Thanks to a handful of new rules the league's Board of Governors adopted on July 18, NBA games might be a little bit longer in the 2013-14 season. But there's also a good chance that the on-court product will enjoy a marked improvement.
And isn't that really the idea?
According to an official release on NBA.com, the changes will include an expanded use of instant replay, a tweak to the current clear-path rule and a particularly interesting decree on where players can and can't go on the hardwood.
Here's how those new rules figure to alter the game next year.
Longer Games, Better Calls
Sixty percent of the rule changes (there were five in all) focused on the broader use of instant replay.
In the past, officials could only review block/charge calls to determine whether or not the defender was inside the restricted area. Now, referees will be able to uphold or reverse those same calls after reviewing whether or not the defender was set when the offensive player began his shooting motion.
This is a significant change and one that should help curtail the increasingly common practice of defenders sliding under offensive players after they've already committed to their shot. The following play could very well be the reason the league opted to expand the use of replay in this specific fashion.
The defender, Ronnie Price, is well outside of the restricted area when the contact between him and O.J. Mayo occurs. What's important here, though, is that Price was also firmly established when the two players collided, but he wasn't set when Mayo took off.
After the Blazers went on to win the game, the league issued a statement admitting the call was incorrect precisely because Price wasn't set when Mayo had started his shooting motion.
These plays are inherently difficult to officiate because of the speed of the game and the way defenders have become so adept at getting set after the offensive player has left his feet. Without replay, it's almost impossible to determine which happened first.
Plus, there's a safety interest in discouraging defenders from undercutting airborne opponents.
The upshot, obviously, is that there will be more reviews and longer in-game delays. But because we know that missed calls on plays like the one involving Mayo and Price can literally determine the outcomes of games, it's worth sacrificing a bit of speed in the interest of accuracy.
Post-Whistle Extracurriculars Shall Be Punished
From now on, whenever referees use instant replay for anything, they'll also be able to dole out flagrant fouls if they see any unsportsmanlike behavior going on during the review.
So, if officials are looking at a block/charge call on instant replay and they happen to notice Chris Andersen (or anybody, really) shoving Tyler Hansbrough (or, again, anybody), they can assess a flagrant foul.
I'm not sure why I used those two players as examples. Oh wait, yes I do:
Before, the only real use of video review in situations involving flagrant fouls occurred when referees had already called one on the floor and huddled up afterwards to determine its severity.
So NBA players are going to have to be on their best behavior at all times, as it'll now be possible for referees to issue retroactive flagrants and technicals.
Now, if only there was a way to penalize guys like Kevin Garnett for goaltending after the whistle, we'd really be onto something.
Timing Is Everything
In a nutshell, referees can now use replay to determine whether a foul away from the ball happened before or after the player with the ball had started his shooting motion.
So if Zach Randolph and Blake Griffin are tussling underneath and Chris Paul happens to hit a jumper right around the time Joey Crawford whistles Randolph for body-slamming Griffin, a review to determine whether Paul's jumper should count or not is now allowed.
Similarly, reviews will be permitted when an off-ball foul occurs during an inbounds play. If the timing is close, referees will be able to check the tape to see if the foul occurred before or after the ball was inbounded.
This is a key distinction because a foul committed before the ball is inbounded results in the offensive team getting a free throw and possession. If a foul occurs after the ball is thrown in, it's just a common foul.
If this rule had been in place during the 2012 playoffs, the Atlanta Hawks would have been awarded a foul shot and the ball at the end of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference. Instead, officials wrongly ruled that Marquis Daniel had fouled Al Horford after Marvin Williams inbounded the ball.
The league admitted its mistake in this instance, too.
Again, checking plays like this will take time. But isn't it better for NBA referees to get the chance to review the kind of split-second rulings that swing playoff games?
Clear-Path Fouls Aren't Interesting
In the interest of completeness, you should know that the Board of Governors voted to change the clear-path foul in a minor way. Here's the text from the league that explains the new tweak:
"On clear path to the basket fouls, it will no longer be considered a clear path foul if at any point before the foul is committed, the defender who commits the foul is positioned ahead of the offensive player in the frontcourt."
Basically, if a defender isn't running down an offensive player and tugging on his shirt from behind, it won't be ruled a clear-path violation.
Teams Are Going to Have to Create Space the Old-Fashioned Way
In a delightfully sneaky trend, a number of NBA teams have been manufacturing better offensive spacing without putting a bunch of three-point snipers on the floor.
"How's that?" you might ask.
Easy! Teams like the Denver Nuggets just positioned their players out of bounds. Watch:
As Andre Miller dribbles in an isolation set, no fewer than three Nuggets quickly move out of bounds on the baseline. Their defenders go with them, which leaves plenty of room in the middle for Miller to get to the basket.
Pretty crafty, huh?
Lots of teams adopted versions of this tactic last season, and the NBA saw fit to institute a new rule that will prevent them from doing so next year. In the future, if an offensive player goes out of bounds and doesn't immediately get himself back within the lines, the other team will be awarded the ball.
Oh, and the league didn't mention this, but it's probably not permissible to pick players up and carry them out of bounds, either. Sorry, Big Baby.
It's too bad that one of the league's quirkier strategies won't be around any more, but the NBA recognized a slippery slope and opted to act before things started going downhill in a hurry.
The ultimate (but obviously unlikely) conclusion to such strategies might eventually have involved players standing out of bounds for entire possessions, forcing defenders to stay within arm's length to avoid an illegal defense call.
It appears gimmicky teams that lack shooting—like last year's Nuggets—will have to find more conventional ways to space the floor.
So, there you have it. The new rules the league adopted won't change the face of the NBA as we know it, but they'll have some real impact—most of it positive.
Game length will probably become a more widely discussed topic next season, as more replays will surely add a few minutes to each contest. And a little bit of fun will go by the wayside as spacing tricks become illegal.
But the NBA is improving its product by allowing officials to get calls right and by eliminating shortcuts for poorly constructed teams.
Upon review, the league is making a good call.
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