What Is a Blocking Foul in Basketball? A Complete Guide


Basketball players make contact near the rim.

Basketball is a physical sport, and it’s typical for players to commit fouls as a part of this physicality. There are many different types of fouls in basketball, but one of the most often called and debated fouls is the blocking foul.

So, what is a blocking foul in basketball?

A blocking foul occurs when a defensive player gains an unfair advantage over an offensive player through illegal positioning. Blocking fouls commonly occur when a player cuts off an opponent’s drive, resulting in the player getting knocked off their path, but can also occur in the act of shooting.

Blocking fouls can be controversial and subjective. However, being able to understand blocking fouls and their place in the game is crucial for players, coaches, and fans. Let’s go over all the details – you’ll be an expert on the subject by the end of this article.

What Is a Blocking Foul?

A blocking foul is a defensive foul that can occur in several different situations. Commonly, blocking fouls are seen when an offensive player is attacking the basket, but they can be called in nearly any common basketball situation.

Unlike other common defensive fouls such as the reach-in foul, blocking fouls are called based almost entirely on positioning. In basketball, the offensive player has as much of a right to space on the floor as defensive players, if not more. In short, if a defensive player illegally invades this space so that the offensive player cannot avoid a collision, the defensive player will likely be called for a blocking foul.

We mentioned that blocking fouls can occur in a lot of different basketball situations – let’s go through some examples to further your understanding of the concept.

Most often, a defender will be late to move on a ball-handler’s drive. Caught out of position, they will attempt to get back in front of the ball-handler and cut off their drive. In the process, they will make illegal contact by bumping or otherwise impeding the offensive player and be called for a blocking foul.

Blocking fouls can also occur during a shot attempt. For instance, a defender may move too close to an offensive player while they are attempting a shot, especially while near the basket. This leaves the offensive player without any space to land and creates an unsafe situation that may result in an injury. A blocking foul is often assessed in this case, whether or not an injury actually occurs.

Finally, defenders may be called for blocking fouls if they are simply out of a legal guarding position. This is a frequent occurrence when defenders are attempting to take charges. To take a charge, a defender needs to have their feet set and be established in a given spot.

While the effort may be there to get in position to take a charge, players often move their feet or body slightly to try and draw contact. In doing so they give up their spot and legal guarding position and are assessed for a blocking foul as a result.

What Happens After a Blocking Foul?

A youth basketball player takes a free throw after a blocking foul.

If the foul occurs when no shooting motion is in progress, then the result is dependent on a team’s position in the bonus. In the NBA, the bonus refers to when a team commits either five fouls in a single quarter or two fouls in the last two minutes of any period. So, if the blocking foul in question fits either of these criteria, then the player who is fouled will get two free throws as a result.

On the other hand, if the blocking foul does not take the team into the bonus, then the foul only results in the ball being sent out for an inbounds pass. Additionally, both the game clock and the shot clock will temporarily stop until play resumes.

If the blocking foul occurs in the course of a shooting motion, then the offensive team is in line for some free throws. The number of free throws depends on where the foul occurs. That is, if the foul occurs beyond the three-point line then the player who is fouled gets to take three free throws.

If the foul occurs inside the three-point line, then the offensive player takes two free throws. If the player who was fouled makes their shot, they are only awarded one free throw.

Blocking Foul Rules

An important distinction with blocking fouls is that they sometimes do not occur during the act of shooting.

Generally, shooting fouls are more valuable to an offense than a blocking foul. This is because shooting fouls always result in free throws, allowing the offensive team an immediate chance to score points. After all, the point of basketball is to score more points than your opponent. Meanwhile, non-shooting blocking fouls only result in free throws if a team is already in the bonus.

Naturally, basketball players make efforts to manipulate these rules to gain an advantage. In the NBA, players like James Harden and Trae Young use their exceptional ball-handling abilities to get defenders out of position, where they can then create contact by jumping into the defensive player while releasing a shot at the same time.

