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Game Changers – On Court

Commissioner for a day – now that has a good ring to it. The first thing I’d do is think about some ‘Game Changers’. Not the transcendent superstar player type, but literally changing the game. Spawning from The Draft Class Podcast, Episode 3, I have recently been mulling over all of the ways to tinker with the Association. Being a rules type of guy, I have many modifications that come to mind, both good and bad. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the NBA. If you are reading this, chances are you might too. Still, as great as the game is today, there are so many little improvements we could make to the league to improve the product. Take a look.

Logical – Implement Immediately

Idea: Modify the personal foul rules for Overtime games

Rule: Give players 1 additional foul for every 2 overtimes

I’ll start out with a slam dunk. In a regulation game, you are allowed to commit 5 personal fouls, and then are disqualified after your 6th foul. These fouls are allotted for a 48 minute contest, allowing an average of one foul per 8 minutes (if you assume a player goes all 48), or, more realistically, every 6 minutes if you play the somewhat standard 36 minutes. If a game gets extended (free basketball!), why shouldn’t a player be afforded an additional foul at the same, or similar rate? Who wants to have an exciting overtime thriller be deflated by seeing Damian Lillard or KAT foul out because he now has an extra 20-25 possessions to cover? Additionally, in overtime, team fouls do not carry over. If you are in the bonus in the fourth quarter, you do not enter overtime in the bonus. Similarly, timeouts do not carry over, you are awarded two total timeouts, regardless of whether you finished the end of regulation with any. You are granted some leeway with team fouls and awarded additional timeouts to adjust for the extended game, so I don’t see why you wouldn’t prorate the personal fouls. To be clear, if you foul out of the game in regulation with 6, you remain out no matter how many OT’s are played. However, you would need 7 personal fouls to foul out during the first or second overtime. This is so logical it should be changed tomorrow. In fact, let’s change this tonight; as I am writing this, there are a handful of games going on that I don’t want to be negatively impacted by the current rule.

Idea: Allow teams in fast break possessions to “play the advantage”

Rule: Delay touch fouls and allow offense to continue advancing the play in transition

The idea here is similar to the FIBA Unsportsmanlike foul, where any unnecessary contact to prevent an offensive player’s progress in transition is prohibited (penalized by two shots and the ball). I also feel very strongly about this one. How often do we see a 2-on-1 broken up by a ticky-tack reach foul at midcourt? This is terrible for fans as they want to see a highlight reel dunk, a transition three, or maybe a chase-down block. What they don’t want to see is a side out after a reach-in foul. This is also rewarding laziness on the players behalf. Rather than have the fouling player and his teammates sprinting back to try and play real defense, we currently allow the nearest defender to just wrap up or tap the ball-handler to force the offense to reset on the side. I know the clear path foul was meant to curb this, but it doesn’t go far enough. Similar to soccer, there would be a delayed call for any touch foul meant to break up the fast break, and the offense is allowed to continue on with an advantage to try and go score. And no, players would not be allowed to simply skirt this rule by fouling with considerably more force. Any excessive or unnecessary contact would still be deemed a flagrant foul, which is punished with two shots and the ball. I think it’s time we give the fans their fast breaks back, and stop incentivizing lazy defense. 

Fun Wrinkles

Idea: Modify the tie-up/held ball situation to eliminate the jump ball

Rule: Shoot for it. The offense chooses a spot on the court and the defense can choose to either take that shot or defer and make the offense make it.

How do you feel about jump balls? Does watching two men jump to chase after an errantly tossed ball excite you? Which basketball skill does jumping high and flicking your wrist at the basketball display? Also, when there is a loose ball that is simultaneously corralled by opposing players, why is ascending to 10-11 feet the fastest the most equitable resolution? Taller players already have plenty of advantages across the game of basketball, do we need to grant them another?. The setup is also a treat – who doesn’t enjoy the ref walking over to two guys who, without fail, are tangled up or ankle fighting over who gets to start boxing out the other from the more optimal speck of hardwood? I say we shoot for it. Anyone who has ever played pickup knows a quick and easy way to resolve a dispute over whose ball it is, is to shoot for it. The wrinkle here would be the quick game of chicken involved in that the team most recently on offense selects a spot on the court, but the defense then gets to decide to shoot or pass. This would introduce a fun psychological element of picking the precise location where you have the greatest perceived disparity between your likelihood of making the shot and theirs. If Dame Lillard and Steph Curry are on the floor at the same time, you might see Dame walk out to 38 feet and dare Curry to accept the challenge. If Door A is watching someone drain a 30 footer to gain possession and Door B is watching a few guys jump and swat at a ball, I’ll take the former.

Idea: Implement the 1-and-1 free throw shooting format.

Rule: The 5th and 6th team fouls of the quarter are 1-and-1 foul shots. 7th and on will be double bonus. In the final 2 minutes, the 2nd foul is 1-and-1, the 3rd and on will be double bonus.

