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Playing advantage in the NBA

Beyond continuation

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Houston Rockets
A foul on a Rocket’s wrist in 3, 2, 1...
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Here are some statements I believe should be true of NBA basketball:

  1. Basketball should be a flowing, fast, exciting, game, that provides fun and entertainment.
  2. Teams should make optimal decisions to increase their odds of winning.
  3. Rule violations should not provide an advantage to the rule violators.
  4. Rule enforcement that detracts from #1 should be minimized when possible.
  5. No portion of the game should take considerably longer than any other.

If basketball is analyzed in under the auspices of the above five statements, certain changes in the refereeing of the game are implied. I’m going to present these ideas in a number of contexts, to contemplate how the NBA would change upon the application of these concepts to the current state of the game.

The most considerable changes to the enforcement of the rules would come under #3. Rule violations should not provide an advantage to the rule violator. If an advantage is provided to the rule violator from the infraction, it should be minimized whenever possible.

One way rule violators in the NBA benefit from rule violation is from the constant stoppage of play on minor (and clearly intentional) fouls that deprive an opponent of an easy scoring opportunity and force, at best, free throws, or otherwise side out. Even if the scoring opportunity is not easy, it would be better to see that attempt, and award the +1 free throws if successful, or simply free throws if unsuccessful.

One of the most exciting plays in the NBA is a fast break. We barely get to see them due to cynical, professional, fouling. Such a foul is, per #2 above, the optimal decision by the defense. The incentive to make this play, the huge reward for a side out foul, rather than a spectacular dunk, needs to be removed.

In theory the referee will award a clear path foul (free throws, plus the ball) if the violation occurs behind the play. In practice, they almost never do so. Likely this is due to the lengthy video review process required for such a call and the purported “special” nature of this call. It isn’t special. Clear path fouls, that should be assessed, happen frequently, but the call is not made. This is then, either a bad rule, or a good rule, poorly enforced.

There are ways to fix this. One is to go beyond the NBA’s weak, vague “continuation” rule, ignore the infrequent “clear path” call, and employ soccer’s “advantage” concept.

This concept in soccer is stated roughly like this: The referee has a duty to allow play to continue if an obvious foul occurs, but the stoppage of play would cause greater harm to the team that was fouled than allowing play to continue a few seconds.

Applying this rule in basketball would fix any number of annoying problems. Weak fouls on fast breaks are simply noted by the referee, but ignored until the conclusion of the initial action of the fast break. The referee should probably signal that advantage is in effect, by raising a hand, or something like that.

Even flagrant type fouls would be ignored during the play, but hard contact on a fast break would be typically considered “flagrant to stop a fast break”. This flagrant would be an ejection foul, unless mitigating circumstances are found.

Those mitigating circumstances would be a legitimate attempt at defense. Under such circumstances the the nation would result in a flagrant 1, but no ejection. We do not want to replace tacky-tack fouls with dangerous fouls under the guise of “attempt at defense”

If the offense scores on continuation on a break, the offense also gets a automatic +1. If not, the offense receives the number of shots appropriate to the attempt made on the fast break, and an automatic +1. That’s right, ticky-tack foul, continuation, three point shot, miss. Three FTs plus one point. The offense is encouraged to make a 3pt or 4pt play. This would likely end this type of foul immediately.

That’s right. A free point. No shot requited (I’d also just award 2pts on flagrant fouls. Why should the defense benefit if the flagrant foul injures someone and they can’t continue? That’s ludicrous.). The offense doesn’t need to shoot it. Fouling on fast breaks is now a terrible decision for the defense and will likely vanish.

If we see more high flying dunks as the defense just gets out of the way, how is that a bad thing? How is it worse than seeing a cynical foul and side out? How did the game benefit from such an action?

Advantage has in fact be sneaked into the NBA, slightly, in some new shot clock violation changes, but those changes don’t go far enough, in my opinion.

Adding advantage to virtually every scoring situation, not just fast breaks, would result in a more free flowing game, with fewer cynical, deliberate infractions that benefit the team violating the rules.

What say you?


In favor of an NBA advantage rule?

This poll is closed

  • 48%
    (46 votes)
  • 6%
    No. I like to stop the most exciting play in the game to help the rule violator.
    (6 votes)
  • 21%
    Yes, but without the automatic +1
    (20 votes)
  • 23%
    Yes, but only for Luka.
    (22 votes)
94 votes total Vote Now