Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Saying what I'm thinking, part deux

As you can see on the left, Mark Cuban has a blog now, and it's becoming one of my favorite reads. He posted last week on a topic that has always irked me watching basketball games, the charge. The situation happens all too often: a crucial momentum swing in a game is determined by a referee debating whether contact warranted a foul on the offensive or defensive end. The calls are even more important considering how foul situations affect the context of games. And what it has caused is the players defending in a manner that is likely for them to coax an offensive foul rather than simply keeping his man from scoring.

This new style of defensive play seems to me counterproductive to the flow of a basketball game. But not only is it not discouraged, it's lauded by commentators around the country as a great hustle play. How often have you heard a color analyst talk about 'heart' and 'basketball smarts' after a guy slides under someone while he's driving to the hoop. Luckily there's someone like Cuban to question the establishment:

why in the world do we allow secondary defenders to take charges? What is the point of just stepping in front of a guy as he is going for a layup or dunk? Or for that matter, if he is dribbling up court and a defender just steps in front of him, all for the sole point of taking a charge?

Think about it. Is throwing your body in front of another player you are not guarding — solely for the purpose of seeing if he will run you over — a basketball play? I don’t think so.

Exactly, if the sole purpose of the play is to draw an offensive foul, then that's not basketball. Cuban Continues:

Not only do you put both players involved at risk for injury, but it takes away some of the most exciting and watchable plays in basketball. Rather than going at the rim looking to make a spectacular, athletic play, guys are looking at the floor to see if someone is going to be there to undercut them. Rather than a tomahawk jam that gets the crowd in a frenzy, we get 2 guys laying on the floor taking an inventory of bodyparts to make sure they are ok, or we get a guy going to the rim trying to stop or avoid a guy who just stepped in the lane, resulting in an ugly shot or pass. How in the world does that help the NBA or make the game better for fans? It doesn’t.

Off the ball defender charges should be eliminated. It should ALWAYS be a block.  It would mean we could get rid of the half circle under the basket since that only applies to off the ball, 2ndary defenders, and we would speed up the game and add highlight plays to every game and reduce the number of injuries suffered by our best players every year.

Well, this rule would definitely benefit the Mavericks, who certainly would like anything to enable them to keep their all-offense style. While I completely agree with his reasoning, I'm not sure this rule would be fair to the defense. In the NBA, its nearly impossible to guard anybody one-on-one. The guys are just to big and athletic. Most of the defense is done on a team basis. Secondary defenders are a key part of that. Now what happens if you have a point guard like, say, Stephon Marbury, who has an ability to get past nearly any defender. Is he then awarded a free pass to the basket since no secondary defenders can make contact without it being a defensive foul? Well, not exactly says Cuban:

we would see the return of the blocked shot. Teams would have to play someone who is willing to contest those drives to the basket and not only would we see highflyers going in for a dunk, but we would get to see Yao,Shaq, KG and the other bigs coming across the paint to stop them. Which woud you rather see, a shotblocker rejecting a shot or getting dunked on, or a guys falling on their butts under the basket. Its a no brainer to me

 I still think secondary defenders should still have the right to stand their ground between a player and the basket and not allow an out-of-control guard to just run into him recklessly with no repercussions.

While I'm not sure Cuban's method would work, I do see the need for something to be done to eliminate the need for a defensive player to purposely try and take charges. My idea is for the referees to be able to call a technical foul on a defender for purposely trying to take charges, i.e. flopping.  This should be considered cheating in the game. These techinicals could occur in many typical situations:

  •  If the player is purposely sliding under defenders in the air trying to take a charge, not only is he called for a foul (since he was moving at the time of contact), but also get hit with a technical.
  • If a player is part of a previously legal play where he stands there with his hands folded in front of him and then lunges backwards at contact, there would be no offensive foul, and the player would get a technical for not trying to guard the man (hands up, son! Stand your ground!)
  • Any time where there is significant acting involved when guarding your man, like flailing backward when a post player backs into you, that would be a technical on the defender.

Now obviously the rules cannot be written like this, all decisions would be left up to the official, completely discretionary. Not every situation can be called the same, but this would give the referees power over those who are out there simply trying to dupe them into calling fouls. A technical would not be any more damaging to the flow of the game than calling an unnecessary charge, and it would serve as a deterrent. Those defenders who make a living on coaxing officials would be found out after a few T's being called on them, and soon they will never think of flopping. Vlade Divac would have to change his whole game.

This type of rule is not unprecedented, in the game of soccer players are recipients of yellow cards (2 and you're gone) for pretending to be fouled, i.e. 'diving'. Not only that, but some leagues can suspend a player after the game if they see something on tape that a referee missed. Such a rule in the NBA would enable defenders to worry about stopping the other team, and not simply how to get hustle points from the coaches from stepping in front of someone and closing their eyes.