The National Basketball Association has adopted four new rules for the upcoming season, which it hopes will increase scoring and cut down on physical play.
"We want to make it a more free-flowing, fluid, wide-open game," Rod Thorn, the NBA's vice president of basketball operations, said today.
League officials approved the changes last Friday, although not unanimously, Thorn said.
Scoring has plummeted the past 10 years, and to improve on last season's decade-low 91 points-per-game average, the NBA has tightened possession rules. Ball-hogging players will be forced to get rid of the ball quickly and forearm-chucking defenders will have to keep their hands to themselves.
In what could be the most effective measure to increase scoring, defenders can no longer use their forearms to impede the progress to the basket of players with the ball. This rule should allow slashers such as Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, Charlotte's Eddie Jones, Philadelphia's Allen Iverson and Toronto's Vince Carter a free pass to the basket. A foul will be called should an offensive player's path to the basket be hampered.
"That rule works to all the offensive guys' advantage," Wizards Coach Gar Heard said. "Normally, players have been taught to put a hand on a guy to control where they can go. Now you can't touch him. Overall, I think it will help increase scoring."
Previously, defenders could place their forearms on players once the offensive players began to dribble. That allowed stronger defenders, such as Charlotte forward Anthony Mason, to stifle his man or at least force him off balance.
Mason was critical of this rule change, saying it "sissified" play.
The new five-second rule will force post-up players who back into the basket, such as Indiana Pacers guard Mark Jackson or Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning, to either pick up their dribble, shoot or pass the ball within five seconds once they are below the foul line. An infraction results in the loss of possession.
The NBA also instituted two rules that do not directly deal with physical play. On violations such as a kicked ball, a defensive technical, a nonshooting foul or an illegal defense, the shot clock will either remain where it is or be reset to 14 seconds, whichever is greater. Previously, the clock was reset to the full 24 seconds.
The final rule deals with the restructuring of illegal defenses. Previously, teams could play a two-man game with a passer and post-up player on one half of the offensive side of the court by sending the three other offensive players to the weak side of the floor.
The new rules allow the defender guarding the passer to play anywhere between the passer and the expected receiver of the pass. In essence, the defender can play a hybrid zone. The league thinks this rule will discourage teams from attempting to dump the ball to a player on the post in the two-man game and force action elsewhere on the floor.
"In the half court it is difficult to attack this type of defense," Thorn said. "We're trying to get people to play quicker."
Although not implemented as a rule, Thorn said contact away from the ball, particularly when defenders grab and shove players cutting through the lane, will be called much more stringently by referees, some of whom were at the league meetings here to help interpret the rule changes.
"In exhibition season we'll see more fouls called but when the season begins, players will adjust," Thorn said.
NBA's new RULEs
A defender may not make contact with his hands and/or forearms on an offensive player except below the free throw line extended.
This rule tightens the existing hand-checking rule, under which players were mostly permitted to use their forearms baseline to baseline. The new rule should benefit slashing scorers, such as Toronto's Vince Carter and Philadelphia's Allen Iverson, who will have an easier path to the basket.
A player must either shoot, pass or pick up his dribble within five seconds if he begins dribbling the ball with his back toward the basket below the free throw line extended.
This rule is designed to speed up the game by stopping players such as Houston's Charles Barkley, Indiana's Mark Jackson and Miami's Alonzo Mourning, who like to take seconds off the clock by slowly backing into the low post toward the basket.
The 24-second shot clock will be reset to 14 seconds if certain violations (non-shooting personal foul, kicked ball, illegal defense violation) occur with less than 14 seconds remaining on the shot clock and will remain unchanged if the violation occurs with 14 or more seconds remaining on the shot clock.
This rule is designed to speed up the game by not giving teams a full 24 seconds on the shot clock when certain violations occur, as had been the case previously.
No illegal defense rules will apply to a player who is defending an offensive player positioned on the strong side of the court.
Designed to discourage the two-man game, this rule allows the defender who is guarding the passer to play anywhere between the ball and the player who receives the ball -- in essence allowing a two-man zone defense.