There has been a flood of information coming from the NBA head office over the last few months on the subject of officiating, and it shows no signs of letting up heading into the playoffs.
According to NBA.com's Steve Aschburner, some of the top league officials in charge of officiating participated in an online meeting with the media on the subject of referees' points of emphasis for the 2014 playoffs. That group included president of basketball operations Rod Thorn, executive vice president of referee operations Mike Bantom, senior vice president of basketball operations Kiki VanDeWeghe, vice president of referee operations Joe Borgia and VP & director of officials Don Vaden.
Those points of emphasis, per Aschburner:
- Freedom of movement, including illegal screens.
- Traveling calls, especially on the perimeter.
- Point-of-contact plays, before, during and after shot attempts. “We have clarified the rule for teams, that if it affects the natural follow-through, even though the ball was released, we would penalize the defender,” Vaden said. “Hits on the elbow, we’ve gotten better at.”
- Push or pull plays, physically redirecting an opponent.
- Delay-of-game calls for handling the ball after it passes through the net. Said Vaden: “Everybody complained, but after about a month of the season, everybody’s running from the ball. The players have done a great job in adapting to this.”
- Verticality. “It’s easy for us to call ‘A’ to ‘B’ movement,” Vaden said, referring to a defender who goes up in the air but not quite straight up. “As the season went on, we saw more of the defender turning in the air and [confronting the ball handler] with his side.” That’s a defensive foul too. But a scorer who wards off the defender with an arm, leads with a knee or elbow or even “displaces” the man so he cannot rebound can wind up with an offensive foul.
Seems to be some pretty standard stuff here. NBA fans have been complaining about traveling calls and shooting fouls since perhaps the beginning of time, with each team's supporters claiming that the opponents have been getting away with clear violations.
What's interesting is that the referees seem to be cracking down on jump-shooter fouls, with Don Vaden specifically mentioning the old trick of brushing a jump shooter on the elbow. This has become a three-point shooter's league, and the NBA is interested in protecting those shooters whenever possible.
Some of the newer points of emphasis include the delay-of-game calls and the verticality issue. The league called several technical fouls early in the season for teams who handled the ball after it had gone through the net, much to the consternation of many fans. It became less of an issue as the season progressed, but the league clearly wants to remind everybody that it is still on the table heading into the postseason.
"Verticality" has become a hot-button topic, as it relates to defense at the rim. Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert has become famous for earning leeway with the refs by jumping with his arms straight up to contest shots. This is a complex issue, since no defender jumps completely straight and vertically.
While NBA commissioner Adam Silver did not take part in this meeting, this level of transparency has become a hallmark of his new administration. Unlike his predecessor, David Stern, Silver seems to be interested in making the league's dealing with its referees a more transparent process.
And that is a good thing, per NBC Sports' Dan Feldman:
Fans who spend money, directly through ticket sales and merchandise and indirectly through advertising, on the NBA deserve to know what’s happening in the league.
Kudos to the Silver regime for going this direction. Referee memos can be a bit trite, but there’s no good reason not to disclose them.
Of course, there will be controversial calls throughout the 2014 playoffs. There always are. But hopefully the league will continue to keep the public involved so that fans will learn to trust the officiating process.
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