- The Season's Over -

Tweaking the NBA Rules: Six Ideas to Make The League Even Better

March 21, 2008

Joey Crawford and Ron Olesiak Discuss Our Ideas

Joey Crawford and Ron Olesiak Photo Credit: Icon SMI

1. Charges Drawn Count as Steals

Although I make derisive remarks about the practice of flopping later in this article, I truly admire the player who is willing to take an actual charge. It’s all about timing, skill, strategy and self-sacrifice and it’s high time charges drawn started showing up in the box score. They should be counted as steals. The defensive player does the necessary footwork and positioning to force the opposing offensive player into a play where the defensive player’s team gains control of the ball. That sounds like a steal to me.

Additionally, the defensive player has put the opponent in further foul trouble and potentially drawn free throws, so in many ways the charge drawn can be a significantly more valuable defensive contribution than a traditional steal. Stats never tell the whole story of a performance, but their purpose is an attempt to quantify a player’s contributions. Steals are generally intended to convey defensive performance and it’s about time that drawing an offensive foul was included in this numerical summation.

2. Deemphasized Free-Throw Shooting in Endgame Situations

I’m a fan of the free throw and excellent free-throw shooters. Free-throw shooting plays an integral role in every NBA game, and I think it should. It’s a valid and important basketball skill and a fitting retribution for various rules infractions. That said, I’m tired of seeing the last two minutes of games come down to 30 real-time minutes of stop-and-go play comprised entirely of intentional fouls and free throw attempts. If a diehard NBA apologist like myself finds these sequences anticlimactic, monotonous and off-putting then you can be sure the casual fan is also turned off by the whole ordeal.

I’ve thought about a number of ways to deal with this issue over the years, but none have seemed perfectly satisfactory. Here’s the best solution I can come up with: when a team commits an intentional foul, as determined by the referee, within the last 1:30 of a game, the team with the ball receives one free-throw attempt and maintains possession of the ball. This would completely remove the incentive to essentially turn a basketball game into a game of horse where there’s only one spot on the floor you can shoot from. Other reader suggestions to improve the flow of late-game situations are more than welcome in the comments section.

Four more proposals for bold rules changes after the jump…

Kevin McHale: Inexplicable

The Inexplicable Kevin McHale
Photo Credit: Icon SMI

3. The Kevin McHale Rule

This one is simple and would be easy to implement. When the CEO of a corporation makes a big decision the SEC requires him to disclose the rationale for the move to the shareholders. He is also required to make regularly scheduled reports to the shareholders on the direction of the company. The NBA is a governing body and each NBA franchise is a business. The general manager is essentially the CEO and the fans are the shareholders. When the GM makes a roster move, he should be required to explain and defend the move in the form of a written press release (they can get help with it) and optional public statement. They should also be required to report on the direction of the franchise at least twice a year in the same fashion.

It shouldn’t be that hard to do; there wouldn’t need to be a 1,000 word minimum or anything and the GM could even spew BS if he were so inclined. The point would be to force that GM to be accountable on record for his actions and his consistency to the fans who financially support the team, and to present some empirical grounds for making a logical case against the competency of the GM. If he espouses one principle and then does something antithetical to that, he should be called out for it. And fans have a right to know why their favorite player has been cut or traded, or why a dud has been signed, or the reason their team payed over market value for a free agent or why the franchise was unwilling to retain the services of a quality player. It should be the duty of the GM to help the fans make sense of his moves, those are the people he’s making them for.

Case in point: this summer Kevin McHale of the Minnesota Timberwolves traded the San Antonio Spurs a second-round draft pick for Beno Udrih and “cash considerations.” Then McHale immediately waived Udrih. Why would he do such a thing? Inquiring minds want to know, and season ticket holders deserve to know — especially since Udrih has proved more than valuable for Sacramento this season and Minnesota was in need of a point guard.

4. Put an End to the Incessant Flopping

The flop has been elevated to the status of art form in the NBA today, and it’s a crying shame. I know it’s been around for a very long time, made famous by the likes of Bill Laimbeer, John Stockton and Vlade Divac, and now thoroughly ingrained in our league. Today it’s considered a legitimate strategy, with players like Manu Ginobili, Raja Bell and Anderson Varejao even praised for their ability to trick referees into calling phantom fouls. That’s not right.

