The NBA is the undisputed biggest basketball league on the planet. With its current mix of the world’s best basketball players from around the globe, the 30-team Association is the most entertaining this world has to offer. Still, league management continues to look for ways to improve the fan experience by innovations to its gameplay via a unique set of rules and regulations that deviate from the global standard set by FIBA.
With the NBA through its digital platform, selling the opportunity to purchase viewership of one game at a time, NBA basketball is more accessible than ever. Yet, the league continues to struggle to keep its ratings up, which begs the question – is the augmented gameplay the reason why the league is taking a hit?
In the mid-2000s, the game was deemed to be too slow with not enough scoring. Therefore, the league adjusted the way it officiated games, giving rise to the dominance of (point) guards. This is not to say that today’s guards are not talented enough to be stars. Still, it’s pretty easy to tell the difference between officiating post-action versus a high screen and roll involving Stephen Curry or Damian Lillard. Many would argue that scoring has now become too easy, and the league is now searching for a way to officiate the way its present stars play the game, even considering the addition of a four-point shot at some point.
Here’s a bright idea, why don’t we bring back defense? Not the LeBron James or Giannis Anterokounmpo chase-down blocks, but good old-fashioned 2004 Detroit Pistons type of hard-nosed, physical defense. How on earth would the NBA possibly do that? Well, they won’t have to look back too far; the recently concluded Olympic Games provide the perfect example.
Team USA won the gold medal as expected, but Tokyo 2020 had a different atmosphere for the Americans. It didn’t feel like gold was a sure thing for this batch of NBA superstars. The world has improved drastically in the sport, but what proved to be more challenging to the players was adjusting to the international style of play. Damian Lillard admitted that it was easier to score in the NBA than in the Olympics because of how the game is played and officiated.
In light of this, perhaps it is time to start thinking about some rule changes favoring the defensive players. Change can’t happen overnight, so here are three rules that the NBA can adopt from FIBA to possibly make the league more exciting.
1. Foul bating – players swiping through a defender and then exaggerating contact has become a staple of every NBA game. Players on Team USA had to face a hard truth in Tokyo when they would hunt for such fouls, and the refs would just give them a blank stare. The international game allows for a lot more contact, and the NBA needs to send its refs to whatever class FIBA is giving.
2. Five Personal Fouls – This one is simple. Less personal fouls to a player mean that individual and team defense must improve. Defending without fouling is a challenging task, and it would be great to see the best athletes in the world exert as much effort on defense as they would on offense instead of fouling when at a disadvantage.
3. Unsportsmanlike fouls to stop the fast break – this one is in favor of the offense but may have a knock-on effect in terms of increasing effort on D. In FIBA, unless you are clearly going for the ball in an attempt to stop a fast break, the opposing team is awarded the ball after their trip to the foul line. If players only had five personal fouls to give and were penalized for not going for the ball more often, then we would have a lot more fast breaks and, therefore… highlights!
“Because these fouls are terrible. You know what’s better than 0.5 or 0.8 or whatever per game? Zero – and one extra fast break. The NBA already levies an extra penalty on these hugs in the G League, so they know.” – Zach LoweZach Lowe, ESPN
Lowe is right; we need to see more dunks! However, these dunks and other highlight plays should come from precise execution of the basics and not with officiating allowing it to happen. This is by no means an indictment of the players but rather, it’s praise. These players are the best in the world and are so good that they don’t need rule changes to give us the entertainment we seek.
As fans, we want to see them struggle and eventually overcome the struggle en route to success. It doesn’t matter whether success is in the form of a championship or just one offensive set; it’s time we let the players showcase their true talents against all the odds and not with the odds in their favor.