In Young’s case, he even stops short while being chased by a defender and lets a shot loose while the defender runs into him.

So, why is this allowed?

In the past it’s been allowed because the defenders are still getting caught out of position, resulting in illegal contact. It takes quite a bit of savvy play on the part of the offensive player to know when to rise up and take a shot while guaranteeing themselves free throws at the least.

However, the NBA has taken significant steps to discourage players from bending the rules in this way. In particular, the league created new rules going into the 2021-22 season to prevent players from using ‘non-basketball moves’ in order to create contact with defenders and draw fouls. This hasn’t stopped players like Young or Harden from trying to continue their foul-drawing success, though.

Blocking Foul Hand Signal

Blocking fouls don’t allow referees to unleash the kind of dramatic flair that comes with some other types of fouls. When a blocking foul occurs, the referee will blow their whistle to indicate a foul and then simply put both hands on their hips.

Can You Get a Blocking Foul in the Restricted Area?

A basketball player drives toward the rim on an outdoor court.

The restricted area is an area with a radius of 4’ from the spot directly beneath the basket, varying between different levels of basketball. Players are not allowed to take charges within the restricted area, even if just part of their body is in the area at the time of contact.

This area was designed to improve player safety by discouraging collisions below the basket, but it also serves the purpose of assisting offenses in scoring near the rim without fear of incurring an offensive foul. However, discouraging charges isn’t the only effect of the restricted area.

So, can you get a blocking foul in the restricted area? The short answer is yes. In fact, any contact that occurs partially or fully within the restricted area is generally assessed as a blocking foul. In this way, the fact that charges are restricted in this area means that there are both more blocking fouls and more offensive production as a result.

Blocking Foul vs Charge

Blocking fouls and charges aren’t all that different, but they are often considered direct opposites. Perhaps the most subjective call that a referee makes in all of basketball is to decide between a block and a charge. But why is this?

First off, a blocking foul is committed by a defensive player while a charge is committed by an offensive foul. Block/charge fouls often occur on plays that look remarkably similar, but there are some key distinctions that show which one is the right call.

Recall that both blocking fouls and charges are reliant on the defender establishing a legal guarding position. In other words, the defender must get into position before the offensive player gets there.

With the speed with which the game of basketball is played, it is often difficult to assess who truly gets to a certain position on the floor first. To establish a defensive position, a defender usually needs to have his feet planted and remain stationary through the course of the contact. Defenders may only be stationary for a moment in order to establish position – but this split second is extremely difficult to judge in real-time.

The offensive player also bears responsibility for their position in a block/charge situation. If they are ruled to have time to change their direction prior to contact with a defender, the offensive player is usually ruled to be at fault for the collision. As you can tell, this is also a subjective call.

So, how do referees determine whether to call a blocking foul or a charge on any given call? It’s not easy. The law of the land is generally positioning, with players needing to establish the right to their spot on the floor in order to get the call.

This is much easier for offensive players to do, as they are in independent control of their direction on the court. Defensive players have to anticipate offensive movements, get into a stationary position, and then absorb contact to get a charge called in their favor.

Even going to instant replay doesn’t typically help referees make the perfect call in block/charge situations, given the need to interpret minute detail. In the end, players, coaches, and fans all need to accept that there is always some degree of uncertainty involved with block/charge calls and that this is a part of the game.

Foul vs Violation in Basketball

Fouls and violations may sound like the same thing, but there are key differences between the two terms.

So, what is the difference between a foul and a violation in basketball?

Fouls are rule violations in nature, and they result in either a stoppage in play for an inbounds pass or free throws. They also count against a team’s total number of fouls and can result in a team being in the bonus. Meanwhile, violations do not count against this total, but typically do result in a stoppage of play and a change of possession to the non-offending team.

To put it another way – all fouls are rule violations, but not all rule violations are fouls.

Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

Recent Posts