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This NBA offseason featured plenty of the traditional events, rumors and news that fans have come to expect. The draft, free agency and trade season didn’t disappoint.
But those were far from the only things for hoops heads to get excited about.
This month’s European Basketball Championship, more commonly known as EuroBasket, featured three NBA MVP candidates in Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic. Three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert was also in the field, but it was Spain (surprise, surprise) and the Hernangomez brothers who wound up at the top of the medal stand.
With all the star power in the tournament (Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Schroder, Franz Wagner and several other NBA players were involved, too), plenty of fans on this side of the Atlantic were paying attention, and they couldn’t help but notice some advantages to the FIBA game.
A popular NBA Twitter account summed up the differences well:
NBA University @NBA_University
Eurobasket is a beautiful product. Electric pacing, quick ref decision making, VERY little foul grifting/flopping, coches mic’d up in the huddle.<br><br>NBA could try to implement some changes—but a significant cultural shift is required to replicate the fun and ethical ball happening.
Flow and Physicality
The pacing alone made the games more watchable than a lot of NBA regular-season affairs. The ball was moving up and down the floor like an ’80s NBA game, or almost like a soccer match. Things just sort of flowed, and that was true of every country in the field (at least relative to most NBA action).
Part of that is the result of what New Orleans Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin told Bleacher Report is a “far more physical game.”
FIBA officials let a lot more incidental contact slide, and all the players are clearly used to that. They have no issue playing through (or at least trying to play through) contact.
Take a look at the initial post defense and body contact on this Markkanen move. It’s common for plays like this to be no-calls.
The brisk pace of games makes it even more of a mistake to stop and complain to a ref than it is in an NBA contest. You’ll notice Markkanen just gets back on defense after the block.
That, of course, adds to the watchability, too. NBA players are understandably keyed up during games. They want to win. And for years, the line between simply asking for a foul and incessantly whining has blurred. If a player thinks that overly demonstrative complaining will help his team come out on top (and many seem to), then he’s going to do it.
At EuroBasket, that level of complaining doesn’t really exist. Again, the competitors don’t want to get too far behind the action, but they also seem to know that those officials have a quick trigger on technical fouls.
One way to draw a technical is by flopping, a rule that the NBA should adopt as soon as possible.
Exaggerating, selling or straight-up faking contact has become customary within the league. You can’t watch a game without seeing it. And NBA stars are so used to getting certain calls that international competitions can throw off their rhythm.
During Team USA’s last Olympic run, Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes wrote, “Throughout the games, multiple players, from Jayson Tatum to Bradley Beal, have been staring down the officials following no-calls as they’re accustomed to receiving touch fouls or star-treatment officiating in the NBA.”
The fines that were introduced 10 years ago are still in the NBA’s toolkit, but that obviously didn’t solve the problem.
The immediacy of an in-game tech from flopping, as you’ll see below, is the next logical step.
Yes, officials will occasionally get those calls wrong. They’re not perfect with travels, charges or any of the other calls they have to make. That’s not a good enough reason to delay implementation (at least in the G League or some other experimental setting).
Other Rule Revisions
Flopping isn’t the only rule worth changing. FIBA has a comprehensive table laying out the differences between it, the NBA and the NCAA.
Fewer timeouts are allowed in FIBA games, including limitations on when you can use them (including late-game situations). Fewer stoppages is a good thing, and if the NBA can make up the ad revenue with in-game and on-screen reads and displays, it should look into it.
Speaking of unnecessary stoppages, FIBA’s use of college jump ball rules (the alternating possession arrow) speeds things up, too.
A more liberal approach to rim protection also helps.
“FIBA basket goaltending rules are better,” Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey told Bleacher Report.
It’s not hard to see why he thinks so. Goaltending can still be called when the ball is in the air and on its way down, but once it hits the rim, it’s live. That means a defender can knock it away from the hoop or an offensive player can help it in, regardless of whether it’s over the cylinder.
Draymond Green figured it out last summer.
At the very least, It’s another difference that reduces the number of judgment calls and potential reviews.
The Little Things Add Up
On their own, any of the above might not make a huge difference. Together, they start to make a real one.
In the past, the NBA has shown an effort to trim down the length of games. This summer, it showed it isn’t opposed to adopting rules from (or at least similar to) FIBA’s. The so-called “take foul,” which FIBA has categorized as “unsportsmanlike,” will now earn heightened penalties.
NBA Communications @NBAPR
The NBA Board of Governors today approved a change to the playing rules that will impose a heightened penalty when a defensive player commits a “transition take foul”and approved the adoption of the NBA Play-In Tournament on a full-time basis. <a href=”https://t.co/zeEDP4JEp5″>pic.twitter.com/zeEDP4JEp5</a>
If the league is serious about improving the flow and watchability of its games, it should put some of what FIBA does on the table.
The NBA isn’t likely to ever fully capture the atmosphere of games in tournaments as high-profile as EuroBasket or the World Cup. When a country is playing with national pride on the line, there’s a built-in community feeling that probably can’t be replicated.
But there are plenty of basketball-specific adjustments that could speed up the game, eliminate some of the fluff (like reviews, complaining and unnecessary timeouts) and generally improve the product.
With the addition of the play-in tournament and a midseason tournament coming as early as 2023-24, Commissioner Adam Silver has shown he’s not averse to experimentation.
It’s time to take the film from EuroBasket 2022 to the lab.