NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday he is “on the fence” about intentional fouling away from the ball and expects the league to be “very engaged” about the tactic over the coming months. A day after the San Antonio Spurs sent the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan to the foul line 17 times in a playoff victory, Silver said he once favored a rule change but now isn’t pushing for one. “I’ve gone back and forth,” Silver said during a meeting with a group of Associated Press Sports Editors. “I’ve sat in meetings with some of the greatest players like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird who said that players should learn to make their free throws and it’s part of the game. At the same time, it doesn’t make for great television, so I’m on the fence right now.”
The D-League, on top of being a minor league for the NBA (one which will by the end of Wednesday already have two call ups this season) but it is a laboratory of NBA experimentation. Whenever the league wants to see how a new rule might work in practice, they try it out in the D-League. That means this year D-League coaches will get a challenge flag (well, the right to challenge a call). That’s one of a few interesting rule changes for this season the D-League announced Wednesday.
The “away from the ball foul” rule, which is designed to thwart the “hack-a-whoever” strategy. Right now players such as the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan and Rockets’ Dwight Howard (among others) may just get fouled and sent to the line because they struggle to knock down the two free throws. Under the new rule the coach of the fouled team can send any player on the court to the line for one of those free throws. That essentially makes it highly likely one of the shots gets made, which makes employing the “hack” strategy far less attractive.
Other rule changes coming to the D-League this year: The “advance” rule — once in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, a team can advance the ball for a half-court throw-in (after a made basket or the ball going out-of-bounds off the opponent) without having to call a time out. Teams can also substitute in this window. Right now coaches save a couple of time outs to use in the final minutes of a game so they can advance the ball and get the players they want on the court, often the coaches draw up a play in there. Now once per game they don’t have to call a timeout (and slow the game down) to do it.
As I reported last year, Adam Silver and other top NBA officials are at least curious about the 40-minute length of FIBA games. Shorter games would mean fewer advertising windows in a very literal sense, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into a long-term revenue reduction or unanimous opposition from network executives. Scarcity can increase per-minute value, especially if ratings go up. There is some belief within the NBA that brisker games could indeed prove more popular among younger fans. Shorter games might also prove to be more unpredictable, since the favorite would have about 15 fewer possessions with which to assert its superiority. Unpredictable games generally rate well, and the NBA is (rather easily) the most predictable of the four major U.S. sports leagues on a game-to-game basis.