What Does a Bonus Mean in Basketball?

what does a bonus mean in basketball

Defensive fouls are part of the game of basketball. Creating fouls is a strategic way to limit the opposing team from scoring an easy layup to stealing the ball during a dribble. However, basketball games have a bonus structure, which penalizes one team after several team fouls occur.


If one team exceeds the number of fouls in a given timeframe, the other team automatically receives a free throw attempt on the subsequent fouls. This automatic free throw attempt is known as a bonus. Learn more about the bonus rules, the difference between the NBA and other leagues, and more in this blog post.


How Do the Basketball Bonus Rules Work?

how do the basketball bonus rules work

A bonus occurs when one team reaches the maximum number of defensive fouls in a quarter, which is five in the NBA and WNBA. Once the fifth team foul occurs in a quarter, every new defensive foul automatically results in the opposing team taking two free throws. The automatic free-throw is a shooting foul even from a non-shooting moment, like a loose-ball and defensive fouls.


​What Does it Mean to be in the Bonus in Basketball?

what does it mean to be in a bonus in basketball

A basketball team in the bonus means they automatically enter an automatic free throw attempt when they are fouled again on offense. The NBA, FIBA, and NCAA all have different foul totals for when the bonus occurs, but the concept is still the same.


What About the Last Two Minutes of NBA Regulation?

During the last two minutes of regulation or overtime in the NBA, each team can only commit one defensive foul before entering a bonus. Any more than one foul automatically turns into a free throw opportunity for the other team. The reason for the different NBA bonus rule with two minutes left is to stop a team from fouling another continuously if they are well below the five-team limit.


Ways to Be Strategic if You Are on Defensive During the Bonus

If you end up giving the other team a bonus, you can be strategic with the subsequent fouls you create during the remainder of the quarter. For example, a defensive team might foul a player who is not very good at making free throws. By fouling the player who is not strong at making free throws, you stop the clock and potentially limit any additional scoring chances from the free-throw attempts.


During the final two minutes of an NBA game, you might see a defensive team double team an excellent shooter to stop that team from passing the ball to them. That means that there might be an offensive player open for a pass. To be strategic, the defensive team might foul that available player, especially if they are not good at making free throws, to stop the clock.


How Long Does a Bonus Last in the NBA?

how long does a bonus last in the nba

Each NBA quarter is twelve minutes of a game-time clock. A bonus lasts for the remainder of a quarter, so teams that reach five fouls early in a quarter have a handicap with their defense because they create free “scoring” opportunities with each subsequent foul they create.


Do Offensive Fouls Count Against the Bonus?

Offensive fouls like charging, push-offs, and screens don’t count against the bonus cap.


What Happens If a Team is Under the Bonus Cap?

what happens if a team is under the bonus cap

Any NBA/WNBA team under the five fouls in a quarter can foul a player during a non-shooting moment without creating an automatic free throw. If a defensive foul occurs during a non-shooting moment, then the offensive takes the ball to the sideline to start a new play from out of bounds. Starting the ball from out of bounds stops the clock and only resumes when the basketball enters the playing area via a pass.


What about the FIBA International Basketball League?

The FIBA’s rules are similar to the NBA, but the main difference is that their bonus penalty begins after the fifth defensive penalty, not the fourth.


What About the NCAA College Basketball League?

what does double bonus mean in college basketball

The defensive team has up to six fouls they can create per half before an automatic free-throw occurs in the NCAA. If the shooter at the free-throw line makes their first shot, they receive a second free throw attempt. The offensive team automatically gets a double bonus on the tenth foul, which means they receive two free throw attempts after each foul.


What Does Double Bonus Mean in College Basketball?

The NCAA double bonus rule occurs after the tenth foul, which means that when they are in a bonus, they automatically receive two free throw attempts. Before that, NCAA bonus rules mean they receive one free throw attempt and a second if they make their first shot. However, the NBA and WNBA start with two free fall attempts once they are in a bonus.


What Makes the NCAA Different from the NBA/WNBA?

Two significant differences between the NCAA and NBA/WNBA


  • Bonus free throws in the NCAA start with one automatic instead of two. Two automatic free throws occur after the tenth foul during a half.
  • NCAA basketball has two halves while the NBA/WNBA consists of four quarters


As a note, there are other differences than just these two above, but these two above are most relatable to this post.


Conclusion – What Does a Bonus Mean in Basketball?

In summary, a bonus in basketball rewards a team with “free” free throw attempts if they receive too many fouls from the defense. The number of fouls varies between the NBA, FIBA, and NCAA, but the concept is still similar. Getting in the bonus for an offensive team is an excellent way to add additional points on the scoreboard, so the defensive needs to be careful and strategic when fouling during a game.


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