Sensible Rule Changes NBA Should Consider
Midway through July, the NBA's Board of Governors heeded the advice of the competition committee and unanimously voted to "reduce the number of timeouts, standardize the length of the halftime intermission and limit the wanderings of free-throw shooters."
The goal: speed up games.
But what fun is all this? Will we really have all this extra time at our disposal because the Association is expediting its product and disallowing free-throw shooters from taking hardwood detours?
Do these rule changes help fix the imbalance of conference power? Or make the All-Star Game more fun? Or throw shade at the select players from generations past who inexplicably diminish the accomplishments of their contemporaries?
No. No, they do not.
Fortunately, that's why we're here: to come up with sensible yet totally awesome adjustments the NBA should eventually consider.
Commissioner Adam Silver said in July that many around the league believe the 16 best teams should make the playoffs, irrespective of conference designation. But he also noted restructuring is "not at the top of the agenda right now," per ESPN.com's Ohm Youngmisuk.
Travel logistics make doing away with conferences a bittersweet endeavor. Rest is paramount in today's NBA, and driving up every team's season-long odometer is a good way to incite an onslaught of scientific think pieces. Kiboshing conferences would, admittedly, make the most sense when aligned with a shorter schedule.
Something nevertheless needs to be done, like, yesterday. The imbalance between the East and West is too stark to soldier on with conferences.
Since 2000-01, the Western Conference's No. 8 seeds have averaged 5.3 more wins than the Eastern Conference's eighth-place squads. That's...outrageous. And it gets worse.
Over this same span, the West's No. 9 seeds—lottery teams—have averaged 3.1 more victories than the East's eighth and final postseason outfit. Also ridiculous.
And if you're thinking/hoping the East's No. 8 seeds have created ample separation when pitting them against the West's 10th-ranked teams, we have some bad news: They're better but not by much. The East's eighth-best record has a 1.4-win advantage over 10th place in the West .
Isolate the standings since LeBron James entered the NBA in 2003-04, and the West's eighth- and ninth-best teams hold an even larger advantage, while the gap between its No. 10 and the East's eighth seed goes virtually unchanged.
Next season's win-loss records should only exacerbate the variance following the recent mass exodus of talent from the Eastern Conference. According to NBA Math's Total Points Added (TPA), the West has a net-value gain of 859.5, while the East, as of now, will enter the year having lost 638.5 in player contributions. That's a total difference of 1,498 TPA—or more value than Blake Griffin has represented through the first seven years of his career (1,462).
So yeah...can we abolish conferences already? And if not, can we just find a way to swap out three members of the East with the three Texas-based teams—the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs? Pretty please?
All-Star Captains, Please
Eric Bledsoe. Jimmy Butler. Mike Conley. DeMarcus Cousins. Stephen Curry. Anthony Davis. Kevin Durant. Marc Gasol. Paul George. Draymond Green. Blake Griffin. Rudy Gobert. James Harden. Nikola Jokic. Kawhi Leonard. Damian Lillard. CJ McCollum. Paul Millsap. Chris Paul. Klay Thompson. Karl-Anthony Towns. Russell Westbrook.
At least 10 of these players won't be in the 2018 All-Star Game. If the Cleveland Cavaliers trade Kyrie Irving to Western Conference squad, that number climbs to 11.
Meanwhile, in the East, the shoo-ins get a little dicey after accounting for Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James—particularly if Irving and, for the points-per-game apologists, Carmelo Anthony are sent westward.
Without them, the Leastern Conference's starting five could look something like Antetokounmpo, James, Kyle Lowry, John Wall and one of Joel Embiid, Kevin Love or Khris Middleton. That's a fun opening lineup no matter the combination.
It's also one that probably couldn't beat the Golden State Warriors' starters.
Using two captains—or even two co-captains for each team—helps level the playing field. Team reps would be able to make their selections without regard for conference affiliation, and the NBA can keep the current voting format if it fails to do away with conferences. Then, from that resulting player pool, fans, coaches, Adam Silver, media members or whoever can select the captains.
(Hooray for more popularity contests!)
Forcing two (or four) players to assemble their own team adds a nice little wrinkle to the equation. Alliances and relationships suddenly become more important, and participants might be more inclined to, you know, actually try when they're buddying up or facing off against rivals.
Positionless All-NBA Teams
Positions have overstayed their welcome on the All-NBA ballot.
This isn't a shot aimed at centers. Get rid of guards and forwards too. The 15 best players should make up the three All-NBA squads. Period. End of story.
Granted, this bodes well for wings. The Assocation is overrun with them. Strike classifications from the parameters, and at least one, if not both, of Paul George and Gordon Hayward would have made a 2016-17 All-NBA squad.
And that's the point.
George and Hayward would have been eligible for the lucrative designated player extension had they made the cut. With that payday available, maybe George doesn't force his way off the Indiana Pacers. And perhaps Hayward doesn't leave the Utah Jazz for the Boston Celtics.
Teams must be willing to offer these massive deals for them to mean anything, but the option holds weight even if they're not. The Pacers could have used the DPE sweetener as leverage to command a better return in the George trade. It wouldn't have mattered if they were bluffing or if George had no intention of signing that deal. Suitors would've been more likely to buy into Indiana tabling talks with that scenario on the table.
