By John Schmeelk
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I have staged a coup. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is out and I have full power over the NBA for one season. I can make as many changes to the NBA as I can. Here’s what I’m going to do.
The larger goal here is to rebalance the league a little bit. Everyone loves all the offense, and so do I, but defenses have been put at such a huge disadvantage in certain situations that they really can’t succeed. There are simple rule changes and re-emphasis of current rules that can fix it very easily.
The league has also become too uniform in style. In order to have a top offense, you must have a good screen-and-roll player and then a bunch of shooters to put around him. Math dictates that’s the way to play to have the most efficient offense, but I don’t think that’s a good thing for the game long-term. You should be able to win playing different ways.
I also want to promote shotmaking and deter players from trying to get to the free-throw line. Free throws are boring. Players should be motivated to try to make shots, and if they get fouled then get free throws. The goal should not be to use the rules to generate free-throw attempts.
Here’s what I would do:
Lengthen The 3-Point Shot
NBA players have gotten way too good at shooting the 3-point shot, making 2-pointers that aren’t dunks or layups a fool’s errand. The midrange game and post games have disappeared, and that’s a bad thing for the league and the sport. The 3-point shot must become more difficult.
I will start by backing the 3-point line up 18 to 24 inches on the wings and up top. If that does not achieve the desired result of lowering 3-point percentages, the court must be widened a couple of feet so baseline 3s can be lengthened as well.
Reducing the efficiency of taking 3-pointers will make the midrange game more important to develop. It will also help spread the floor more to allow for easier operation in the post and wing areas 10 to 18 feet from the hoop.
Call Illegal Screens Again
The pick-and-roll is effective enough without allowing offensive players to move and shift while setting screens. It makes it nearly impossible for defensive players to defend the play without so much rotating that a shooter is eventually left open for a 3-point shot. Start calling these again, and the pick-and-roll becomes slightly less effective.
Allow More Defensive Contact Away From the Basket
I will fall short of advocating for the return of the hand check, but defenders (especially big men hedging on high screen rolls) aren’t allowed much, if any, contact on ballhandlers. Allowing enough contact so big men can effectively hedge high-screen rolls again would go a long way toward making that play the be-all, end-all it is today. Right now, only teams that have a ball-dominant guard (or LeBron James) to score and distribute via the screen-and-roll can really compete at a high level. Altering this will allow more teams to compete in different ways. Having that one great ballhandler won’t be a necessity anymore.
Let Officials Use Their Judgment On Shooting Fouls
Referees should be allowed to use their judgment more on whether to reward shooting fouls to offensive players that aren’t truly intending to shoot when the illegal contact is made. If a player is bumped while picking up a dribble 25 feet from the basket, they should not be able to fling up a shot and be rewarded with free throws. This would not apply to pump fakes or getting defenders in the air. These are common-sense decisions officials should be trusted to make. This will reduce the number of foul shots and speed up the game.
Don’t Reward Players For Initiating Contact
Watching classic games compared to today, one difference is that players used to try to finish a lot more when going to the basket. In today’s game, far too many players penetrate just to draw contact to get to the line. Officials should be instructed to not bail out an offensive player who simply flings his arms or body into a moving defender without truly trying to take a shot. Players should be making an honest attempt at finishing to be rewarded with free throws. Stressing giving the defense the benefit of the doubt of verticality would apply here as well. This would reduce free throws more and speed up the game as well. It’s a difficult judgment for officials to make, but just eliminating the egregious ones would be a step in the right direction.
Punish Flopping And Let Big Men Operate
Allow officials to call a defensive foul on a flop and give the offensive player a chance to make one motion to score after the flop happens. This would incentivize defenders not to flop and make posting up and power play in the paint far easier again. Likewise, guards are often allowed to get away with murder while guarding bigger players in the post. Officials should emphasize making sure the rules apply to smalls guarding bigs as well.
Let Officials Call Fouls On Out-Of-Bounds Reviews At The End Of Games
Oftentimes at the end of games, officials will review a call and find that a ball went out of bounds off of a player who was fouled. A team should not be rewarded with the ball on a play in which its player illegally went over the back or reached in, forcing the ball off the opponent.
Call More Travels and Palming
No need for a rule change here. Just call the rules as they are on the books. Guards are good enough and don’t need the extra help.
The NBA already beat me to the punch by altering their timeout rules and eliminating four games in five nights for NBA teams.
If you make all the changes above, the league would immediately become more competitive with a better chance of upsets. It would make the style of play more variable team to team. The games might be lower scoring, but they would be faster and more exciting with the reduction in free throws. It would not return the game to the grind-fests of the ’90s, but it would reduce the efficiency of the pick-and-roll and the 3-point shot. Everyone is happy. Everyone wins.
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