In the NBA, 20 seconds can be 20 minutes in real time. This must change | NBA
Jthere are 21.7 seconds left on the clock. Team A’s center grabs a rebound with his team up two, and he’s quickly fouled by Team B. Nineteen free throws, eight fouls and about 20 minutes of real time later , the final buzzer sounds.
The center? Andre Drummond. Teams A and B? The Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks last month. The excitement of the fans after a fantastic basketball game? Bursts.
The end of the Clippers-Lakers game the day before wasn’t much betterthe last 25 seconds of the game taking nearly 20 minutes in the real world.
Like a bizzaro orchestra that dramatically builds before botching the crescendo, the NBA game stream is in a sorry state. It seems the league is now teeming with relentless, fast-paced, end-to-end action regularly interrupted by jarring saves that serve as an unfortunate antidote to excitement. Intentional fouls, long critics, excessive timeouts and free throws are diluting the potency of the NBA’s product at a time when an explosion of internet entertainment options is making loyal fans a precious commodity.
However, constant interruptions over time can be solved. Perhaps the most striking problem concerns intentional fouls. A brief explanation for non-basketball fans: a team late in a game will often foul rather than let their opponent slow down time. The hope is that the team will miss an ensuing free throw, giving the following team a chance to grab possession and score. It’s a tactic that rarely works but almost always extends games and slows play. World basketball governing body Fiba tried to fix the problem a few years ago, changing the interpretation of an “unsportsmanlike foul”. The organization’s official rules now make a distinction between basketball games and non-basketball games, ie: catching a player by a genuine attempt to steal the ball. If the referee judges that the attempt was nothing more than an intentional foul, the fouled team is awarded two free throws. and possession of the ball afterwards. This kills all efforts of a team following its opponent in the last seconds until the foul in order to extend the game.
It seems that many NBA fans would be open to adopting the Fiba rule in the league. At last year’s Olympics, many fans said they were delighted with how quickly the Tokyo 2020 games went compared to the NBA games.
It’s not just the mistakes that are the problem. In the NBA, each team is allowed seven timeouts per game. That’s 14 saves in a game where fouls and out-of-bounds plays have already cut off the action.
By allowing teams to constantly stop and readjust, we prevent resourceful players from solving problems themselves in real time. Take, for example, Steph Curry’s famous three-pointer to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the last second of overtime in 2016. The Warriors had a timeout to use, but instead Curry was allowed to trust to his own skills and instincts. He followed suit, leading to one of the greatest moments in NBA regular season history.
Some authors have called for total elimination of waiting times. This is going too far: there is something to be said for the chess game of coaches coming and going. But we could easily reduce the number of downtimes and shift the blame onto the players themselves – after all, they’re the ones the fans are paying to watch rather than some guy in a suit on the sidelines. This would not eliminate the impact of coaching, in fact it would place even more emphasis on when to take time outs.
Adam Silver’s NBA prides itself on advancing the game on the court. The 14-second shot clock and this season’s adjustment to some baiting trends were well received. Even the All-Star Game saw a rule change that made the contest much more intriguing: now the first team to reach a predetermined score wins. While that’s too extreme a move for the NBA proper – for starters, buzzer-beaters are far too exciting to lose – the league would be a better place if it moved away from the fetishization of clock management. .
As the NBA celebrates its 75th anniversary this season, it should look at what has helped it stand the test of time: its malleability. The NBA today is very different from the NBA of 25 years ago and it will be even more different in the future. So adjustments to the end of games are not mere pipe dreams. This is a league that has constantly reshaped itself and must continue to do so as it matures.
Does the NBA need a massive revolution to solve its problems? Almost certainly not. While some of these suggestions are ambitious and potentially divisive, simply adjusting the rules around intentional fouls would have a snowball effect on several issues in the game. The NBA has positioned itself as a progressive league on and off the pitch, and a few small tweaks could dramatically improve the flow of matches as they reach their peak.
With that done, we just need to cut the regular season schedule by 20 games and add relegation for basketball utopia…