Generally speaking, if contract incentives and long-term earning potential are going to be impacted by All-NBA results, the voters shouldn't be restricted to positional designations of any kind. Using the broader "forwards" classification is better than relying on "small forward" and "power forward" descriptors, but it's still not enough.
And for the centers who will be jilted in the interim by this change, your position's time is coming. Maybe. This tweak opens the door for DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis to one day earn All-NBA honors together.
Hello Again, Hand-Checking
This one's for all the immodest old-timers.
It's for you, Stephen Jackson, and your belief that the "We Believe" Warriors could beat today's iteration, via ESPN's The Jump.
It's for you, Oscar Robertson, and your not-so-warm views on contemporary players and coaches.
It's for you, Gary Payton, and your argument that defenders—Draymond Green specifically—get too much leeway from the referees, via SiriusXM NBA Radio.
It's for you Tracy McGrady, and your 2016 comments, via The Jump, on how Stephen Curry's unanimous MVP victory serves as evidence that the NBA is watered down.
It's for you, everyone and anyone from past NBA eras who like to mythologize the past at the expense of the present (postseason predictability excluded).
The reintroduction of hand-checking, which the Association stamped out entirely before the 2004-05 season, won't silence all the retired critics—or even a majority of detractors. But it would inevitably prove to some of them that today's stars and playing styles can work outside their vacuum.
Even if this experiment only lasts a year, even if it only turns a handful of holier-than-now truthers, even if it only succeeds is resonating with the most rational pundits, the leverage active players gain in all future debates will be worth the trouble of jumping into this time machine.
Overtime...with a Twist
Personally, I'm all for the NBA's current overtime rules.
Sudden-death extra periods sound cool, and the concept was tested at the Las Vegas Summer League. But determining the outcome of what's obviously a close game feels counterintuitive. Give players those five minutes to sort things out. Ensure both sides get more than one possession. It's fair.
Now, if we're looking past the first overtime, into second and third extra periods or beyond, then we have something.
Eight games made it past the first five additional minutes last season. Only one of those contests leaked into a third overtime. (It was a four-overtime slopfest thriller between the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks, but that's neither here nor there.)
In those situations, after the initial bonus quarter, the league should be open to quirky alternatives. Sudden death works. A head-to-head three-point shootout between three players of each team's choice would be swell.
Maybe this is where the NBA brings in one-on-one matchups. One starter from either team could square off in a game to three, with the winner earning his team the victory. This might take longer than an actual overtime in some instances, but you're not forcing an entire team go through additional full-court bonus period, so players should save some energy.
Hell, maybe the NBA comes up with a host of options for these situations and allows the referees to select the event in which both squads would be most evenly matched.
Anything off the beaten path is fine, really—just so long as it doesn't cut into the first overtime. That needs to stay.
Create a 4-Point Shot
Look, the three-point revolution has been fun. But the four-point craze could be more entertaining.
The NBA first started contemplating the introduction of a four-pointer back in 2014, albeit without any serious intentions one way or the other. It's been an occasional point of debate ever since, and implementing it makes more sense now than ever before.
Players shoot threes so often that there needs to be a twist. Unless it's a circus shot or a flamethrower is pulling up from abnormal distances, the long ball has become a little mundane. It's opened up the game and paved the way for a more aesthetically pleasing product, but 2,214 of the 7,004 attempted field goals last season came from beyond the arc—more than 31 percent of all looks.
Moving back the three-point line is an option, just not a game-changing one. Four-pointers won't only drum up the pace of play and final scores, but they'll be a useful, if necessary, tool for teams trying to erase deficits.
Finding a place for the four-point line does pose some problems. As Jordan Ellenberg and Josh Levin wrote for Slate in 2016:
A 22-foot four-pointer would obviously be ludicrous—at 1.55 points per shot, it would have a higher expected value than any other shot on the court. A 26-foot four-point line like the one Damian Lillard proposed also seems too close. The expected value would be high enough, at 1.35 points per shot, that the game could converge to a sequence of dunks and 4s.
Around 30 feet would make more sense. Shots from that distance went in 28 out of 152 times in the 2015-16 season, a rate of 18.4 percent. Going for the quad would have an expected value of 0.74 points per shot, making it worth about the same as an average 4-footer or 21-footer.
Thirty feet appears to be the sweet spot. (The BIG3 has its four-point line from this distance.) Players shot 114-of-474 between 30 and 35 feet last season (24.1 percent). Stephen Curry was the only one who converted more than 30 percent of these missiles, suggesting they're difficult enough to ward off obscene volume and efficiency.
Not everyone feels the same way. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, whose team stands to benefit the most from this tweak, was vehemently against it in 2016. Talent from generations past would vomit, use this as another straw-man argument in claiming era superiority or both.
Perhaps 35 feet and in is too close. Maybe the NBA, for now, makes it from the half-court line, ensuring it's a weapon teams only use as late-game last resorts. Limits can also be placed on how many attempts can count as four points every game.
Workarounds and reasonable caveats exist, and they're worth exploring if it means semi-seamlessly integrating a higher-value shot into the fold.