Over the last month or so, the fine minds over at TrueHoop's HoopIdea have been putting together a series of blog posts centered on either the idea of tanking to acquire the potential for better draft status, or why so many NBA players like to flop and draw fouls. It's a noble effort, the latter of which reflects what has been the bane of many an NBA fan's existence over the last 15 years or so. NBA players don't seem to bother to want to attempt spectacular blocks, or adjusting a player's attempt on a drive. Why would they, when stepping into a player's way will more than likely be rewarded with a whistle, and the ball back?
On Sunday, in a nationally televised game between the famous New York Knicks and the really, really famous Miami Heat, one flop and charge call in particular sent former Knicks and Houston Rockets coach (and ABC/ESPN analyst) Jeff Van Gundy over the edge. Van Gundy has long been begging for the NBA to set up some retroactive fine system for the players it sees flopping (despite the charge, initially, going their way), and Sunday's rant was pretty classic. Via Awful Announcing, watch:
Van Gundy's idea would work, but there's no way the NBA would go for it. Not merely because Jeff brought it up, as he attempted to claim in a Van Gundy-esque martyr-y tone (which we love), but because the NBA is not going to publicly admit defeat in a situation like this. Though the league routinely battles with its refs, there is no way the NBA is going to pull up a list of offenders every morning, start doling out fines and eventual suspensions to the various Derek Fishers of the world, and essentially write off several of the previous night's most egregious acting jobs as blown calls.
And credit the NBA players. Even as fouls have gone down, as Izzy Gainsburg from Alone In the Green Room noted on Sunday, charges continue to go up year by year. It's a smart move, taking that charge. You know it's the quickest point between stopping a team's offense (remember, those who pick up charge fouls don't even have to be dribbling the ball at the time, they could have already passed it away and walked into a defender) and getting the ball back. It's not merely a matter of hustle, anymore. It's the right thing to do.
The NBA has condoned as much.
The game is being called a different way, now. The influx of younger referees that go strictly by the book, mixed in with the paranoia of having call-by-call video reviews of every move you make (or don't make) during the course of a 48-minute game makes these younger refs more and more apt to call things exactly as the book states they should. It's not just charges, either.
More and more often, this season, I've seen players get called for over the back or loose ball fouls that result in the ball caroming out of bounds off of the player who was fouled. Often, before this season, referees would just say that the ball went out of bounds on a player that clearly didn't knock it out of bounds, but probably did foul the guy who did knock it out of bounds, just to give the (usually, big) man a break and not rack up an extra foul when just an out of bounds call will do.
Now that every call is being reviewed to within an inch of its life, you can't really pull that "look the other way"-remedy in the modern NBA. Though you might be doing Amir Johnson a favor by just ruling that he hit the ball out of bounds (when he clearly did not) instead of giving him a loose ball foul for nailing Tyler Hansbrough (when Hansbrough actually knocked it out of bounds), awarding the ball to Hansbrough (and saving Johnson a foul) in that situation is technically a blown call to the NBA. And though it doesn't help the flow of the game in any way to get every call correct, these video reviews are making it so referees are looking out for the flow of their careers by getting every call correct.
This is what the NBA has created. The players have found a loophole, knowing they can force a turnover just by sliding in under a player as he drives or runs without the ball, and immediate reaction from refs (thinking that player as borderline stationary, and thus in position) is usually a charge call. It's the evolution of the game — increased referee scrutiny, more cameras, more voices online, smarter players, and more and more players willing to do the dirty work that used to be only reserved for the league's more irascible types — and it's probably not a welcome evolution.
Quite a bit has to change, though, for this "growth" to stop. Don't expect the NBA to attempt to put an end to it anytime soon, however. They're too stubborn, this far in.