Have you ever wondered why after watching your favorite NBA stars on television and trying out some of their moves at your local rec league, you never seem to get the calls that you expect? I thought so. Many of us love the game so much that after watching the best players in the world put up ridiculous scoring numbers in the world's best basketball league, the NBA, the first thing we do is to see how we can apply some of what we watch to our own local basketball games.
By doing so, we often leave these games dissatisfied with the officiating, feeling like we should have gone to the line more with chances to help our respective teams win. Well, after his first Team USA experience, Damian Lillard had something to say that may appease us along with rec league referees all over the world.
"Best scorers in the NBA score from three and get fouled, in FIBA not as many foul calls, more physical. Also, no defensive 3 seconds, so the paint is more crowded, and refs don't blow the whistle; it's hard. There are so many things that allow scoring to be easier in the NBA.”
Damian Lillard, Olympic finals pregame interview
When Luka Dončić alluded to the same in his first NBA season, he spoke primarily to the absence of true zone defense, which allows players to beat one guy and get to the basket. In FIBA basketball, which is the set of regulations the rest of the world plays according to, there is no need to guard a man, which means you can leave a guy like Rudy Gobert under the basket to deny any potential easy baskets. For smaller guards, this presents an issue because if your outside shot isn't working, easy layups or free throws to get yourself going will be much harder to come by.
Lillard's comments come at an interesting time as he has struggled through international play. Last year, Dame averaged seven free throw attempts per game in the NBA and shot 92 percent from the stripe, accounting for 6-7 points easy points per game for the star guard. Luka did not point out officiating in his comments a few years ago, so it is interesting to hear the perspective of someone who has played in the American basketball system his whole life and joined international play only recently. Through his comments, though, it was hard to surmise if Dame enjoyed playing under FIBA rules and regulations or sorely missed the NBA officiating that he has known for quite some time now.
At the age of 30, Damian Lillard will certainly be in the running to represent Team USA in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. With team captain Kevin Durant set to be 35 years old by that time, Dame will certainly be one of the candidates to take over KD's leadership responsibilities due to his veteran status. The difference here is that KD is one of the most decorated players in international basketball, while Dame struggled to produce even after the monster year he had in the NBA. Often we would see Jrue Holiday replace him to bring in more defense and facilitating with his size and strength, a clear advantage in the international game and against a zone defense. Team USA surely hopes that Dame will be back to suit up for them in Paris, but the interest may not be mutual.
One thing is for sure, we saw Team USA challenged this year like we haven't in a long time, and the crew seemed to enjoy it. Coming to the Olympics as a member of Team USA is usually just a matter of showing up and displaying your talents en route to a gold medal while having an opportunity to continue to work on your game instead of rest. Tokyo 2020 challenged these NBA superstars due to increased talent and preparation from opposing teams and the number of adjustments to the international competition that they needed to make. Perhaps NBA superstars will take a look at Tokyo 2020 and see a unique challenge in playing international tournaments and be more interested in sacrificing their summers to participate because it is a different brand of basketball than what they had grown accustomed to.
To better prepare Team USA for international basketball, do you think the NBA should consider adopting some of the officiating guidelines from FIBA? Would it be a wise move to cut down the number of free throws altogether and, therefore, lessening NBA superstars' scoring output? From watching the Olympic tournament, it was apparent that Team USA enjoyed the challenge, so if the players enjoyed it, won't the fans?
The NBA has been looking for ways to make the game more exciting, especially since three-pointers became so easy that pulling up from the logo turned into a viable offensive play. Perhaps, a tweak in officiating to allow more physicality and reduce stoppages is the answer. FIBA and Olympic basketball competition itself is not a media product of gigantic proportion. However, if NBA players showed off their talents under their regulations, then maybe that brand of basketball will become the one that the world craves in the future.