In three Summer League games so far, Karl-Anthony Towns is averaging 7.3 personal fouls per game. Not per 36 minutes, but PER GAME, because in keeping with the “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” marketing slogan, you don’t foul out until your tenth foul. Against the Lakers and Jazz, Towns had 9. That’s a lot of fouls.
And it’s actually no reason to be concerned. We tend to split stats into good things (points! rebounds! steals!) and bad things (fouls! turnovers!), but there’s nothing inherently moral about any of these stats. Steals are good, but if you’re constantly gambling for them, that could be a problem. Fouls and turnovers can be problematic, but when it comes to young players, they’re actually indicators of activity, and that can be a good thing.
Here are all the players in the 3-point era who averaged more than four fouls per game while playing in at least 40 games and averaging 20 minutes per game in their rookie season:
The list includes such illustrious names as Hakeem Olajuwon, Ralph Sampson, DeMarcus Cousins, Bill Laimbeer and Kenyon Martin (who had a decent if not stellar career). Roy Hibbert averaged 7.7 personal fouls per 36 minutes his rookie year, eventually cutting that to less than half that (3.6) in his fourth season. Ben Wallace averaged 4.9 per 36 his rookie season before settling in around 2.2 per 36 for the rest of his career.
The thing about fouls is that unlike putting the ball through the hoop, it’s something that’s judged subjectively and differently by every official. Your ability to draw fouls and avoid them getting called on you relies both on reputation and a nuanced physical understanding of what’s going to be called a foul and what isn’t. The Wolves’ own Nikola Pekovic went from barely being able to stay on the floor his rookie year (7.3 PF per 36) to never cracking 3 per 36 since.
Just as you don’t worry about point guards and superstars turning the ball over a lot early on (Michael Jordan, David Robinson, Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan and Larry Bird all averaged over 3.1 turnovers per game their rookie seasons), you shouldn’t worry too much about big men — especially ones who should develop into defensive stoppers — committing fouls. Not in their rookie years, and especially not in Summer League.