Let’s be clear on my definition: the kind of flopping I mean here is when a player feigns an impact and dramatically falls to the floor in order to convince the referee a foul has taken place when there was no actual infraction on the play. There is no rule against this behavior, but there should be. While it is technically allowed by the NBA rules, it is clearly not in the spirit of the game. It’s infuriating to fans in pretty much any city outside of San Antonio, Cleveland and Phoenix. The flop is one of the most common complaints I hear from casual fans and non-fans about the NBA, and a complaint I can’t simply dismiss. As someone who endorses the NBA I find egregious flopping embarrassing.

The league needs to enact some measure to discourage this behavior. Calling a flop a foul every time seems impractical because it would cause too many players to foul out, put teams in the bonus too early and be too harsh a punishment for a player genuinely trying to take a charge that is mistaken for flopping. Instead, when the referee determines a player has flopped the opposing team should receive one free throw and retain possession of the ball. This would at least put some kind of discouragement in the back of the minds of the NBA’s serial floppers and it would stop coaches from coaching their team to flop.

Manu gets a taste of his own medicine

5. Hold Ticket Holders Accountable

As any NBA League Pass subscriber who watches small market teams knows, there are a lot of empty seats out there on any given night. It’s understandable that many local fans in some cities don’t want to support their team financially. They have no obligation to, especially when the franchise puts an inferior product on the court. But when a team is selling out games and loyal fans are turned away from the arena, that place should be full — especially the lower level. When they were selling games out the last couple years, it always pained me to tune into a Miami Heat game and see seemingly half of the VIP seats unoccupied. The same thing happens all across the NBA every night. When I see rows of fat cat season ticket holders’ seats in the VIP sections wide open it makes me crazy, even for teams that aren’t very popular. Tuning into an Atlanta Hawks game and seeing the first five rows more than half empty is just an embarrassment to the team and to the league. It’s a tarnish on the product the NBA is selling. Moreover, it’s a tragic waste.

There are people (myself included) who would kill to see their local team, or just an NBA game, that close. I propose that all season ticket holders, even (or especially) corporations, should be held accountable for the use of those tickets. They can give them away, they can sell them, they can show up themselves, whatever. But they should be responsible for filling those seats. And if they don’t a high percentage of the time, perhaps they should forfeit their playoff tickets priority.

This could even be a great part of the whole NBA Cares campaign: season ticket holders could turn in tickets they won’t use back to the team, who would then distribute the tickets to underprivileged youths. Just do something. Every team has enough fans to fill an arena, even if they don’t have enough who choose to and can afford to. Meanwhile, they have sold tickets going to waste every night.

6. A More Accurate Assist Tally

This final one is more of a “pretty to think” suggestion than an actual recommendation. The assist is a stat to measure how often a player makes a pass that directly leads to their team scoring. It’s a measure of how good of a distributor that player is and to what extent his passing is responsible for his team’s scoring. However, if a player makes a tremendous pass to a wide-open teammate and the teammate is intentionally fouled because the pass would have obviously led to a basket, no assist is awarded. If he goes to the line and makes both shots, how about awarding that assist? Perhaps if the fouled player only makes one of his attempts then .5 assists should be awarded, but I’m not sure that I’m prepared to even hypothetically suggest we muddy the box score so drastically.

Unfortunately, this is a fundamentally flawed proposal given that its primary concern is improving the accuracy of statistical record keeping. This would destroy the record books. The statistical history of some of the NBA’s premier passers would quickly fall by the wayside, and that’s not something any of us wants to see happen. Still, I feel like an assist has been earned in these situations.

And hey, while we’re talking hypothetical box scores changes, how about counting a turnover when a player lets the shot clock expire in their hands?

As always, reader suggestions, criticisms and effusive praise are encouraged in the comments section below.

Tags: Kevin McHale, Manu Ginobili, Beno Udrih, Anderson Varejao

17 Comments »Posted by Andrew Thell on Mar. 21, 2008 at 2:23 am in ETB Articles, NBA

17 Responses


1. I like this idea, about how charges should be represented…but as steals? They both require perfect precision and timing, but they aren’t the same thing.

