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The Extra Pass: Five quick ways to improve the league; plus Monday’s Recaps

Dec 10, 2013, 8:00 AM EST

Dwight Howard AP

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Five ideas that could help make the NBA even greater:

Offensive Goaltending: Let’s get rid of it. The “in the cylinder” call is routinely one of the toughest for refs to get right on the floor, and we know how the subsequent huddle and review process can suck the life out of a game. If it bounces off the rim, it’s fair game.

The D-League, FIBA and Olympic competition all play that way, and no one says, “oh man, I’m tried of seeing all these putback dunks!” or thinks it has ruined the sanctity of the game. Let’s allow the world’s best athletes to play the game in a different dimension and remove all the pattycake played by rebounders in the air.

Hack-A-Tactic: Probably the best solution to ending the intentional fouling that forces us to watch very large men miss free throws over and over again came from Tom Ziller at SBNation:

“(…) the league could end the practice in one fell swoop by giving teams in the bonus the option of free throws or an inbounds play on non-shooting fouls. In other words, make the bonus optional.”

Brilliant. If Dwight Howard gets intentionally fouled without the ball while in the bonus and there’s more than two minutes left, Kevin McHale can simply opt to take the ball out. The offending player is still charged with a foul, the shot clock resets, and the game moves on.

Coaches decline penalties in football. Why not give them the same option in basketball? Keep the game moving and kill off this strategy in the simplest of ways.

Divisions: Let’s get rid of them, too. The best eight teams in each conference should go to the playoffs every year, no questions asked. If we removed divisions today, it wouldn’t change rivalries or anything else — it just makes playoff seeding simpler and easier to understand. Change that simplifies a needlessly complicated thing? That should be embraced. Here’s hoping the Atlantic Division teams keep this up to spur the switch.

Tanking: There have been many great solutions suggested over the years, particularly by the guys at TrueHoop with their HoopIdea series. Here’s mine: create a minimum win requirement.

No team can fall below the line of 50 combined wins in back-to-back seasons. If a team wins 30 games one year, they must win at least 20 in the next season.

The punishment for teams that fail to win a combined 50 games in any back-to-back seasons? They automatically get assigned the worst odds in the lottery of that year’s draft. If multiple teams fail to meet the 50-win two-year minimum, the team with the worse two-year record will receive the lowest odds.

At the least, this would provide some incentive for general managers not to completely tank over multiple years and for coaches to try and play their best players towards the end of the season. It would make fans of bad teams stop rooting so much for incompetence, at least over multiple seasons. The lottery system would stay intact as is with just a little tweak.

This would make tanking punitive over multiple years, much in the way the luxury tax punishes repeat offenders. This wouldn’t stop tanking like some suggestions, but it would at least put some limitations on it and give teams the incentive to at least be reasonably respectable over a two-year period.

Make the D-League a true minor league: 30 teams, 30 D-League affiliates. It would require a big investment by the league and by owners, but creating a real minor league system that feeds directly to the big club would create an interest in the D-League that hasn’t previously been there.

Exclusive affiliates could make events like the D-League draft and trades actually mean something, and following the happenings of your team’s D-League club would be worth doing. One of the best parts of being a baseball fan is knowing your team’s prospects and getting to say “I remember him when…” once he reaches the majors. That level of familiarity should happen more in basketball.

-D.J. Foster

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Clippers 94, 76ers 83: This was a professional win by the Clippers — they are the better, more talented team and they just used that to make it an easy night for themselves. Of course Chris Paul is playing so well this season that he can make a 25-point, 13-assist night look professional and routine. The Clippers defended well (Blake Griffin on Spencer Hawes in particular, but the Sixers as a team shot just 35.9 percent) however as part of that the Sixers just missed some good looks. It’s not like the Clippers were perfect, they were just better and never let up.

Nuggets 75, Wizards 74: Much lower scoring game than anyone expected —but we did get drama. The Nuggets hung around in a gritty fashion then just made plays with the game on the line. Washington will regret this because had their chances at the end. First Wall had one driving layup blocked by Kenneth Faried. It was then Faried that provided Denver with the margin of victory with :32 seconds left in the game when he threw down a powerful dunk after his man slid over to stop a Nate Robinson drive and Robinson slipped a pass to Faried. Still the Wizards had chances. For example with 22 seconds left the Nuggets had bad inbounds pass stolen by Glen Rice Jr., who in turn passed to a slashing Wall who just missed a driving layup. Next possession Trevor Ariza had a good look at a three and missed it. Still after Faried missed some key free throws Washington had one last chance, they got the ball to Wall out top who made a nice move to create space at the elbow… then just fumbled the ball away as he went up for the shot. Wall finished with 20 points and 8 assists but will just have regrets over how this one ended.

