This first appeared in the Aug. 27 edition of The Washington Post’s NBA newsletter, the Monday Morning Post Up. You can subscribe by clicking here.
With the NBA’s surge in popularity over the past decade, a couple of things have been working in the league’s favor. An influx of young, dynamic stars who captivate the game’s audience through their actions on the court and their personalities off it has been a fortunate coincidence.
Its progress in heightening the appeal of the product by upping the pace of play and shortening the overall length of games, though, has been by design. The league made moves last summer to that end when it instituted several changes, including reducing the number of timeouts, shortening the time between free throws and enforcing 15-minute halftimes.
The NBA took another step in that direction last week when its competition committee recommended more changes for the upcoming season, as first reported by ESPN. As has been the case with previous alterations, they will make the league better.
The first proposed change — resetting the shot clock to 14 seconds rather than 24 after an offensive rebound — will lead to more shot attempts in general and, crucially, more shots in end-of-game situations. Under the old rules, a team could get the ball with 50 seconds left and, with one offensive rebound, essentially run out the clock. That will no longer be the case.
With the explosion of offense and the proliferation of three-point shooting in recent seasons, the league has come to understand that more offense equals better basketball and, more importantly, better ratings. The new rules should continue that, allowing for both more possessions and more variability in outcomes.
The same can be said for the other significant rule change: a revision to the definition of the “clear path foul,” easily the most confusing of the NBA’s rules. In recent years, the rule was so complicated that even seasoned observers had trouble determining if one had been committed.
The proposed revisions to the rule would seem to allow for the NBA to make a fairly dramatic reform to the game. By getting rid of language stating that a clear path foul can only happen in the backcourt and adding that “a personal foul is committed on any offensive player during his team’s transition scoring opportunity,” the NBA again is prioritizing the scoring above all.
Specifically, the rule change appears to eliminate the “Euro foul,” as it has come to be known. These fouls occur when, as a team is racing up the court on a fast break, a defensive player reaches out and grabs their opponent to stop play. While it has been a smart practice from a tactical standpoint, particularly in a close game when a team is not yet in the penalty, it leads to more stoppages in play. Games then slow down, making it tougher for there to be more of the open-court play that has helped the league’s uptick in popularity.
Clamping down on these fouls will allow for more free flowing action, which, in the long term, should shorten games by decreasing the amount that are called. That might not happen immediately, as there could be an adjustment period while players and coaches grow accustomed to the rule changes. But as things play out, a positive impact on play feels inevitable.
Given that clear path foul reviews often seem to be the most difficult to decipher and lead to lengthier stretches spent at the monitors by officials, anything to simplify the rule and make it easier for all to understand can only be seen as an improvement.
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