Half-Baked Policies: NBA Rule Changes
As any casual observer of basketball can look at a clip from the 1960s and a clip from today and see that the game is drastically different. You could do the same from a decade ago. The speed of the game, the athleticism and skill of the players involved, the apex ability of the superstars – it's all different. In terms of appreciating the art and creativity of the sport, it's arguably the best time in history to be a basketball fan. Almost every team has a dynamic player who (at the end of their careers) will be considered among the greatest to ever play. Yet, some teams have found a way to exploit the way that the game is refereed, meaning that we're in for some long-overdue changes to the official rulebook of the NBA.
(1) Minimize Block/Charge Calls
As we saw in Game 1 of the Finals, a block/charge call is quite subjective. So subjective, in fact, that referee propagandist Steve Javie (someone who agrees with whatever call the refs on the floor made without fail, but also someone who was one of the game's best refs himself) wasn't sure which way to go. The rule is written like so: it's a charge if the defender 'beats the player to the spot' before the shooter starts the upward shooting motion, it's a block if the defender doesn't allow the shooter space to land or is inside the restricted area, and it's a no-call if the defender goes up vertically to contest the shot. The text is simple enough, but most of the debate surrounds the topic of whether the defender actually gets to the spot first, i.e. whether the defender was still moving at the time of contact. The solution is to get this verbiage out of the rule book entirely. Here's the revised rule – get rid of the restricted area entirely. Call it a block if the defender isn't defending vertically or doesn't jump vertically the whole time. If the defender's body is normal to the motion of the offensive player, the defender remains vertical, and the offensive player initiates contact, then it's a charge. If no one falls down (or if someone flops), it's a no-call. If the defender jumps vertically the whole time, it's a no-call. If after looking at the replay once, you can't decide whether it was a charge or a block, it's a no-call.
(2) Eliminate the Defensive 3-Seconds Rule
The 3-Second call is probably the winner of the foul call that confuses the most casual basketball fans. "Wait, why did the game stop? Was it a time out? Why is no one standing next to him as he shoots the free throw?" If a defensive player stays in the painted area for a full three seconds and is more than an arm's length of the person he's guarding, the offensive team gets a technical free throw that any player can shoot. It destroys the rhythm of the game, gives a free point to the offensive team via their best free throw shooter, and gives the refs one more unnecessary thing to keep track of. Besides, most big men can at least shoot 10 footers nowadays, so a defensive big probably wouldn't want to stay in the key anyway. Besides, it's a weird rule conceptually – you can be anywhere on the court (since the elimination of the illegal zone defense rules), except for this particular rectangle, where the time limit is an arbitrary three seconds.
(3) Increase the Travel to Four Steps
It's time. The rule is simple: you get two steps after you have taken your last dribble. If you take a third step, it's (supposed to be called) a travel. But considering how many players do it, let's take a minute to formalize that three steps is NOT a travel. Depending on which team you support, you'd argue differently for this kind of rule – if you're a fan of LeBron, you'd be a fan of this change. There was a moment about two years ago when we all collectively decided that James Harden's stepback pullup is for some reason not a travel, and that there's some bs called the 'gather step' which doesn't count as one of your two allowed steps (you can look at this 7-minute video and see that he travels somewhere between a quarter and a half of the time he uses this move).
(4) Make Technical Fouls Count as Personal Fouls
This is the way to fix the constant complaining. There are personal fouls, which are in relation to the actual play on the court. If you make some kind of illegal contact, usually while playing defense, that's a (personal) foul. Each player is allowed six, which means that you rarely see players (especially star players, on who referees will be hesitant to call that sixth foul) foul out. Even last year's most serious rule-violator, Demarcus Cousins, averaged under four fouls per game. However, technical fouls have to do with non-basketball-related things, like complaining to the referees too much or getting into an altercation. Players are allowed just one a game, and are ejected (not even allowed to sit on the bench) on the second. This builds in a certain amount of leeway on the players' behalf, just because they know they can complain until their first tech. But if you make it count to their six-foul allotment, they're much less likely to complain, lest they risk being in foul trouble in a close, meaningful game.
(5) Force the Coaching Staff to Wear Uniforms
One of the most ridiculous sports things that we all just accept is how baseball managers and coaches wear the team uniform. It's slightly more comical considering that the extent of the manager's exercise is vague hand motions and jogs to the pitcher's mound a couple times a game. But let's flip it – why is it only a thing in baseball? Have guys like Stan van Gundy suit up!
(6) Get Rid of Over-the-Back Fouls
Some of the most interesting moments in officiating come when no one team or player has complete control over the ball. Referees tend to be a little more forgiving of incidental contact, allowing players to figure it out themselves, except in the case of a defensive rebound. If a player (usually an offensive player) is behind a defensive player and tries to reach over to grab or tip the ball, it's considered over-the-back. Worse, if the offensive team is in the penalty (having reached their limit for team fouls in the quarter), the defense automatically get two free throws, even though this should technically be an offensive foul (which does not count toward the foul limit or result in free throws).
(7) Expand the Size of the Court
In a game that requires as much precision and spacing as basketball, it's strange that there's such an obvious incongruity in the three-point line. The college three-point line (which extends from the top of the free throw line in a perfect semicircle arc) makes sense, but the NBA three-point line (being farther away) stops three feet from the sides of the court, and then runs parallel to the sideline all the way down to the baseline. This makes the short-corner three a solid 21 inches closer than at any point on the curved arc. Currently the court is 50 feet wide, meaning that we'd need just 4 more feet to accommodate the arc (maintaining the three feet of space to the sideline in the very corner). Not only does it help space out the players, but can allow for more creative play crafting (like this gorgeous Steph Curry screen play). For frontcourt players who shoot the current corner three, they would have to extend their maximum range, or choose to confine themselves to mid-range shots.