Bobcats 115, Warriors 111: Charlotte is no pushover this season — they can be beaten but you’re going to have to work for it. These Bobcats will not roll over and Golden State learned that the hard way when they once again came out flat (it has been a trend for a couple weeks now). Charlotte led by 12 at the half but Golden State’s offense woke up behind Stephen Curry, who had 32 of his 43 points after halftime. Golden State fought back to tie the game 88-88 in the fourth quarter, then promptly turned the ball over on three straight possessions and never got the lead back. Credit Kemba Walker for that — he scored the Bobcats final 15 points (he finished with 31) and Charlotte held on for a quality win.

Grizzlies 94, Magic 85: Memphis took control of this game thanks to a 14-0 run by their bench in the second quarter and they never surrendered the lead again. Orlando struggled against the Grizzlies defense shooting just 40 percent, but they did make a little run in the fourth quarter and made it interesting enough Dave Joeger had to put his starters back in to preserve the win. Zach Randolph had 19 points but the real key was the Grizzlies shot 10-of-17 from three in this game.

Trail Blazers 105, Jazz 94: This game was close for a quarter and a half until a 15-6 Portland run late in the second quarter gave them a little lead and they never looked back. Much like the Clippers this was a professional win where Portland didn’t have to bring it’s best and didn’t, but it brought enough to win this. LaMarcus Aldridge had 24 points, Damian Lillard 18. Alec Burks led Utah with 20 points on 11 shots off the bench.

Kings 112, Mavericks 97: The Kings were shorthanded — Rudy Gay will make his debut in purple Wednesday against Utah — but the Sacramento front court was on fire. DeMarcus Cousins had 32 points and 19 rebounds, Derrick Williams had a career high 31 points while Dallas seemed to coast. Sacramento took the lead with a 13-0 run in the second quarter then pulled away in the third not to look back. Isaiah Thomas looked good as the starter with 24 points and 12 assists. Monta Ellis (21 points) and Dirk Nowitzki (18) played well but the rest of the Mavs shot 33.9 percent. That didn’t get it done.

  1. detectivejimmymcnulty - Dec 10, 2013 at 8:21 AM

    A minimum win requirement is stupid. Some teams are just that bad and the lottery doesn’t guarantee the #1 pick. The hacking rule is bad as well. It’s called “strategy.” Maybe Dwight should hit his free throws? Actually, what happened to the one and one? That should be brought back.

    • djp141 - Dec 10, 2013 at 9:00 AM

      I agree. Say you don’t win 50 in back to back seasons. Then you get a low lottery pick. So you still stink. And are rewarded with another low lottery pick. How is a team supposed to get better? And don’t say “free agency”, because it’s to tough to lure free agents to crappy teams in smaller markets.

      • bougin89 - Dec 10, 2013 at 9:57 AM

        Exactly. It’s not possible for most teams to pull off what the Heat did to get the big three through free agency because most true superstars simply won’t play in certain markets.

    • musilly - Dec 10, 2013 at 12:12 PM

      (1) There is ALWAYS strategy in response to rules. Changing the rules simply changes the strategy. The point of the optional free throws is to discourage a certain strategy that makes the game really, really boring.

      (2) The suggestion is for 50 COMBINED wins in back-to-back seasons, not 50 wins per season. 50 combined wins over two years is a very low bar. Maybe it’ll penalize some teams that put forward a good-faith effort at winning but are actually truly terrible, but that possible harm would be out-weighed by the bad-faith tanking that it would discourage. It would help put a better product on the floor.

      • savvybynature - Dec 10, 2013 at 12:25 PM

        It would punish teams ravaged by injury, not just teams trying to tank. I think it is a foolish suggestion.

      • djp141 - Dec 10, 2013 at 2:50 PM

        The lottery itself is supposed to discourage tanking. The 2011-2012 Charlotte Bobcats had the worst team winning percentage in NBA history. You could call it the most successful tank of all time. And the best player in the draft went to … New Orleans.

      • musilly - Dec 10, 2013 at 3:23 PM

        That’s one way to phrase it. I’d say that the rule would fail to REWARD teams ravaged by injury–and why should such teams by rewarded in the first place? A high lottery pick would be a windfall.

        Think back to the Admiral’s injury. The Spurs weren’t “really” that terrible as a going concern–because they expected to get the Admiral back–but they accumulated losses that increased their odds of getting Duncan. Why should the Spurs have been rewarded for the Admiral’s injury?

      • whereyaat - Dec 10, 2013 at 8:29 PM

        @musilly

        The reason why you reward injury-plagued teams is because some injuries are permanent, or sometimes injuries don’t heal the way we want them too (i.e. players being more limited after an Achilles or ACL tear). Then a team, who made a good faith effort to be competitive, is punished with years of salary cap space eaten up by a guy who never was injured before. (Derrick Rose might be the latest example of that. Michael Redd is a good example.) At least getting a good draft pick is an equitable solution to that problem.

        Punishing teams for injuries is punishing them for something management had no control over. If you’re going to punish teams, at least punish the team for something that the team intended to do.

  2. chefjon81 - Dec 10, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    I’d like to see a Legends game at the all-star weekend…anybody that is out of the league with a previous all-star game would be eligible…Shaq, Jordan, Barkley, Magic, Kareem, Dr. J, etc…2 12-min halves, a fun exibition. Priority of roster spots based on number of all-star appearances. I know its not really an improvement on the NBA in the sense that the writer is going for, but I’d like to watch that more than the rookie/sophomore game, probably even more than the travesty that has become of the once-great dunk contest.

