NBA Bonus rule is found under Rule 12 Part B Section 5 in the official NBA rule book (click here to view it). It states that:
“The first four common fouls committed by a team in any regulation period (quarter) shall result in the ball being awarded to the opposing team on the sideline nearest where play was interrupted. The ball shall be awarded no nearer to the baseline than the free throw line extended.”
When an NBA team draws the fifth common foul of a quarter, they are awarded with penalty free throws. The player who was fouled will get to shoot two free throws.
The two free throws differs from college basketball where the initial reward for entering the bonus is a one-and-one free throw opportunity.
The bonus (also known as “the penalty”) resets at the end of every quarter and overtime. This means that the count towards the bonus starts at zero for every quarter and overtime.
There is no team foul carryover to the next quarter (players of course do carry their personal fouls forward – a player fouls out in the NBA when their total of fouls for the game reaches six).
What Type of Fouls Count Toward the Bonus?
Not all fouls count toward the bonus. Only defensive fouls and loose-ball fouls will be counted. Offensive fouls – such as charges, illegal screens and push-offs – do not count toward the bonus.
NBA Bonus Overtime Rules
The bonus rules in overtime are a little bit different than the bonus rules during regulation.
In overtimes, a team is only allowed three common fouls (as opposed to four during regulation). On the fourth common foul, free throws are awarded to the player that was fouled.
The official NBA rule book states it this way:
“The first three common fouls committed by a team in any overtime period, shall result in the ball being awarded to the opposing team on the sideline nearest where play was interrupted. The ball shall be awarded no nearer to the baseline than the free throw line extended.”
Less fouls are allowed during overtime because overtime periods (5 minutes) are shorter than regular NBA quarters (12 minutes). Just like during regular quarters, team fouls reset to zero after every overtime period.
NBA Bonus Rules: Last Two Minutes of Period
The bonus rules in the NBA change in the final two minutes of a quarter or an overtime.
In the last two minutes, teams are allowed only one common foul. If a second foul is committed, free throws are awarded to the player that was fouled.
The official NBA rule book states it this way:
“If a team has not committed its quota of four team fouls during the first ten minutes of any regulation period, or its quota of three team fouls during the first three minutes of any overtime period, it shall be permitted to incur one team foul during the last two minutes without penalty.”
This is only applicable if a team has not yet reached the bonus. If they already have reached the bonus, they stay in the bonus and nothing changes.
This rule is put in place so that the last two minutes of a period do not turn into a foul-fest. Imagine a team who has accumulated zero team fouls and there is only a minute and a half left in the quarter. If no two-minute bonus rule existed, the team would then have four free fouls to give late in the quarter (since it takes five to reach free throws).
This would allow defensive players to foul when they were beat on a play and as long as the offensive player was not in the shooting motion, no free throws would be awarded and the offensive team would just get the ball out of bounds.
This may seem like it would be pointless to foul, because fouls are in theory supposed to be bad, but fouls slow down offenses and break offensive rhythm. In certain situations, if used correctly, they can actually be an asset for the defense.
If a team had four fouls to give late, and used them, that would muddy up the game and damage the overall quality of the product. So the NBA institutes the adjusted bonus rule under two minutes, which awards free throws on the second common foul.
Just like the regular bonus rule, only defensive fouls and loose-ball fouls count toward the bonus in the last two minutes.
NBA Bonus Rules vs College Bonus Rules
The NBA Bonus rules are much different than men’s college basketball bonus rules.
In men’s college basketball, a team reaches the bonus when they draw the 7th team foul on their opponent vs the NBA where a team reaches the bonus when they draw the 5th team foul on their opponent.
Another difference is that in the NBA, teams are rewarded with two free throws when they reach the bonus. In college basketball, for fouls 7, 8, and 9, teams are awarded with only a one-and-one free throw situation.
On the 10th team foul in college basketball the bonus changes from a one-and-one to the “double bonus”, which means the team now gets two free throws.
Many experts criticize men’s college basketball for not using quarters. The problem with playing two halves instead of four quarters is quarters allow the fouls to reset. So if a team gets in foul trouble in the first quarter in an NBA game, the quarter break allows the team fouls to reset to zero, and gets the team out of the foul penalty.
People criticize college basketball because they don’t have a quarter break to reset team fouls to zero. So if a team fouls a lot to start a half, the result could be the other team shooting a lot of free throws the rest of the half.
Experts mainly criticize this for two reasons:
- Nobody came to the game or turned on the television to watch a free throw shooting contest. Free throws muddy a game up and slow down tempo. In the bonus, common non-shooting fouls result in free throws, so there is much less real game action.
- Penalizing a team for an entire half for foul trouble feels like overkill, and some experts feel like resetting at a quarter break would be a fairer way to decide the game.
What is a “Foul to Give”?
If you watch the NBA consistently, you will hear the phrase “foul to give” used by commentators. As we discussed earlier, in the last two minutes of a quarter, if a team has not fouled 4 or more times in the quarter (or 3 in overtimes), then the amount of fouls they can commit before free throws are awarded is reduced to just one.
On the second common team foul under two minutes, free throws are awarded to the other team. This, again, is done to keep teams from muddying up the game and fouling offensive players to disrupt offensive rhythm.
If teams do reach the under two minute portion of a period with less than four fouls, they then have that one free foul to give. This foul (the one foul that they have that will not result in bonus free throws) is referred to as a “foul to give”.
It just simply means that they have that one foul to give that will not result in the other team shooting bonus free throws. Teams will often use this “foul to give” on the last possession to muddy up the offensive set of the other team, and create a short clock out-of-bounds situation to end the period.