Is the NBA taking flopping seriously?

The NBA got a great deal of attention this fall for instituting penalties for flopping. In the view of some, most notably Henry Abbott and his army of analysts at TrueHoop, flopping has been one of the great evils of the league for some time, one that perverts the principles of fair competition that presumably act as the foundation of sport. Early returns were positive — the NBA singled out some notorious floppers and generally seemed to be keeping an eye on the issue.

[Also: Kobe Bryant needs reminders to stop hogging the ball]

In recent months, though, the flopping notices have not been quite so prevalent. At TrueHoop, Beckley Mason examines exactly what's going on with the enforcement (or lack thereof):

Since 2013 began, however, the NBA has cited a mere four flops, out of close to 25,000 minutes of live ball play. [...]

Considering that the league issued a total of 12 warnings and fines in the first two months of the season, that could be a sign the rule is doing its job, and players are flopping less. But on the other hand, it's not that hard to find examples of flops that are going unpunished. [...]

Subjective observations suggests that the league, as a whole, on the season, has less flopping. But there's also evidence that the NBA is becoming increasingly lax in its policing.

The playoffs, when flopping rates are usually at their season-high, are just around the corner. Teams value every possession more in the playoffs, and therefore the incentive to flop will be high.

Beckley's post was written early on Thursday, before the league handed out flopping warnings to Chris Paul (for this particularly notable incident) and Tyreke Evans, so there's at least some evidence that they're keeping track of flops. Yet the larger point here is still relevant. If flopping is even half as big a problem as it was believed to be before the rules, then they're missing a large number of infractions. That presents a drop in enforcement, or maybe just a failure to take the issue seriously in the first place.

Or maybe the NBA gave itself an impossible task when they chose to define flopping broadly as "any physical act that appears to have been intended to cause the referees to call a foul on another player." Players embellish contact as a rule — for that matter, referees may even require it to identify certain calls. As soon as the NBA decided to identify flopping in this manner, they ensured that any significant enforcement would involve a drastic overhaul of the way NBA basketball is played. The idea that only six players have violated these rules in the past two-and-a-half months is especially ridiculous, but it's hard to argue that 15 or 20 warnings and fines would represent a more accurate assessment. In a way, flopping punishment was destined to look more like a public relations decision than an honest attempt to stop the activity. Doing more would require a zealot's fanaticism.

Outcry over flopping tends to reach fever pitch in the playoffs, so it will be interesting to see if the same reaction occurs now that these rules are in place. If fans are still upset, the league office will have a decision to make. Will they continue to enforce the rules sparingly and court more fan frustration, or will they take their own guidelines more seriously? If they choose the latter, the NBA game could see huge changes.

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