2. I empathize. It’s kind of lame to watch the last minute become 10 minutes of free throw shooting, but I don’t think this will change, and I don’t think there are good alternatives.

3. Rationale? What the hell does it matter? What if what they say isn’t up to par with the league’s expectations of trades? It’ll be a slippery slope, and soon all trades will be harder and harder to pull off.

4. This will never work because sometimes its too difficult to tell if its a flop or they were genuinely fouled. Plus, people like Varajao or Ginobili will be [falsely] accused for this flopping foul too often, because of their penchant for it–maybe more than they’ll deserve.

5. I totally agree. It HURTS watching teams have their lowers empty. I would LOVE to have seats like that.

6. This is just a bad idea. First of all, we don’t know if the basket would go in. Second, part of droping assists is ensuring that your teammate will score. If you dish to a guy that is covered tight, or is driving to the hoop with men on him, you know that there is a risk that he will get fouled. And like you said, it would ruin the record books already.

I liked the post a lot, although I shot down a lot of ideas. We need more ballsy suggestions like these to make the league better.

Posted by: X on March 21st, 2008 at 11:01 am

Good post. It’s clear you care about the NBA. A couple points:
- I believe charges are not counted as team fouls. Therefore, a charge would never directly lead to foul shots.
- An empty (but sold) seat is a reflection on the game or the team. Real money was exchanged for those seats. The owner of the ticket should not hold any further obligation just because someone else wants the seat. Besides, just sneak down to the seat after the first quarter :) .
- A 24-second violation occurs because a team failed to shoot, not one player. Admittedly, at times it is clearly the fault of one player oblivious to the situation. However, just as often the violation occurs because of confusion caused by a good defensive effort, and blame cannot be accurately assigned to just one player.
- The flop is the biggest in-game issue facing the NBA right now. Your solution is good, except it doesn’t punish the player responsible for flopping. Perhaps a technical foul should be called on the flopper?
- Sorry, there is no easy way to change the foul shots at the end of the game. If a player (such as Shaq) were to be intentionally fouled at the beginning of the game, should your rules also apply? I don’t think so, and I think the game should be officiated consistently throughout.

Posted by: Xing on March 21st, 2008 at 2:41 pm

A+ for the idea of giving away tickets. I live in Indy and hear all sortsa idiots call in to talk radio (why do I listen to that garbage…) about how they have tickets but choose not to use them. Well then give them to Big Brothers-Big Sisters! And you too Pacers: you’re only selling out half of your stadium because of an image problem. If you gave away 3,000 tickets a night to Indianapolis Public Schools, that might help that image problem! Grr!

Uh…in conclusion…I agree with Andrew…

Posted by: Shinons on March 21st, 2008 at 2:56 pm

I’m totally with you on the whole flopping ordeal. But it is hard for the refs to make that call. I’ve actually thought about this before, they should be able to review the game afterwards, and punish the flopper(monetary or other). Reviewing every game is probably a huge hassle. But they need to figure something out, or maybe the NBA just doesn’t care.

Posted by: NP on March 21st, 2008 at 4:01 pm

I agree with your other points, except #2 and #6.

#2: Intentional foul is needed cause the last 2 minutes of play is not even meant to be played like normal basketball. You’ll see teams like the Suns and Nuggets, where they normally take a shot within 10 secs of the shot clock, take the full 24 seconds, with 15 seconds of just watching the pg stand there. i mean isnt that just as bad as stopping the clock, where u drain the clock of watching useless plays?

#6: If for anything, i think the assist stat should be made harder to attain. I really question how chris paul and steve nash can get 20 assist a game. This is what i see everyday, derek fisher hands off a simple pass to kobe, kobe turns around and takes a 18 foot fadeaway over 2 defender, shot goes in, derek fisher gets the assist. If for anything, kobe should get the assist there. And about the .5 of an assist. That wouldnt make sense because how can you gurantee the wide open guy will hit his shot if he was not fouled? Just create a new category, if for anything cause .5 of an assist is ridiculous.

Posted by: M on March 21st, 2008 at 4:39 pm

If you have the ball when the shot clock expires, you do get a turnover.