Inspired by Joe Tevelowitz, this idea incorporates a college rule which, for no good reason, has not been implemented in the NBA. The 1-and-1 opens the door for more comebacks, while also increasing the significance of good free throw shooting. We aren’t going to go wild here, as only 1 foul in the final two minutes will be treated this way, but I think this is a fun wrinkle that has very minimal downside. This change will cause the suspense and pressure to be heightened when a team is up by 3 points and heads to the line for a 1-and-1. Miss even that first one, and suddenly there is a game again. The only real pushback I can foresee to this change would be those who say it increases variance and maybe they don’t want any new hikes in variance. I think the impact will be minimal, especially if you get the ball to your best shooters in endgame foul situations. Plus, basketball is a form of entertainment and I think I can speak for the majority of viewers and say that increased late game drama boosts the entertainment value.

Idea: Fix/Eliminate the shot clock violations in the final minute of a blowout 

Rule: ??????

I might need some help on this one. How do we fix this? Why are teams just fine shooting on possessions that begin with 51 seconds left but refuse with 30 seconds? Why are we removing 30 seconds from the game? Obviously, this has virtually zero impact on an actual game, but it bothers me aesthetically. Why can’t we just finish it out? I can’t really buy into the injury narrative, or rubbing it in factor either. Is it not risky to play out the 3rd to last possession? Is it very respectable to increase the lead to 24 with 47 seconds left, but then utterly reprehensible to score with 18 seconds remaining? I know we have kneeling in football, but it’s different there, because you are actually logging a turnover in hoops by dribbling out the shot clock. Unlike kneeling, it does not speed the game up to its conclusion. In fact, it does just the opposite. By allowing the shot clock to expire, the game clock will then stop, and the opposing team has to inbound from a side out position. You are actually committing a violation and then preventing the game from it’s quickest conclusion. This is a very small thing, but it still irks me and other fans around the league. 

One idea floated to me was to allow the defense to simply waive the shot clock violation in the final 30 seconds. The concern I have with that would be that it would just push up the “okay, we’re done here, dribble it out” portion to 40 seconds. Whenever the game and shot clock differential are too close for comfort, I fear that teams would again just dribble it out from there. Another idea that is not so subtle would be to adopt the “Elam Ending.” For those who don’t know, this idea requires teams to hit a certain point total instead of relying on a clock to bring the game to an end. In this scenario, there would be no feasible situation where the team on offense would not be trying to score at the end of the game. This would be a very drastic change to a very small problem that I probably wouldn’t endorse (just to fix this issue). My simplest solution (admittedly impossible to enforce) would be a very novel concept; how about we just finish the game? You know, use the possession as an attempt to score — very similar to how the rest of the game is played!

Idea: “House Rules”

Rule: Allow teams to set up their Home Courts as they please. Teams could extend or move in the 3 point line, or expand or shrink the lane for example.

I’m stealing this one from Major League Baseball. If you find yourself in Fenway Park, you might notice a 37-foot high wall in left field that doesn’t exist anywhere else. In Houston, you used to find an incredibly awkward uphill slope in deep center field. Oakland uses 10,000+ more foul territory footage than any other team! Some parks are indoors, while others are outside. Some can be either, depending on the weather or time of year. Why do all basketball courts have to be identical? On one hand, it does feel a little wild that you aren’t going and replicating the court in each city, and having a completely consistent game across your sport. But on the other hand, it is kind of cool seeing how the elements factor in differently in different cities across the country. In each individual game, you would still have all 10 players on the court competing under the same rules and conditions. It just might vary from the night before. 

The best part about this idea is that it would prevent the uniformity that some NBA minds have expressed in recent years. The way analytics have evolved recently, some have the opinion that the game has been “solved,” which creates less and less style variance across the league. If courts were not identical, teams would need to have adaptability built within their roster to succeed with a gigantic paint in some cities, or a 26-foot three-point line in another city, and perhaps no three-point line at all in yet another. I think as soon as you got over the initial shock of courts looking “funny” or “distorted”, you would be enthralled by the variety that 30 teams could provide. In turn, you’d immerse yourself into both thinking about how you would tailor your court to your favorite team’s players and skill sets, as well as trying to best strategize how to tweak your gameplan to win in certain arenas. I definitely have some reservations with this one as it is pretty drastic for my traditional self, but I think it would be very fun. After all, the league has tweaked the three-point line distance a handful of times already, widened the paint multiple times, as well as added a semi-circle. Who is to say that their current chosen layout is the Sistine Chapel of court dimensions? There is very likely an improved court layout somewhere, and if we give 30 teams a chance, they just might find the best one.

Ideas I Hate (and you should too)

Idea: Introduce the 4 point line

Ruling: Absolutely not.

Short answer: feels too gimmicky.

Slightly less short answer: I don’t want it to become the “sharp” way to play to bomb 40 footers at a 26% clip rather than shoot a 50% elbow jumper.

Half-Baked Quick Hitters

Substitute on the fly a la hockey or football

Would this be atrocious? Perhaps. But it would be chaotic, wild and introduce layers and layers to the game revolving around which packages to rollout in which circumstances.

Face off replaces Tip Off

Why let the big guys have all the fun? Drop the ball and scrap for it.

Coin Toss replaces Tip Off

Coming in hard at jump balls today.

10 Minute Quarters

Maybe (probably?) would be better, but nobody wants to see all the single game records put out of reach.

Create an offsides penalty at halfcourt

I think we’re done here.

Which of these rules would improve the league? Which should never have been spoken aloud, let alone posted on the internet? I’d love to hear if any of these are keepers, as well as your ideas to tweak the Association.

Sam Johnson

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