VIDEO: Bulls’ delay of game
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The NBA’s newest rule crackdown has created quite a stir. Players are reprogramming their actions, some quicker than others. Some announcers are misconstruing the rule’s intent. And fans are wondering why a delay of game penalty seems only to be causing further delay.
“Right now, it’s slowing down the game because of all the stoppages,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “But these players are great and they always adapt. As they get used to it, they’re going to leave it alone and it’ll work out. So whatever the rules are, that’s what you go by. And I think it got to the point where it was too much.”
Too much, as Thibs says, was constant under-the-basket interference with the ball. Players on the team that had just scored were too often grabbing the ball as it dropped through the net and either casually flipping it to the official or tapping it any which way but to the opposing player waiting to get his team running up the court.
A growing number of teams — the Houston Rockets, for one — prefer to push the ball up the floor after made baskets to catch the retreating defense at a disadvantage. The stall tactic of catching the ball or knocking it away after a made basket buys the scoring team a second or two to set up defensively.
“I used to hit the ball a little bit to give me a second or two,” Pacers center Roy Hibbert admitted. “But now you can’t.”
Now, such actions result in a delay of game penalty. The first draws a warning. The second results in a technical foul and a free throw for the other team.
Everybody received a heaping dose of the new rule during the preseason.
“It’s the right thing and it’s pretty clear,” said Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, a member of the league’s nine-member competition committee. “If you touch it you know you’re getting hit, so just leave it alone.”
Said Pacers coach Frank Vogel: “Guys are learning to ‘hot potato’ it. They tell us to treat it like a ‘hot potato’ and move on.”
The Rockets were the most vocal agent for change. Their frustration came to a head during their first-round playoff series with Oklahoma City, who, the Rockets believed, were intentionally messing with the ball after made baskets to slow them down. In fact, under the new rules, the Thunder were nailed three times for the infraction in their season-opener against Utah and Wednesday against the high-pace Mavericks. Center Kendrick Perkins used his big right paw to intentionally swat the ball away, drawing a whistle for delay of game.
VIDEO: Thunder delay of game
Some announcers, ironically including Houston’s, have explained the rule as being designed to shorten the duration of a game. But it’s really about the pace at which the game is played.
Houston led the NBA last season in pace (possessions per 48 minutes). The club calculated that it had scored 1,131 points on the initial shot taken in 10 seconds or less after a basket by the other team. No team came close. The Lakers were second with 972 transition points after made baskets. Getting the ball up the floor quickly, even after made baskets, was paramount to the Rockets’ offensive strategy.
“A team like us that plays an up-tempo pace, it [the new rule] definitely should favor us,” Rockets forward Chandler Parsons said. “We want to get up. We want to get the ball out as fast as we can. Not having teams do that and slow us down on the break is definitely going to help us a lot.”
While the Rockets were out front on the issue, they were hardly the only ones arguing for the league to take action. The push gained steamed throughout last season, according to Rod Thorn, the NBA’s president of basketball operations. The NBA decided to take a closer look during the 2013 playoffs and found that, in a sample of 78 playoff games, the new delay of game penalty could have been enforced 306 times, or 3.9 times a game.
“It had been talked about before that it was a detriment to the offensive team if the team that had just scored was taking the ball and knocking it away or holding the ball and was allowing the defenses to get back and get set up, and that that was not a good thing for our game,” Thorn said. “So that was the genesis for why it was put in. A lot of teams like to move the ball up and down the floor so we want to give them every opportunity.”
The penalty was one of five officiating points of emphasis for this season. A crackdown on illegal screens has produced a spike in those calls, according to the league. The league also has seen a rise in delay of game penalties. Everybody’s noticed. How could you not? The preseason was littered with the call, and officials have kept a tight watch during the first week of the regular season.
According to the league, through the first 59 games last season, 22 delay of game penalties were called. Through 59 games this season (through Tuesday’s games) 85 delay of game penalties were called — 70 being a result of the new rule.
“You have to play with great discipline to be a good player in this league,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. “To not be able to bat the ball away when it goes through the basket should not be that hard of a thing, especially when it costs your team points.”
The fear is that the rule will be enforced to the letter of the law and that an untimely touching of the ball late in the game could cost a team a valuable point. During the preseason, players were concerned that they’d get tagged with a penalty for making incidental contact or for an instinctual catch of the ball and quick toss to the referee.
“It is instinctual to reach for it, that’s why I said, even if the ball hits you when you’re right by it and it does touch you, they can’t call it,” said Mavericks forward Shawn Marion, who nonetheless thinks players will quickly adjust to the rule.
According to Thorn, if a player catches the ball and quickly drops it, play will continue. Same for incidental contact.
“I think they’ve kind of, maybe, toned it down a little bit as they realized that, ‘OK, some of the calls that were being made were not in the truest sense of the law,'” Kings coach Michael Malone said. “I think the referees in the league have done a great job of making it a point of emphasis and then analyzing it and saying, ‘OK, is this what we want?’ They’ve kind of adjusted how they’ve called it, I think, a little bit as well.”
VIDEO: Delay of game, Lakers
Many who observe the league have seen new rules implemented and enforced early in the season, only to see them fade away into rules oblivion. Thorn believes the rule will not be an ongoing source of game delays because players will quickly adjust. And the rule, Thorn said, will not go by the wayside. It will continue to be enforced throughout the season and postseason to ensure the faster pace that players and fans want.
“I’m confident that it will,” Thorn said.
Scott Howard-Cooper, Fran Blinebury, John Schuhmann and Steve Aschburner contributed to this report.