Posted by: Andrew on March 21st, 2008 at 4:52 pm

1. Charges Drawn Count as Steals
– improvement on stats sheet maybe, but not really making the “game” better.
2. Deemphasized Free-Throw Shooting in Endgame Situations
– maybe…
3. The Kevin McHale Rule
– the fans are actually the customers. they have the most say in how a franchise is run, because if they don’t like the product, they can stop paying. unfortunately, they don’t normally exercise that right. ex: knicks games.
4. Put an End to the Incessant Flopping
– determining a flop would be hard in real time, but video review might take too long. just review after game and fine/punish the flopper.
5. Hold Ticket Holders Accountable
– this is a fine line. the season ticket holder did pay for a very expensive package.. they should have the right to decide what to do with the ticket.
6. A More Accurate Assist Tally
– but, how often does would-be-assist because of a foul actually happens? again, this would only make the stat sheet more accurate..

here are some ideas i think might improve the game:
7. bad calls
– in players get punished for committing bad plays (fouls), refs should have to take some responsibility for blowing calls too. at least the blown calls statistics should be given to fans so they can boo the repeat offenders. but seriously, nba should hold them accountable to some degree.
8. no timeouts
even better than limiting free throws at end game situations is limiting number of timeouts ! if the other team takes the lead by one point, it doesn’t take rocket scientist to figure out your team needs to score. DUH. i think those late game time outs are really a way to make the tv station more money b/c fans are likely staying tuned for a close game. the players should have the plays memorized anyway, no need for the coach to remind them.
9. rebound stats.
if you want to improve stats keeping on charges and assists, how about rebounds?! some rebounds shouldn’t be counted at all. obvious situations: free throw misses and when the entire opposing team clears that back court to get back on defense after a missed shot. if you don’t have a opposite colored jersey within 10 feet radius, even a 10 yr old kid can rebound that ball.

Posted by: thomas on March 21st, 2008 at 4:54 pm

Great post. Love the charge and mchale rules.

What I would add:

Dunks are worth 3 points instead of 2. Mainly for these reasons:

1. Encourages transition basketball.

2. Guys will play harder. Vince might actually start doing what he does best. Intensity would rise.

3. Dunks are fun. We all know what the fans want. Let’s reward the teams for giving it to them.

4. This would decrease the odds of the Spurs winning the title in 08.

Posted by: Matt on March 21st, 2008 at 6:02 pm

I’ve thought about the end-of-game free throws a lot too. One idea I came up with would be to allow the team that got fouled to choose between free throws and simply re-inbounding the ball. To prevent this from becoming 1800 attempts to steal the inbounds pass, a rule could also be passed letting the inbounding team inbound from their own basket, while disallowing any of the other team’s players to be on that side of the court (maybe only until the ball is inbounded, to allow a press). What’s good about that idea is that it removes the need for the ref to distinguish between intentional and non-intentional fouls – the rule could be applied to any foul in the last two minutes.

To me the problem with making the refs determine intentional fouls. If we make them do that, then “disguising your fouls as real” becomes the new flopping. It basically gives the defense a free pass to play more aggressively than ever because what usually holds them back – not wanting to foul – is actually what they want. So they can hack away whenever it’s justified (“going for a steal”) and either get the steal or the foul – both things they want. This plan forces only slightly above-average defensive pressure, since fouling is still a concern.

Posted by: David on March 21st, 2008 at 6:36 pm

I can’t stand Manu. What makes it worse is that he RARELY gets called for charging calls when all he does is lower his shoulder and drive right through the chest of the defender who has already beaten him to the spot on the floor. I can’t believe the refs can’t recognize when a defender is basically whoopin’ the offensive guy by shutting him down at ever corner, only to be penalized by the likes of a Ginobili who gets every call his way.

Posted by: Luke on March 21st, 2008 at 6:53 pm

1. Reduce the number of fouls for fouling out to 5 (or even 4). I’d like to think this would reduce the amount of hacking every time someone goes up for a shot.
2. Revise the rules regarding charging. Once an offensive player establishes forward momentum, any defensive player stepping in his way should be called for a foul.
3. Make the court bigger. When the court dimensions were originally determined the average player was probably 5-10 and 160. There’s not enough room for the players to operate now.