  3. zerole00 - Dec 10, 2013 at 9:41 AM

    Anyone find it kinda funny that he wants to remove divisions yet keep conferences (yes yes I can understand the use of them for things like the All-Star game). That said, instead of the best 8 teams from each conference going to the playoffs, why not the best 16 teams in the NBA?

    • asimonetti88 - Dec 10, 2013 at 3:52 PM

      No conferences would make scheduling a nightmare.

  4. ihavenonickname - Dec 10, 2013 at 9:44 AM

    Interesting thoughts, DJ. It’s nice to have a real article written every now and then.

    I would love the no offensive goaltending rule!

  5. whoisrdymlz - Dec 10, 2013 at 9:46 AM

    Charlotte is going to the playoffs and their style of play is exactly what you see teams use come playoff time. I’m not saying that you’ll see them in the Eastern Conference Finals but it suddenly seems like winning a playoff series is reasonable. Who would have thought that when the season began? Steve Clifford is a great coach.

    • zerole00 - Dec 10, 2013 at 9:48 AM

      It helps that they play in the East.

      • whoisrdymlz - Dec 10, 2013 at 11:00 AM

        Equal parts true and not their fault.

  6. savvybynature - Dec 10, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    Not a fan of many of the proposed rule changes, and also don’t get uber-excited for putback dunks like some kind of 12-year-old fan boy.
    It always seems like a good idea to change the rules to increase scoring, at least to some, but in my experience when sports do that it does in fact take away from the game and sometimes has unintended consequences.

  7. eagles512 - Dec 10, 2013 at 11:19 AM

    Agree with most but you need to keep offensive goaltending. Not fair that a defender has to wait but not the offense.

  8. spursareold - Dec 10, 2013 at 12:33 PM

    “The D-League, FIBA and Olympic competition all play that way”
    Actually, all of those leagues are only allowed to take the ball off the rim DEFENSIVELY. They still have offensive goaltending rules.

  9. spursareold - Dec 10, 2013 at 12:39 PM

    As for the “Hacka” rule, what’s next? Eliminating pressing because some guards can’t bring the ball up against it?

    Incompetence should never be rewarded. If you lack a skill, work on it.

    • chitownmatt - Dec 10, 2013 at 4:12 PM

      You could effectively make the opposing argument that the current rules unfairly favor the player that cannot defend the player they are hacking while actually playing the game.

      The current rules reward the incompetence of the defender.

      Quite simply, would you rather watch someone shoot free throws or two teams play basketball against each other?

  10. chitownmatt - Dec 10, 2013 at 12:57 PM

    How about intentional fouls behind the 3 point line equal – 3 shots.

    There is just too much clock play and intentional fouling at the end of games.

    I know, I know, “Its part of ‘the strategy’ of the game” But come’on, its Freakin’ BORING, and this is basketball NOT CHESS!!!

    • chitownmatt - Dec 10, 2013 at 3:41 PM

      To expand on my point,
      A steal is exciting and a basketball play

      A trap is exciting and a basketball play

      Slapping someone on the forearm or giving them a hug to stop the clock and watch them shoot free throws…BORING!!!

      I dont know about you, but I would rather watch them actually play basketball.

      This is always the first question anyone who is not very familiar with basketball asks in dumbfounded amazement when they watch the end of a close game for the first time.

      If the team that is losing has a chance to score three points on each possession then why should the team that is winning have to settle for only two?

      (I’d bet the person who thumbs downed me is a Heat fan. lol)

      • savvybynature - Dec 10, 2013 at 8:59 PM

        So we should only allow exciting things to happen during games in order to satiate a viewing audience that apparently has no attention span and no sense of drama?
        OK then, let’s get rid of timeouts because that’s boring (this isn’t chess, as you pointed out).
        And let’s just get rid of free throws all together. BORING! If you are fouled you just get an automatic two or three points, since no one has the time or focus to watch someone shoot free throws.
        Also, if you shoot a layup that could have been a dunk, you get dunked in a tank of hungry piranhas for two minutes! Now that’s exciting!
        Hey you’re right, this completely-changing-the-game-to-make-it-more-awesome thang is easy!!! Basketball is gonna totally rule once we get rid of all the “nerdy” stuff, like layups, free throws and strategy!!!

  11. mnwildfan15 - Dec 10, 2013 at 6:04 PM

    Wait so what your saying is the timberwolves were tanking from 05-12……

  12. muhangis - Dec 11, 2013 at 3:53 AM

    I like the D-League idea and sort of with the goaltending rule change.

    The “tanking” or minimum-win rule is absolutely unfair, and a terrible idea!!! In previous seasons, look at the roster of teams that finished with a bottom record, and you’ll see the vast majority of them truly were that bad! The # of teams who tank on purpose are in a great minority, it’s an over-reaction.

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