Unlike some major sports leagues, the NBA has few concerns about changing its rules for what it sees as improvements to the quality of the game and the fan experience. The goal is to get closer to perfect, not to preserve an arcane sense of history and consistency, at least in theory. It's a noble goal even if it doesn't always work out as planned.
On Thursday, the NBA Board of Governors voted to institute five proposed changes from the league's competition committee. While none of these changes figures to matter as much as last October's announcement of punishments for flopping, they will affect the shape and character of each game.
Check them out after the jump, along with a quick explanation of what each means and broader thoughts on how everything could play out in practice.
First, the three replay changes.
When reviewing a block/charge play to determine whether the defender was inside or outside the restricted area, officials will now be permitted to reverse a charge call, or uphold a blocking call, when the defender was outside the restricted area but was not set when the offensive player began his upward shooting motion.
This change appears to be the most important of the bunch. Previously, referees were only able to change or uphold this call based on the defender's position relative to the restricted area. Under this new guideline, officials will be able to assess what was previously a split-decision call (i.e. "was the defender set?") with the help of slow-motion replay. This could be the rule change that eventually gives referees the latitude to look at more kinds of judgment calls after the fact, all in in the interest of getting things right.
To determine whether an off-ball foul occurred before or after a player has started his shooting motion on a successful shot attempt, or before or after the ball was released on a throw-in.
This call does not occur very often, frankly, but that might only be because it was previously close-to-impossible to have one ref notice two events occurring simultaneously, or to have two officials agree upon the timing of those same two events. I would guess that this still won't be called much, if only because officials typically seem unwilling to call off-ball fouls in any situation.
During the review of any instant replay situation to permit the officials to assess the appropriate penalties of any unsportsmanlike and unnecessary acts (e.g. flagrant fouls) that are observed during the instant replay reviews.
This rule is a bit unclear, but it appears to allow officials to notice flagrant or technical fouls during unrelated replay reviews, start a new replay review to assess the severity of those infractions, and then make calls for those acts even if they didn't see them in real time. The decision makes some sense — there's no real reason to allow unsportsmanlike behavior just because the referees missed it as it was happening.
Now, the two changes to on-court rules.
On clear path to the basket fouls, it will no longer be considered a clear path foul if at any point before the foul is committed, the defender who commits the foul is positioned ahead of the offensive player in the frontcourt.
This is my favorite change of the bunch, if only because it figures to make calling clear-path fouls much easier than before. In recent seasons, referees have spent far too long looking at video reviews of clear-path calls in which defenders were very close to being in front of the ballhandler. Now, officials have a much clearer reason not to call the clear-path foul, because it now only applies to plays in which the defender chases the offensive player from behind.
A team on offense will lose possession if its player leaves the floor and does not immediately return to the floor, unless he is injured, attempting to save the ball or in other extenuating circumstances.
I'm not sure if players hanging out in the stands to avoid playing offense was a particularly big problem, but at least they now have a special reason not to. I guess this means that one-way players like Reggie Evans can't steal fans' popcorn while their teammates run plays.
For those inclined to believe that the NBA should do whatever possible to get every play right, these changes are a very good thing. In particular, the changes to replay reviews will allow referees to see more and get more calls correct, which would figure to make competition fairer. This is a noble goal.
Unfortunately, it's possible that these changes actually make the game less pleasurable to watch. As courtside video replay has become easier to implement, the NBA has allowed more opportunities for referees to review and change calls during play. However, the league also hasn't enforced time limits for replays, which allows the game to drag on to change the course of one possession in a game of many. While it's nice to want referees to be as accurate as possible, it's not clear that allowing them to review one call for several minutes actually improves the quality of the product. Fairness and entertainment value are sometimes mutually exclusive.