The NBA on Wednesday confirmed several rule changes that will be implemented at the D-League level beginning this season, which tips off Nov. 14, including the introduction of a limited NFL-style challenge system allowing coaches to trigger replay reviews.
The D-League will also experiment with three more new rules that seem aimed at improving game flow and reducing the number of stoppages in contests, including one targeting "Hack-a-Shaq"-style intentional fouling.
The "away-from-the-play foul rule," as it's being called, amps up the penalty for defenders who make deliberate illegal contact with an offensive player, well, away from the play — defined in this case as "away from the immediate area of offensive action," prior to an inbounds throw-in, or both. While we've become accustomed to coaches instructing their players to commit such fouls on guys who struggle to make their free throws — Shaquille O'Neal, Ben Wallace, Dwight Howard, Andris Biedrins, DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond, et al — the NBA rulebook makes these intentional fouls costly when they come during the final two minutes of games. During those last 120 seconds, the team on the receiving end of an away-from-the-play foul receives one free throw attempt that can be taken by any member of the team on the floor at the time (meaning the guy who got fouled doesn't have to be the one to shoot it) and retains possession of the ball.
The new D-League rule extends that penalty beyond the last two minutes to "any point in the game," changing the decision-making calculus for a coach whose team is trailing an opponent that's playing a 50-percent-or-worse free-throw shooter. (This is an adjustment that former Commissioner David Stern was talking up back in 2012.) If fouling earlier in the game isn't going to result in a split pair, or even an oh-fer, that gives you the ball back with a chance to reduce your deficit, but rather is going to give a much better shooter an opportunity to increase the lead and give his team the ball back, then we'd probably see more coaches — like, say, San Antonio Spurs boss Gregg Popovich, who swears he hates the hacking but feels obligated to play the hand the league's dealing him — decide to scrap the scheme. That means fewer intentional fouls, fewer trips to the line and, theoretically, a boost in the pace of play.
"We feel that implementing that for the entire game will reduce the number of times that it will happen over the course of the entire game," Chris Alpert, the D-League's vice president of basketball operations and player personnel, told Brian Mahoney of The Associated Press.
Similarly, the decision to increase the number of fouls a team needs to commit before they're in the penalty and their opponents start shooting free-throws — bumping it up from four per quarter to five per quarter — could cut out several trips to the free-throw line on a nightly basis, which would presumably speed things up a bit and help reduce the choppiness that can result when teams get into the penalty early.
The so-called "advance" rule seems like an interesting idea for expediting the end-of-game situations that often seem interminable. During the last two minutes of the fourth quarter (and, if necessary, the last two minutes of each overtime session), teams will each get one chance to stop play while they have possession, make substitutions and move the ball into the frontcourt ... all without using a timeout. You'd figure those advances can happen much more quickly than a full or 20-second timeout that sees an entire team head to the sideline, coaches draw up plays, and so on, and if both teams can use one, that's two significant bits of time-saving that might help the last two minutes of a game seem a lot less like two hours and a lot more like, y'know, two minutes.
The coach’s challenge enables NBA D-League coaches to initiate instant replay review of referee calls of personal or shooting fouls, including offensive fouls, as well as those plays that have been identified as triggers for instant replay. Violations such as traveling and palming may not be challenged, nor can continuations or act-of-shooting determinations.
To initiate a challenge, a coach must call a timeout and immediately signal to the referees that a play is being challenged. The referees will then review the event in question and determine whether to uphold or change the original call. The challenging team will retain its timeout if the challenge is successful and will lose its timeout if it is unsuccessful. Teams will be granted one challenge during regulation and another challenge in each overtime period. An additional challenge in regulation will be granted if the first challenge is successful.
As I wrote Tuesday, I'm a bit leery of the idea of adding more opportunities for reviews in basketball games, especially as the NBA and its minor league seem intent on trying to whittle down the overall length of nightly contests. That said, "getting it right" is far from the worst hill to die on, and the cost of making a challenge — burning a timeout you might need later — could keep coaches from going to the well with abandon.
Then again, some coaches might not need too much convincing not to use their challenges, or to support their introduction in the first place.
Randy Wittman on the D-League experimenting with coach challenges (http://t.co/zYR1JFcXho). “I think it’s stupid.” No elaboration.
— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) November 4, 2014
I guess it's a good thing Randy Wittman's coaching the Washington Wizards rather than their shared D-League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, then.
Implementation at the D-League level doesn't necessarily mean that we're going to see any or all of these new tweaks in the NBA any time soon. But if the minor-league experiments accomplish the goals the powers-that-be have in mind — "Our hope is to limit the number of interruptions that occur at the end of the game," Alpert told the AP — then it wouldn't be a shock to see challenges, timeout-free advances and perhaps even the death of the Hack-a-Shaq coming to an NBA city near you someday soon.
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