Posted by: JP on March 21st, 2008 at 11:43 pm

1. Though I feel bad for players taking a charge, a steal takes much more hand-eye coordination and timing.
2. Sounds good. I can’t stand spending 20 minutes to finish the last two minutes.
3. Don’t GMs usually do this anyway? It would be nice to see it for every move, though I could see some medical or family/personal issues being problematic.
4. I like the thinking, but it’s hard to judge a flop.
5. It sucks to see empty seats, but they paid for the tickets so they don’t have to come, but yeah they should.
6. I agree with M that assists should be harder to get. For example, Celtics great Bob Cousy averaged only 7.5 apg for his career, what would he have in today’s game?

Also, I think there should be some way to reemphasize the mid-range jump shot, which seems to be a lost art. Could three-point shots be worth one point instead? I can’t stand seeing players dribble down the court alone, pull up for a three and miss.

Posted by: Steve on March 22nd, 2008 at 2:52 am

I think this article is freaking awesome. These are the kinds of articles I like to read. Anybody can report the news or player updates. This makes you think, and hopefully leads to positive changes.

I think the best idea from this article is about the empty lower level seats. Basically, if your not in your lower level seat by the 2nd quarter, or perhaps by the end of the 1st half, ppl from the upper levels can 1st come 1st serve and grab those seats. This would avoid ppl standing up and walking around blocking ppl’s view as they are still sitting down when the 2nd half begins. Biggest problem is that ppl might be getting a beer or a hot dog, so I dunno.

** Or, there should be a system in place where lower level/season ticket holders can effortlessly submit their tickets they know they cant use at the last minute, or in advance. And those tickets are given to big brother club ppl or something. Nursing homes. Orphans. whatever.

Posted by: Jon Jon Mackey on March 25th, 2008 at 4:03 pm

Gee, #2 is such a good idea, it’s almost like he got it right out of the NBA rulebook and tried to pass it as his own idea. Granted, it applies to off-the-ball fouls in the last 2 minutes to prevent hack-a-shaq, but still… At least credit them for making that rule if you gonna try to pass the 1FT + possession at the end of the game idea as one you came up with.

Posted by: Anonymous on April 20th, 2008 at 1:05 am

Rule change: upon an offensive rebound the shot clock gets reset to 16 seconds. back courts are now 8 seconds in the NBA. eliminate this time from the shot clock when the ball is already next to the basket.

Rule change: Timeout can not be called when a player is trapped or lieing on the court. timeouts should not be used to get out of trouble situations.

Change: Players checking into the game need not lie down under the scorers table. This is silly. An assistant on the team signals over and informs the scoring table that the player is going in and the player sits in a designated seat on the bench until the horn to go in is sounded. 7 feet men should not have to lie on the floor.

Posted by: steve on May 13th, 2009 at 7:45 am

Punk fake shotting fouls should be eliminate!! If the jump shooter has a decent chance to avoid the contact but still jump to the defender in the air to drawer a shooting foul. It is wrong because it is dangerous for both player and it is not good sportmanship. Now days, Nba is granting the offence players to many fouls, the games become somewhat boring and toooooo damn loooong. Most of the time I only watch the last 3 minutes. And that might take half an hour to play out!!! Come on NBA. Let’s make the the game more exciting to watch and safer and more fair for all the players in it!!

Posted by: konkise on March 17th, 2010 at 12:22 pm

There is an easy fix to the last minute foul situation in basketball. Change the way the game is played. Take away the 4 quarters and make the game played in two halfs but different than college ball.Half time starts when one team is the first to reach 50 points. The game would end when the first team reaches 100 points. Think about it, the game is 90 to 90 are you going to foul to get the ball back before the clock runs out? Not if the only clock is the 24 second clock. Now a team would be rewarded by playing defense. This style of game would be a great change for the, most of the time, boring game of basketball. Blowout games could be over much sooner allowing the fans of the weaker teams to endure less pain than the 48 minutes of torture.And the best part would be the end of a close game. Imagine no more stupid fouls that make the game stupid long. I for one would like to see how it would work. Could be something to try during the waste of time preseason…..

Posted by: Tom on November 1st, 2011 at 7:50 pm

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