Put NBA Players in a Penalty Box
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because real crimes deserve real punishment.
By Matt Foley
Right up there with space exploration, index funds and a live Radiohead set, modern basketball is among mankind’s greatest achievements. Professional pace of play has never been faster, scores never higher. NBA games have become tutorials on human evolution: Watch one of Steph Curry’s 40-foot floaters, or Russell Westbrook bouncing across 94 feet of hardwood in two dribbles for a tomahawk slam, and it’s clear that today’s talent has outstripped the game’s original rules.
But for ardent fans, a frustration most foul lurks. There’s the Hack-a-Shaq (when a player intentionally fouls a team’s worst shooter), “flopping” (when a player essentially tricks the ref into calling a foul) and the “clear-path foul” (when a defender fouls an offensive player with an open-floor advantage). While the NBA has announced slight rule changes and small fines, it hasn’t done enough to remedy the problem. Let’s do right by basketball’s most electrifying era yet with a new rule: Any intentional foul meant to delay the game or kill the opposing team’s momentum will result in the fouler’s removal from the game for 30 seconds.
That’s right, basketball ought to adopt hockey’s power play. The penalty box should fit nicely beneath the basket. Dangerous fouls would still be punished the way they are now, with fines and the possibility of suspension; normal, hard fouls would still be subject to a ref’s discretion. For any fouls away from the ball, Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver suggests incorporating soccer’s “advantage rule” in which “transition plays could continue with a delayed whistle.” In other words, the play would continue to completion, and the penalty would be addressed at the next dead ball.
Adopting hockey’s power play is an aggressive move. But let’s face it: Watching a man-down situation is exciting and tense; show a non-hockey fan a two-minute penalty kill, and — bam! — you’ve got another hockey fan. You know what’s not exciting? Watching the final five minutes on the clock drag out to half an hour. Besides, power plays give teams “a whole new element of game planning,” says Travis Hughes, hockey editor at SBNation. Players who don’t have the ideals for a modern pro roster can become very valuable on the power play, he adds. On ice, this means bigger, slower “bruisers” who would otherwise be left behind by the finesse game still fill a role as situational specialists. Chances are, NBA’s power play would lead to a whole new, never-before-seen level of strategic innovation on the court.
It could also make valuable players — those with elite size, speed, athleticism and shooting range — even more coveted. Players like Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant can already run the floor, protect the rim and play on the perimeter. The power play concept would spread the floor even wider, increasing the need for dynamic rim defenders.
There are detractors, of course. SBNation’s basketball editor, Jason Patt, says the power play “would be too chaotic and way too unfair” for the team missing a guy. But 30 seconds is not forever, and the risk of denial? A mind-numbing, unwatchable product.