The 2018-19 NBA season begins Tuesday with two games, one from each conference. The Philadelphia 76ers will take on the Boston Celtics in the night's opening contest. They will be followed by the defending champion Golden State Warriors at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The new season will be different for each team, and not just because the slate is wiped clean and there are fresh faces on each roster. The NBA's board of governors passed three significant rule changes in September, which could have a big impact on the way the game is played this season or, in one case, how referees manage it.
Here's a rundown of the rule changes coming to the league.
Shot-Clock Reset Change
Thunder center Steven Adams hopefully paid attention to this rule as the co-league leader in offensive rebounds per game (5.1) last season. Instead of getting another full 24-second shot clock after an offensive board this year, teams will now only get 14 seconds to put up another shot.
This is going to be noticed most at the end of games when the score is close and teams are desperate to put up the best shot possible. The 14-second shot clock still gives plenty of time to get the ball into the hands of your best player, but it's not going to be easy for teams to gather themselves and run another set play. The end of games will have a quicker pace to them, which is exactly what the league wants.
"We think it will enhance the entertainment of the game," commissioner Adam Silver said in September, per ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski. "A team that's down, because it will lead to more possessions, will give them a better chance of coming back and just overall increase pace."
According to Wojnarowski, the NBA looked at how FIBA used the rule, as well as its effect on G League, WNBA and NBA Summer League games.
This rule change probably won't have much of an effect until those critical late possessions. Most teams tend to put up another shot rather quickly after grabbing an offensive board, given that player getting the ball is already near the basket or the defense's rush to grab the rebound has left another offensive player open and ready to shoot.
Clear-Path Foul Change
Another big change this season is the simplification of the clear-path foul rule. Here's how the rule now works, per NBA.com:
"A clear path foul is now defined as a personal foul against any offensive player during his team's transition scoring opportunity in the following circumstances: the ball is ahead of the tip of the circle in the backcourt; no defender is ahead of the offensive player with the transition scoring opportunity; the player with the transition scoring opportunity is in control of the ball (or a pass has been thrown to him); and if the foul deprives his team of an opportunity to score."
Here's a video by the NBA to help clear things up:
This tweak to the rule is intended to make it easier for the referees to decide when to call a clear-path foul. The "no defender ahead" part is key, as it makes clear-path foul scenarios pretty clear-cut for the officials. If a defender is ahead of the play and getting back in transition, it's not a clear-path opportunity.
The defining line of the "tip of the circle in the backcourt" allows referees to call these fouls either in the backcourt or the frontcourt; the first third of the court or so is out of the running, but everything else is fair game.
Another key part of this rule change is the nature of the foul itself, per NBA.com: "Under the simplified rule, a clear path foul cannot occur if the fouled player is in the act of shooting or if the foul is caused by the defender's attempt to intercept or deflect a pass intended for the player attempting to score in transition."
Basically, the defender's foul has to be trying to impede the player's progress up the court in some way. If it's in the act of shooting, it's, well, a shooting foul. Attempting to intercept a pass and bumping a player is just a regular foul.
This is important to note, as the penalties for a clear-path foul rule are significant: two free throws for the team that is fouled, plus sideline possession near the spot of the foul.
"Hostile Act" Rule Change
The NBA has had automatic replay reviews for certain player altercations since the 2007-08 season, which includes what are called "hostile acts." Here's how the league describes it:
"Two or more players are engaged in a fight or a hostile physical interaction that is not part of normal basketball play and that does not immediately resolve by itself or with the intervention of game officials or players, or a player is ejected from the game for committing a hostile act against another player, for example, when a player intentionally or recklessly harms or attempts to harm another player with a punch, elbow, kick or blow to the head."
With the new rule change, referees will now go to replay review if a hostile act as described above is not just committed against another player but involves a referee, coach or fan.
This is a fairly sane rule change, as it gives referees greater discretion to look over who was involved pretty much any time a player gets into any altercation during the game.